When I first began to listen to rap music as a student at Jesse H. Jones Senior High, it was mostly screwed-down versions of hits by UGK and freestyles by Lil Keke, Lil Flip and Yungstar. Only after I graduated did I begin digging deeper into rap's history, with East Coast lyricism pulling me one way and West Coast gangsta rap the other. One of the first rap CDs I purchased during this timeframe was Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life by Jay-Z. I was sold.
The tracks "Hard Knock Life," "Money, Cash, Hoes," "Can I Get a...", and "Money Ain't a Thing" were on constant rotation on my Sony Walkman. I listened to them over and over on the school bus, then blasted them through the measly speakers of my little red 1992 Chevy Blazer, thinking I was the coolest bespectacled Mexican in South Park.
That album eventually led me back to 1996's Reasonable Doubt, and by then I was hooked for life. There was so much raw, unfiltered talent and wordplay on that record that track to track, my brain almost couldn't process it fast enough. Sadly, I missed the Hard Knock Life tour that rolled through the Compaq Center in March 1999 due to being a broke college student.
Fast-forward four years to the summer of 2003. The "Roc the Mic" tour featured my hero sharing headlining duties with a then-newcomer by the name of 50 Cent. My best friend Derek and I purchased lawn seats at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, and were treated to our first of many Jay-Z shows.
It was definitely my first rap show, one that I will never forget. That night we saw Busta Rhymes showcase his machine-gun delivery, 50 and his G-Unit crew almost upstage Hov, and finally a still-youthful Shawn Carter, back when he still rocked a throwback jersey and a fitted, before his suit and tie days.
Seeing the man for the first time cemented his legacy in my book, but I needed more. In 2008, we drove up to Dallas for the "Heart of the City" tour with Mary J. Blige. I've now not only had the chance to see multiple Jay shows since, but I've also had the privilege to work the concerts. I present to you my all time favorite Jay-Z photographs captured by my lens, and the songs that soundtracked them.
BP3 Tour Toyota Center Houston February 22, 2010
I began shooting concerts for the Houston Press in 2009, and told my editor about my dream to one day photograph my idol. That opportunity came in February 2010, on the second leg of the BP3 Tour with Young Jeezy and Trey Songz. What was cool was that after a video countdown, we all expected Jeezy to rap after Trey, but up from under the stage elevated Hov, draped in all black leather.
He proceeded to give one of the best performances I've ever experienced, with a live band backing him and a sold-out arena in front of him. I was able to dial in my settings and snap the best image of the night with my first click.
Watch The Throne Tour Toyota Center, Houston December 5, 2011
2011 was the year of Watch the Throne, when Jay and Kanye captivated the attention of the entertainment world with their stellar collaboration. With Jay playing quarterback and Yeezy the star wide receiver, the combination resulted in the greatest show the rap game has ever seen, with the hits played back to back without a break. This photo is probably my favorite Jay photo ever, with his silhouette against the flag backdrop making it iconic and memorable.
Inaugural Made In America Music Festival Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, Pa. September 1, 2012
This image is very special to me. Once the Made In America music festival was announced, with Jay-Z curating the line-up and headlining the event taking place over Labor Day Weekend (which also happened to be my birthday), I knew I was destined to attend. I booked my flight to Philly and entry to the festival before even securing my media credentials, I was that determined.
A historic event held on a grand scale in one of the country's most historic cities made this a memorable life event. There must have been more than 50 photographers in the pit for this one, and after a videotaped welcome by President Obama, Jay took the stage and stood there, basking in his success.
More photos, more Hov on the next page.
NBA All-Star Weekend Toyota Center, Houston February 17, 2013
All-Star weekend nowadays looks like one big rap music video. And when the event comes to Houston, entertainers (both rappers and exotic) flock to Space City for a weekend of basketball, parties, and photo ops.
I was fortunate enough to receive credentials from the NBA to cover all of the weekend's events, which culminated on Sunday's All-Star Game showcase. The sidelines were packed with celebrities and Hall-of-Famers. In this image, taken from my perch in the media booth, we see Irv Gotti, Drake, 2 Chainz, Diddy, Common, Jay-Z, and Jay Cole. Star power for real, and her highness Beyoncé was not far away.
BONUS: JAY & BEY PHOTOS
These are also two images that I'm proud of capturing. The moment in the top image caught all of us in the media tent at Made In America off-guard. Without warning, Jay walked by with Beyoncé and Ron Howard. A few of us photogs grabbed our gear and attempted to cut them off around the corner before we lost the shot. The image is blurry, but I love it still.
The bottom image is a composite of two photographs. I was invited to shoot the annual "2 Kings" All-Star dinner at Houston's own RDG Bar Annie, hosted by Jay-Z and LeBron James. We took photos of every guest on the red carpet, and anxiously awaited the star couple to arrive. When they finally did, they chose not to pose for photos or interviews.
Beyoncé walked in first, walking briskly but still flashing her beautiful smile and looking radiant and classy in her white suit. Jay walked in afterwards, saying the code words "Thank you for coming out", which prompted the PR rep to ask us all to kindly leave the premises. With a little editing magic, we created the illusion of the couple walking side by side.
You capture your own photo of Jay Z as he brings his "Magna Carter World Tour" to the Houston Toyota Center tonight. Doors open at 7 p.m., a DJ spins at 8 p.m., Jay Z is set to start at 9 p.m.. Tickets are still available.
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
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