Photographs of Hip-Hop’s ‘Greatest Day’ Go on View at New York’s City Hall

The installation goes behind the scenes of Gordon Parks's iconic photograph, "A Great Day in Hip Hop."

Color group shot by Ben Osborne (1998) © iD8 Studios.

In 1958, the music and fashion photographer Art Kane gathered together 57 of the most significant figures in jazz music around the stoops of 17 West 126th street in Harlem, New York. The shoot, known as “A Great Day in Harlem,” was commissioned for Esquire Magazine‘s January 1959 issue, and sitters included Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, Coleman Hawkins, and Count Basie.

Art Kane's iconic black-and-white photograph of a group of jazz luminaries gathered around a stoop in Harlem.

Art Kane, A Great Day in Harlem (1958). © Art Kane Archive.

Forty years later, the photographer Gordon Parks paid homage to Kane’s shoot with a photograph that gathered 177 rappers and hip-hop artists on that same stoop in Harlem. Legendary figures in the photo, titled A Great Day in Hip Hop, included Busta Rhymes, Rakim, Slick Rick, Da Brat, Revered Rum, Fat Joe, and Naughty by Nature. Members of the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, and the Wu-Tang Clan were also invited but did not attend.

The shoot was commissioned by hip-hop magazine XXL’s editor-in-chief Sheena Lester and became the largest gathering of musicians in a single image in history. By 1998, the front door seen in Kane’s shot had been boarded over, as had the left-hand window.

A massive group made up of hip-hop figures gathered around a stoop in Harlem.

Johanna Fiore, Rev Run Arrives (1998) © Johanna Fiore.

Now, as hip-hop enters its 51st year, an installation at the rotunda of New York’s City Hall is celebrating that great day with a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the shoot. Titled “Hip Hop’s Greatest Day,” the show features shots by Jonathan Rheingold, then-publisher and co-founder of XXL, and those by the magazine’s editor Ben Osborne and Parks’s protégé, Johanna Fiore. Flyers and posters from the early days of hip-hop in New York, featuring icons from Run DMC to Salt-N-Pepa to DJ Kool Herc, are also included.

Black and white portrait of a man, rapper Rakim, leaning in to speak to another man.

Jonathan Rheingold, Rakim (1998) © Jonathan Rheingold.

In a statement, Rheingold said he “made it a mission to identify folks who were snap­ping photos on 126th street that day and developed the largest archive of behind-the-scenes photos documenting that great day.” Parks may not have been a fan of hip-hop, he added, but “he understood the importance of this opportunity. And Sheena Lester, who was the editor-in-chief at the time, really convinced him that there was really no other photographer that one could possibly think of that would be more suitable to capture such an amazing moment than him, and he took it on.”

A man, rapper Slick Rick, photographed in a suit, with heavy jewelry, and an eye patch.

Jonathan Rheingold, Slick Rick (1998) © Jonathan Rheingold.

The installation is part of Rheingold’s ongoing efforts to celebrate the historical shoot, which includes a five-episode audio series, The Greatest Day, on what went into planning and engineering the photo.

“We are so thrilled to have the mayor’s office and Department of Cultural Affairs really give us a venue to share this with the rest of the city,” he said. “Hip-hop is part of the fabric of New York history, so of course it belongs in City Hall.”

“Hip Hop’s Greatest Day” is on view at City Hall Park, New York, through June 24. It can be visited by joining a public tour.

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