The sky was dark and cloudy Friday night (Dec. 2) over Miami, but the stars shone bright at the 1800 Tequila and Billboard exhibit In Focus: Hip-Hop Through the Lens of Photography.
Three of the genre’s leading portraitists displayed their finest, most intimate works for well-dressed art lovers and industry insiders. Cam Kirk and Gunner Stahl were on hand to represent Atlanta, while Places + Faces showed off for the city of London. Everything peaked with a special performance from Billboard chart-toppers Rae Sremmurd, but first, there was art to be consumed.
Three custom walls built by Peach Castle Atlanta made an eye-catching centerpiece in the elegant pop-up tent, erected on the South Beach sand. Kanye West, Andre 3000, A$AP Rocky and Tyler, the Creator, among many others, came to life in ways most fans will never get the chance to see.
“The photographer, in this day and age in music, is honestly almost equivalent to a DJ,” said Cam Kirk, a legend in the making whose shot and directed photo shoots and music videos with Young Thug, Gucci Mane, Rae Sremmurd and more. “Nowadays, music is being consumed visually and audibly. There are people who have favorite rappers because they love the way they look, the image, the style, the vision. That’s something that me as a photographer feeds to the public, the same way you have people that love the artist’s music and the DJ is the one that feeds that to the public.”
“Photographers are the new rock stars in the sense that it’s like, the artist is only as big as the photos or the visuals,” echoed Places + Faces’ Ceisay. “Some people will take photos just for the sake of it, but I want [to be like] Chi Modu, Jonathan Mannion, what they did in their time. In 20 years, I want kids to look at my photos and be like ‘Oh, from 2013 to 2050, this is what the culture looked like.’”
Nelly Furtado, Venus Williams and a slew of other celebs and artists swung through to peep the photos and the Sremmurd set. The crowd exploded with excitement as people forced their way through, hopeful to get one inch closer to Atlanta’s hottest stars and super-producer Mike Will Made It, who’s behind the duo’s No. 1 hit “Black Beatles.”
“It feels like we just won the championship,” Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee said as he showed off his latest light-catching collection of celebratory diamond rings. The duo just wrapped a national tour but is still taking its victory lap, high on the first taste of being No. 1 with their #MannequinChallenge-assisted viral hit. It meant a lot for the guys to come out and support their fellow Atlantans as they showed off their own achievements.
“I wanna shout out Cam Kirk and Gunner Stahl. They’re my people,” Rae Sremmurd’s Slim Jxmmi said. “The photographers bring out a whole different element in hip-hop. It lets you see deeper into the artist’s life.”
“We love artists,” Swae Lee added. “They give us the inspiration, because we’re all the same. It’s just different fields.”
There were plenty of cameras out once the guys took the stage to perform “No Type” and “No Flex Zone,” alongside recent hits “Look Alive” and “Swang.” The energy was infectious. It seemed as if they never stopped jumping while Mike Will stood proudly, grooving right alongside them. Of course, the biggest sing-along was “Black Beatles.” It set the night on fire, but it was still just the beginning.
“I just pulled up on them,” Mike Will said, “so we gonna do a whole lot of balling in Miami. This is day one, for real.”