The Otherside of Hip Hop w/ Ernie Paniccioli



We recently sat down with pioneering Hip Hop photographer Ernie Paniccioli to get some insight into his long career which began years before the first rasps were being kicked in the Bronx. He broke down a lot of stuff for us. he also let us know about his new movie called ‘The Otherside of Hip Hop‘ which chronicles his life. The movie which has already been shown in festivals around the country to rave reviews and features Chuck D, MC Lyte and Afrika Bambaataa to name a few will be showing at the Tribeca Film Festival this weekend; Saturday November 17th, 2007 2pm Tribeca Cinemas NYC Laight and Canal St.
info and tickets available at

Davey D

Davey D: Lately there are a number of books and exhibits coming out highlighting the works of pioneering Hip Hop photographers.. What do you think is behind this resurgence? In what ways do these works add to or take away from the Hip Hop’s history?

Ernie Paniccioli:When a book is done from within the culture by someone like Joe Conzo (“Born In The Bronx”) or myself (“Who Shot Ya?”) or an exhibit shows the work of Harry Allen or a Martha Cooper “Hip Hop Files” it can only deepen the history and knowledge of Hip Hop Culture. When a “Culture Vulture” does a book or tries to lay claim to be “The Bible of Hip Hop Art and Politics” style magazine or a trick ass radio station claims to be “Where Hip Hop Lives” then things get ugly and commercially distorted.

Davey D:Contrasted with Rock-N-Roll and other genres what challenges are unique to the Hip Hop photographer? What has been your biggest accomplishment? What has been your biggest gripe?

Ernie Paniccioli:Rock and Roll is bought by, financed by and nurtured by White America and is simply Rock Music. Hip Hop is from the streets, ghettos, inner-cities and is comprised of 5 Elements. A Rock Photographer only has to shoot rockers and is usually paid by a record company or big money magazine.

A Hip Hop Photographer has to capture the DJ, Hip Hop Dance, Graf, Emcee, and be aware of and respond to the Cultural aspects of Hip Hop. If all they do is shoot Rappers then they are at best a Rap Photographer. In it’s 33 year His-Story there have only been a handful of photographers that can be called “Hip Hop Photographers”. My legacy is secure because I have been called that by Afrika Bambaataa, Chuck D and KRS1 as well as Nas and Rakim.

My greatest accomplishment has been staying true to the culture decade after decade and my biggest gripe is seeing this amazing art form, that gave us a global voice, being used instead of addressing survival issues, selling sneakers, rims, cars, burgers and really crappy clothes.

Davey D:What sort of equipment did you start off using? What are you using now? Does new technology make things easier? Is their something loss with all the photo-shopping and digitizing of photos?

Ernie Paniccioli:I started out with a Canon AE1 and a 50MM lens. I now use Leica and Nikon 35 MM Digital and Mamiya Medium Format. I personally love PhotoShop for cleaning up and restoring old photographs. If you suck or have no soul, Photoshop will not help you, if you are dope all of these photo aids will only make your work more profound.

Davey D:You served in the Vietnam and there you took lots of photos and made collages capturing the social and political climate of the time.. How did your experiences in Nam help you when you started doing Hip Hop photography?

Ernie Paniccioli:Having the experience of life and death and discipline, training for war and being responsible for the safety of others gave me a sense of responsibility which I came to understand meant a response to the best of your ability. It also prepared me to go anywhere to shoot my subjects, either in a dark club full of drunk or stoned and often violent rap fans or in a project hallway or gang banger territory.

Davey D:Talk about the importance of archiving history through photography and other means.With you being a Native American brother what lessons can the Hip Hop generation learn from the trials and tribulations experienced by Native people?

Ernie Paniccioli:Edward Curtis is my greatest influence. He shot the tribes across the continent under almost impossible odds but always with pride, intelligence and dignity. Without him the visual legacy of native Americans would be greatly diminished. I have always tried to do the same by infusing my work with dignity, pride and a sense of honor and one of the ways is to keep in mind that we are all spiritual being with a soul and an inner power and beauty.

Forgive me for getting too deep but just as Native People were considered “savages” and not worthy of land or protection of law (look up the writings of the amazing Professor Robert A. Williams of The University of Arizona) after nearly a decade of dehumanizing music videos, CD’s and movies portraying Black Southeners as subhuman, sexually deviant, drug addled and shiftless drug dealers and pimps along comes Katrina and the non reaction of FEMA and America tolerates the sight of swollen Black bodies floating like debris in the water.

Davey D:Creating photo collages shows you have an artistic side, are there any other areas that you have talents and skillz especially as it relates to Hip Hop? i.e. Did you rap, b-boy or dj?

Ernie Paniccioli:I was a painter, and drew thousands of pictures before I even picked up a camera, art , museums, and creativity always was part of my flow decades before I even held my first gallery show. I was never B-Boy or DJ, but have rocked hundreds of mics lecturing on Human Rights, Native Rights and Survival.

Davey D:Who was the first person you photographed within Hip Hop? What do you feel is your most important photo? What is your most haunting photo?

Ernie Paniccioli:My first Hip Hop images were of Graffiti masterpieces and they were what drew me in to Hip Hop. My most important photo has not been shot yet. My two most haunting photos are both of BIG. One is of him going up a flight of stairs with angels in the background and the other is him sitting next to me in his Jeep holding his fingers in the form of a gun.

Davey D:The other side of Hip Hop is a movie based on your life. What are 2 or 3 keys aspects you want people to come away with after seeing this movie?

How to make something out of nothing and survival based upon your love of your environment. Back when I started it was hard to make a living as a photographer so I single handedly created the job title of Hip Hop Photographer

Davey D:
In your book Who Shot Ya? you wrote a powerful essay about the Hip Hop being colonized. First what did you mean by that? Do you still feel like that is happening even with artists like Jay-Z, 50 and Diddy having so much money? Is this a concept you focus on in your new movie?

Ernie Paniccioli:In “Who Shot Ya?” When I warned of the coming (it was written in 2001) colonization of Hip Hop I was referring to the consolidation of broadcast media and how we went from independent media outlets to the complete control of all forms of media by three or four superpowers including Clear Channel, Viacom, BMI, Rupert Murdoch, Vivendi etc.

Also colonization means the selling of a culture, where once you were judged cool or hip by your visual individuality now you are considered cool if you wear pre-packaged-New Era style, Vibe endorsed over priced corny crap.
The money that Russell Simmons, Jay Z and Diddy/Puffy/Puff/ Puff Daddy have means nothing to the culture itself and realistically is only pennies in the total income of those who pimp Hip Hop in the name of corporate interests.
The film “The Other Side of Hip Hop” deals with individual freedom, collective responsibility and the unique set of circumstances that connected me to the birth of Hip Hop.

Davey D:Also in your book you stated that the most groundbreaking group in Hip Hop was Arrested Development. You said they were important because their name reflected the current state of Hip Hop. Can you elaborate on that?

Ernie Paniccioli:I saw that name as a vibrant metaphor for what Chuck D calls “being stuck on stupid” I did not mean they were in and of themselves groundbreaking, even though they did feature women, men and an elder as part of a rhythmic collective.

And yes the current state of Hip Hop is pitiful as least the Rap component that shows 30 or 40 something year old men acting like overeager, horny teenagers and the women portrayed as less than dignified, classy, smart or even interesting for anything more than their cup size.

Davey D:You are obviously older then Hip Hop which just celebrated its 33rd anniversary. As an elder did you see the handwriting on the wall that would lead to Hip Hop being birthed? In other words did you see this coming or was it a sudden explosion that caught everyone off guard?

Ernie Paniccioli:First, I have to go against the prevailing dogma and state that even though all of the elements were there they were not known collectively as “HIP HOP”. Bambaataa and Kool Herc created the consciousness of the disparate elements as essential parts of a whole.

Back then everyone knew something was happening, Disco was dying, Punk was a little too White and a little to over the edge, Rhythm and Blues had run their course and the kids were restless and conditions in our cities were simply too horrible for them to believe in anything not reflecting or created by them. As Dylan said “You know something is happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?”

Davey D: You now have movie out? Was it difficult to get this up and running? What are you next steps?

Ernie Paniccioli:The movie “The Other Side of Hip Hop” is going to be shown in film festivals, then used to teach in the college and high school lecture circuits and even as a fund raiser for worthy causes. Dion Ashman created it and he simply had to follow his vision and respect what I have tried to stand for in my life. Dion is an Alpha and had to measure up to the standards of his organization.

Koe Rodriquez wants to finish a film called 1Love which deals with the creative forces of myself, Joe Conzo and Jamal Shabazz. And I am trying to get a five volume set of books published covering the first ever 30 year retrospective of my photography but have so far not met up with the right set of circumstances. The five volume set is already completed and has essays by most of the creative forces in Hip Hop. Perhaps Jay, Diddy or Russell would like to invest in something culturally powerful and make me an honest offer.

Davey D: any last words or food for thought..

Ernie Paniccioli:As KRS1 said so clearly……….”When you walk, walk with authority……..tell the negative people don’t bother me”
Peace, Bro. Ernie Paniccioli

The Otherside of Hip Hop is now available on demand for more informationcheck out the website

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner

New Proposed Indecency Bill Threatens Rap Music Industry

New Proposed Indecency Bill Threatens Rap Music Industry
by J.D. Cooke
Washington News Wire
original article: march 31 2006
WASHINGTON DC-Last week’s intense debate on the plight of this nation’s immigrant population led to massive rallies and student walkouts in many cities throughout the country. The largest occurred in Los Angeles and Detroit where 500 thousand and 200 thousand took to the streets respectively to protest the bill HR 4437 that would make it a third class felony for anyone caught administering aid to those who are in this country illegally as well as for those caught without the proper pare work and visas.
Up until now the focus has been on the nation’s Hispanic population which now numbers more than 35 million. They have been the most visible and most outspoken on this divisive issue, however, if Congressman Richard Desour (R-Indiana) has his way, the protesting Hispanics may have unintended ally in the form of the music industry, in particular those who are proponents of gangster rap. He says that criminal behavior in the recording industry has tore away at the moral fabric of the American public.
Desour has quietly introduced what some are describing as a far reaching amendment to HR 4437 that would do the following;
1-Make it a felony punishable by fines up to 250 thousand dollar and up to 2 years in jail if one advocates, promotes or admits to the commission of violent crime in a commercially released recording.
2-Disallow anyone who has a felony or is incarcerated from being signed, employed or affiliated by a major record label. In language similar to the one found in HR 4437, anyone caught harboring or providing gainful employment to a convicted felon in the music or broadcast industry will be charged with a felony.  
3- Clears the way and makes it easier for parents, victim’s right groups, church organizations and Civil Right groups to sue artists and hold them liable for song lyrics that are deemed criminally prone and can be proven detrimental, pernicious and undermining to local and federal laws. 
Initially this provision was written so that it would make it easier for consumers and the aforementioned groups to go after the deep pockets and resources of the record and broadcast industry. However, recording industry lobbyists were successful in working out a compromise and having the language specific to them removed from the proposed bill.
Desour’s office noted that in exchange for the compromise, the Recording Industry would set aside funds and pledge other types of resources to help fight the tidal wave of illegal immigrants.
Broadcasters agreed to refrain from using their airwaves to promote, marches and rallies and to no longer provide an on air platform for organizations that help illegal immigrants. Both the Recording Industry and Broadcast Association agreed to vigorously enforce immigration laws at concerts, award shows and other industry related gatherings.
4-Desour’s amendments would make it easier to apply hate crime provisions to artists, record label owners and broadcasters who allow the recording and dissemination of racial and sexually oriented disparaging epithets.
Broadcasters were unsuccessful in winning a compromise on this provision. Disparaging words like ‘nigger’, ‘bitch’ and ‘fag’ which are commonly heard on the airwaves and in recordings will be added to the current list of seven dirty words that are prohibited from being broadcast in public space.
In a strange and somewhat ironic twist, radio broadcaster’s have hired high powered lobbyist Simon Dennis to represent them. They believe the proposed amendments reach too far and would have long range unintended economic consequences and stifle free speech.
Dennis accused the 7 term congressman of being culturally insensitive and a borderline racist. He noted that it was unfair for the Congressman to try and ban word ‘nigger’  which he claims is a universally used and accepted term in African American dialect especially if its pronounced and spelled with the letter ‘A’ at the end and not the letters ‘Er’
“It’s an important part of Black and Hip Hop culture”,  Dennis said. “Today its actually a good thing to call someone a ‘nigga’ because it means you are a friend. It’s the community turning a positive into a negative. That should be celebrated, not criminalized. To disallow the N word’s usage via the airwaves could prove to be economically disastrous because Black and urban Rap listeners would tune away in droves”.
Simon pointed out the recent decline in ratings by Los Angeles based urban radio stations  which once dominated the LA radio market as Top 5 positions are now not even in the Top 10. He argued that these stations in anticipation of this bill voluntarily restricted the use of N word on their airwaves and now the ratings have dropped precipitiously.
Despite the broadcast industry’s compelling arguments all signs indicate that Congressman Desour will push to make the use of the ‘N’ word in both recordings and broadcast as part of the Hate Crime provisions. In other words, use of the N word in a criminal context within a song can get you slapped with a hate crime which carries mandatory punishments.
Famed author, photographer and Hip Hop pioneer, Ernie Paniccioli’s of the newly formed The Universal Federation for the Preservation of Hip Hop Culture reacted to the legislation placed before Congress; “From what I read,  this bill seems far reaching. Many of us who love, respect and strive to protect this culture we call Hip Hop are in total favor of cleaning up the airwaves and making sure our house is in order. Many of us do not approve or support the use of the ‘N’ word in public space, however, we are not in favor of only criminalizing the artist while allowing his oppressive colonialist of a master who runs the record label to be given a pass.”
Long time Hip Hop journalist and radio host Davey D said; ” I’m concerned that while this bill is an attempt to clean up the airwaves, and the music industry in general, it will most likely be used selectively against Hip Hop artists and may even be twisted to go after artists like Dead Prez or The Coup who say harsh things about the political system.”
To support these first two provisions of his bill,  Congressman Desour referenced a newly released report that was put together by law enforcement officials who oversea the Hip Hop Task Force that is currently based in New York City and the main focal point of a soon to be released motion picture. The task force’s exhaustive two year study concluded that there is a direct correlation in the rise of gang activity, drug dealing and other violent crimes with the high visibility and ultimate rewarding and endorsement of rap artists who have a criminal path.
“When young people witness artists like Snoop Dogg, Youngster Jeezy, Nas and other gangster rappers being coddled by the music industry it sends out the wrong message”, said HHTF spokesman Lynn Franks. “It leaves young people with the impression that the only way you can be successful in the music industry is to first be a career criminal”
Franks went on to point out that the HHTF discovered that many record labels were secretly orchestrating and encouraging their artists to engage in criminal acts and behavior as a way to spark controversy which in turn would lead to increased record sales. The report discovered that if an artist actually served jail time, then their album sales would shoot through the roof, because of the heavy promotion and endorsement by both the record labels and broadcasters who used their incarceration as a key selling point.
Franks also noted that many gangster rappers were communicating secret messages to fellow gang members and criminal enterprises around the country in recordings using coded street lingo, by adapting certain nicknames or wearing particular clothing and fashions.
During a press conference Franks asserted; “One popular artist from Atlanta named Youngster Jeezy calls himself ‘The Snowman’. His name and his lyrics are really street lingo advocating for people to steal cars. There’s been a huge spike is grand theft auto throughout Jeezy’s native Atlanta since he started releasing albums”.
Currently the HHTF is trying to build a case against Jeezy saying that his lyrics were premeditated.
 Franks went on; “There are two popular rappers out of Houston we been studying. Gangster rappers Paul Jones and Mike Wall has recorded numerous songs where they encourage to purchase false teeth filled with diamonds and other expensive  jewels that they nickname ‘grills’
Our study concludes that Wall and Jones and many of these other rap guys who are wearing these so called grills are actually smuggling diamonds filled while smiling for cameras. When these rappers describe the jewels they have in their mouth, they are actually sending secret messages to fellow diamond smugglers about the type of stash they are delivering”
Franks also pointed the hit song ‘Tell Me When to Go’ by popular artist E-40. “Here you have a young man who is blatantly advocating that young men and women participate in perverted sexual activities. When he instructs listeners at the end of his song to ‘Ghost ride the Whip’ . This is Bay Area street slang for bondage and S&M of the most dangerous type. Using whips while participating in sex acts is not only quite dangerous and can cause serious injury, but it’s also a violation of the law in 37 states. Because Mr 40 has such a young audience he can be in big trouble with the law where bondage sex is illegal”.
ACLU spokesperson Harry Thompson said that they fully intend to challenge the Constitutionality of this law should it pass along with the other provisions of the Immigration Bill. However, he acknowledges that in today’s political climate it will be along hard struggle.  He encourages people to call their representatives and Senators to oppose Congressman Desour’s New Indecency Bill HR 3312.
To see a full copy of this Draconian bill Click Here: