Photos taken by Biba Adams
Upon its release in 1996, Reasonable Doubt was not considered an instant classic. It was time, Jay Z’s own grind, and some would say the unfortunate end of the east coast/west coast rivalry that catapulted Jigga to the top of the hip-hop landscape. No matter what critics ultimately decide, Reasonable Doubt lives as one of the most classic debut’s in our culture, and its artwork is a huge part of that.
Jonathan Mannion was a huge part of that, as the man behind the camera in some of Hip-Hop’s most iconic images.
At Mannion’s 20th Anniversary celebration (#Mannion20Anniversary), the first room of the Manhattan gallery was dedicated to traditional print media. Framed black and white photographs of Jay Z taken during the Reasonable Doubt photo shoot line the walls. The album’s concept, according to Mannion, “was more of a style piece, based on New York City.” Shot using 30 rolls of film where every single roll and frame aimed to tell a story.
The photog took some time to celebrate his success with a private event in the swank Chelsea neighborhood of New York City on Thursday, June 30th. Sounds were provided by the man DJ Clark Kent whose own hip-hop history is one of legend, Roc-a-Fella co-founder Kareem “Biggs” Burke and friend Emory Jones came through to celebrate the classic.
The second room was full of what Mannion hopes will happen with his art, the photos had been adapted into canvas pieces and interpretations that took the photos to a new artistic level. “The second room is about advancing and experimenting with art…with different colorways. It’s such an honor to be able to share that with the people.” And the people who attended the party were grateful.
Guests milled around the gallery, clamoring for shots of Dusse’ which were in short supply. As DJ Clark Kent spun record after record by Jay Z, people mouthed the lyrics like ancient chants. As hip-hop ages and begins to look back upon its humble beginnings, there will be more anniversary celebrations. “This is really the beginning,” Mannion says, “These are the milestones for the people who have been putting the work in for a long time.”
The 20th anniversary of Reasonable Doubt is an opportunity for hip-hop to reflect upon from whence it came and to marvel at how much farther it can go. It is an opportunity to give Jay and The Roc their flowers while they can smell them. It is an opportunity to also celebrate that the culture is larger than just the artist who create its soundtrack. DJ Quik once said that the world sees hip-hop through the eyes of Jonathan Mannion, and with so many classic album covers under his belt, that in and of itself is worth celebrating.