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Joe Conzo Jr. has been called “the man who took hip-hop’s baby pictures” by the New York Times – a title that’s right on the money. Conzo, a third-generation Bronx native, first got into photography as a young boy and took to shooting pictures of his neighborhood.

But it was when he followed some high school friends who had formed a rap group to an early concert that he really found his calling. That group, the Cold Crush Brothers, was perhaps the most influential of hip-hop’s first generation. Joe was there to document their every step, from high school gymnasiums to giant clubs and movie sets. His pictures provide the single best visual record of hip-hop’s early years.

Personal troubles caused Joe to put away his camera for many years. But over the past decade, his work has been re-discovered and used for documentaries, exhibited in museums all over the world - including the Museum of the City of New York, where an exhibit of his photos is running until September 27th - and even published in a book, Born In The Bronx: A Visual Record of the Early Days of Hip Hop. A fictional version of Joe appears in Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming Netflix series The Get Down, about the early days of hip-hop, where the real Joe was on set as a behind the scenes photographer.

NOTE: To see the photographs that we talk about during this interview, visit this episode’s photo gallery at Imgur

Tracks featured in this episode:

  1. Sugarhill Gang, “Sugarhill Groove”
  2. Cold Crush Brothers - Live @ Harlem World 1981
  3. Gilbert O’Sullivan, “Alone Again, Naturally”
  4. Cold Crush Brothers
  5. The Cipher Episode 45: Michael Holman
  7. Empire: “Die But Once” / “Who I Am”
  8. Jay Z, “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”
  9. Héctor Lavoe, “Ché Ché Colé”
  10. Tito Puente, “Oye Como Va”
  11. Run-DMC, “It’s Like That”
  12. Sugarhill Recording Artist,Wayne & Charlie (The Rapping Dummy)
  13. Cold Crush, “Cold Crush Brothers At The Dixie”

Show notes:

  1. Cornell Hip Hop Collection: The Archive of Joe Conzo, Jr.
  2. Grandmaster Caz, “Making Peace With Big Bank Hank” (Medium)
  3. Hip-Hop Revolution: Photographs By Janette Beckman, Joe Conzo, And Martha Cooper. Until Sept. 27, 2015 at The Museum of the City of New York
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