Book Review: "Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop"
By: Biba Adams (@bibathediva)
It’s been over 40 years of this thing of ours. Hip-Hop has evolved from a cultural creation of the streets to the soundtrack of the world with some of the most recognizable and iconic figures within its folds.
The music-fueled the passion, but the images splashed across the pages of early hip-hop magazines, album covers, t-shirts, and posters told a second story. Hip-Hop was a genre that wasn’t about beauty. In fact, some of its most successful artists were “black and ugly as ever.” However, the imagery of the culture only deepened our love for it.
In this new coffee table book, "Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop” veteran journalist, Vikki Tobak takes us on an inside look at the work of hip-hop photographers told through their most intimate diaries—their contact sheets.
Featuring rare outtakes from over 100 photo shoots alongside interviews and essays from industry legends, this gorgeous book takes readers on a chronological journey from old-school to alternative hip-hop, and from analog to digital photography.
"Contact High" is the ultimate companion for music and photography enthusiasts. The book is a definitive history of hip-hop’s early days, celebrating the artists who shaped the iconic images of the artform that we adore.
In the foreword, Questlove writes, “Many early rap albums used their covers to introduce themselves to their listening public.” Rap album covers remain a reflection of the artist, the content of the album, and sometimes even captures the spirit of the times in which it was released.
One of the most powerful things about "Contact High" is the fact that it is organized chronologically. In this way, the book helps the reader understand the way imagery shaped the sound and the direction of the culture.
Tobak writes, “For hip-hop artists, that one pose, press shot, or album cover would play a major role in shaping their personas. It was in many ways, their one shot to show the world that they had the skills, style, swagger, and bravado to be an icon.”
Tobak is a veteran journalist whose writing has appeared in The Fader, Complex, Mass Appeal, Paper, and more. She has lectured about music photography at American University, Photoville, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.
Tobak’s keen understanding of journalism and music photography helps move the book forward. Every page features the contact sheets of the photographer opposite a short reflection from the photographer when possible.
Some photographers detail what kind of camera and film they chose to use on the set, while others expound on what their visceral response was with capturing the images.
Delphine A. Fawundu wrote of photographing the cover art for Mobb Deep’s The Infamous, “I was inspired by how all these elements came together, making New York hip-hop such a force at that time. It just felt so powerful and it was all happening right before my eyes, and my camera.”
"Contact High's" timely release will make it a must-have for Christmas gift lists. The book is a phenomenal ride through the imagery of hip-hop that shaped the culture. "Contact High" is huge, heavy, and glossy which makes for a gorgeous addition to any connoisseur’s book collection.
Biba Adams is a Detroit-based writer and educator. Her work has appeared in VIBE, Ebony Magazine, and Revolt.TV. Follow her on social media @bibathediva