Jamil GS: In Conversation With The Artist Who Captured Jay-Z and Queen Latifah

Jamil GS is one of the most influential photographers in the history of Hip-Hop; Jamil has so much respect for the field that he insists on capitalising the ‘h’s in Hip-Hop because doing so symbolises the culture and an actual belief. For most of his career, he has strived to portray Hip-Hop in a positive light – committing to presenting the artists, people, and culture in a light that reflected the lyrics that typified the genre, its flow, and its beats. Over the course of his career he has shot artists of the likes of Jay-Z and Outkast; shot for such brands as Supreme, Adidas, Yves Saint Laurent, and Levi’s’; and has had his photography featured in such publications as The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Paper.

As Jamil came to India to showcase his latest project American Royalty for the first time ever at HG Street, we sat down with the gent to understand and unravel his craft.

Pivotal in shaping the look of Hip-Hop music and culture, what allured you towards music in the early days?

I was born into music through my father’s career as a Jazz musician, so it was a natural gravitation. When I hear music, I see images, which in turn inspire my work every day. And Hip Hop represents the music of my generation and therefore it is a natural fit.

What’s your take on the Hip-Hop culture that’s currently growing across the globe?

Hip Hop is an art form, a lifestyle, a culture, and a way of being, which is why I write it with capital letters instead of ‘hip-hop’ as an antonym – which is a product to be bought and sold. An uppercase ‘H’ it symbolises a culture, a proper noun, and an actual belief.  Hip Hop started as a disruptive culture, cutting, mixing, re-mixing, and breaking barriers and traditions. It continues to do so.

You are known for your trademark style of blending street style with high fashion in your art. Tell us more about your process and your method?  

I always aim to create art. Even while working in a commercial context, I am aware of the opportunity to create something in the present moment that can tell stories and resonate for decades to come. So I always do my utmost best and make sure to gather amazing and talented people to work with, both in front of and behind the camera. Like Jay-Z raps on Marcy Me, “Streets is my Artery”; the streets are a natural source of inspiration for me, as much as the cool style of Jazz mixed with the clean Scandinavian design esthetic.

In your opinion, has your multi-cultural heritage (Danish-American) had an impact on your work? Given the current political climate in America, you seem to celebrate diversity & inclusiveness with aplomb. Was this a conscious decision to weave this sensitively into your craft, or is it almost a way of being?

Being multicultural, I am naturally a global citizen. I was raised not belonging to any particular race except the human race. With that as my foundation, it reflects who I am and how I view the world – which luckily, more and more people are accepting.

Outkast by Jamil GS; Image: lecloset.com

Bebop jazz runs in your veins, courtesy Sahib Shihab. Many observe that your work is a confluence of that musical influence and graffiti. Is your lens an outlet of these early-day influences?

Absolutely, as I mentioned earlier, I see images while hearing music; and I was practicing the saxophone and learning to use the camera at the same time. Both required a minimum of six hours of daily practice, and to break tradition I chose the camera. I was also doing graffiti and ultimately dropped the cans to channel all my artistic expression through the camera. I still use the same finger to press the trigger as I did to push the nozzle of a spray can to paint.

You have a sweet spot for Jamaica. What are your top three travel suggestions for anyone travelling there?

One, you can have a hundred spliffs in your head but none on you; two, feel the bass; and three, visit Port Antonio and drink plenty of coconut water.

Tell us how you got associated with Young Stringers?

I created Young Stringers out of need. Certain youths in certain areas are stigmatised, excluded, and devoid of opportunities in general. I made a conscious decision to help change that.

What’s on the 2018 agenda of this heartwarming program?

This is the year we go global and connect the dots across borders by working with people who share the same intention.

Your latest show, American Royalty, is being lauded for your iconic work capturing music greats such as Diddy, Outkast, Mary J. Blige, and more. What were those experiences like?

Challenging, inspiring, and enlightening.

Mobb Deep photographed by Jamil GS; Image: nectartv.agency

Your first gig got you to shoot promotional photos for a then-unknown Jay-Z. From those early days when you both jumped onto someone else’s yacht to now seeing him rule the industry – did you ever see glimpses of such enormous glory in him?

I sensed a self-awareness in him, and purposely placed him in those locations due to his aspirational approach to material wealth. It turned out to be a prophecy as he approaches the USD 1 billion net worth mark. But even more importantly, as Jay-Z is maturing as an adult he is finally aspiring to spiritual wealth and beginning to inspire the masses on a whole new level. This is something I have been looking forward to for 20 years.

What brings you to India?

I love India. I am proud and happy to be here to present the Asian premiere of American Royalty at HG Street, and to visit family.

As he takes forward his work and his cause, we bid adieu to Jamil GS with the signature DSSC Rapid Fire.

 

What are your top 3 things to do, when in India?

Work, worship, and love.

Your Favourite dish?

Anything that my wife Shivani cooks is my favorite dish, no doubt.

New York or Copenhagen?

New Hagen

Three favourite campaigns you’ve worked on?

Wray and Nephew Rum for Campari, Levi’s with Andre 3000 and Big Boi from Outkast, and custom made video and stills campaigns for Supreme.

The three possessions you always carry when travelling?

My favorite mantra, “Love to All, Hatred to None”, an open mind; and clean boxers.

An Indian dish on your must-try list?

Dosa.

 

Featured Image Courtesy: overkillblog.com