If you got a call from Puff Daddy’s manager asking you to come to the Bahamas to photograph Puff and his team recording an album, would you believe the caller? In 1998, New York-based photographer Mo Daoud, then an up-and-coming photographer who had worked with famed hip hop magazine The Source, almost didn’t.
I was in Los Angeles at the time, and I get this surprising phone call from one of his managers asking if I would like to go the Bahamas and document the recording of Puff Daddy’s new album. They had gotten my name from The Source magazine, as I used to shoot a lot for them with creative director David Cucurito. Anyway, there is always that moment where you think these phone calls are a hoax, so I was a little dubious.
Next thing you know, we meet Puff and head to Teteboro and rendezvous with Lil’ Kim, a few other notables on a private jet, and I guess the job started then. Couple hours later we’re in Nassau in the middle of the night heading the recording studio and getting settled in our accommodation.
Mo remembers Puff as a hard-working individual who expected everyone in his circle to grind just as hard. One of those people was Lil’ Kim. Mo’s images of her are what got him into the International Center of Photography’s exhibition about the visual history of hip hop. The series also honors the beauty of the contact sheet, a not-as-vital aspect of photography in our increasingly digital age.
She was great, very sweet, and kind with her time, allowing me to come in and out of her space as I pleased and get the shots I wanted. None of it was posed, so there was a lot of mulling around waiting for these ‘decisive’ moments. I remember her being very astute and up to date with what was going on culturally and on the news at the time.
Vikki Tobak had published a book “Contact High: A Visual History of Hip Hop,” and kindly wanted to feature my work in the exhibition, showcasing the women in Hip Hop section.
The beauty of the contact sheet is that it shows the process of the photographer and the subject to get the final image. It’s very concise, right there on a sheet of paper in front of you. Back in the day I certainly did not shoot as much as I do with digital, so I really had to give it some serious thought and make all twelve frames on a roll of medium format film count! And you can see that more clearly on a contact sheet.
Vanity Fair published a story about the exhibition, and though the exhibition was halted because of COVID-19, Mo still got a lot of recognition for his work. What makes this story so interesting is that hip hop is a big part of how Mo got acclimated to America. It takes pop culture fluency, in part, to feel like you truly belong somewhere, and learning about hip hop is how an Arabian-born, British-raised man became “Americanized.”
It was an eye opener to the culture. As I began to photograph more artist and traveled around the U.S. photographing artists in the swamps of Louisiana to being with such greats as De La Soul in the studio, I truly began to understand the process and appreciate the art and cultural movement.
Check out more of Mo’s work on his website.