In the past month, I have traveled to three states, four cities, and countless neighborhoods where I photo documented my nomadic journeys through various arts and cultural communities. My choice to travel to these various destinations were strictly for the purpose of vacation away from NYC and thereafter beginning my artist-in-residency program with Minnesota’s non-profit, Youthprise. While I have spent a good chunk of my time away from the Interwebs, scourging through Sound Clouds, blogs, XXL’s “The Break”, and other outlets posting new sounds and fresh talent, I have also gained new perspective on the impact my work has had on my readers as well as myself being a visual and narrative artist.
For almost 6 months straight, I took to the streets of New York City as an amateur photojournalist and visual anthropologist with the hopes of gaining access to the city’s underground hip-hop and arts communities. From humble beginnings working at a book store near Columbia University, performing at Nuyorican Cafe on Monday nights after work, taking my camera with me and photographing my commute; freelancing for the first time with CMJ.com, stuck writing live concert reviews for indie-pop rock bands I couldn’t care less for; beginning Blackcongolese under the pseudonym of “black congo” and publishing my b&w photography, poetry, photo essays and short prose for anyone who cared to view my posts; then covering my first artist, Flamm, at his album release party in the Village; and eventually being an ominous figure at local shows throughout the city and New Jersey, covering artists who I loved and believed in their art, providing a platform for readers possibly disconnected from these spaces due to literal or figurative distance.
I remember bookmarking flyers and saving emails of newsletters from local venues, recording and performing artists to cover vintage boutique pop-up shop events and shows in the corners of Brooklyn and LES. I wanted to totally immerse myself into a world where creativity was at the center of all production, where community building trumped success, love for music making meant love for the soul, and hip-hop translated into all sorts of experiences that encompassed life outside of the booth and off stage. I wanted to learn the humanity of these artists rather than the creative processes had in developing their art. I finally got this opportunity back in February after being invited to cover my first show in my home state in NJ where I first saw MoRuf perform at Coffee Cave in downtown Newark, sharing the stage with Jesse Boykins III, MOA, NJRFSU, and Billlzegypt (of whom I would go on to date after working so closely on documenting her journey in creating her EP). The friendships, bonds, relationships and dynamics I developed between these people later gave me the leverage to access spaces with high-profiled figures in the mainstream end of the music industry, eventually finding myself at a private birthday party with renowned DJ/hip-hop icon Vashtie.
From spending almost 5 out of the 7 days of the week with Hanif (or conventionally known as Luck One) in his Harlem apartment, photographing him outside the contexts that restricted his identity to just a rapper, to watching him record track for track that would eventually turn into a weekly series with 2DopeBoyz, traveling all over NYC to get shit done (or nothing at all), I began to recognize my role in the whole scheme of things. My commitment to preserving the memories of these artists through my lens was one of the most important things I can credit my success thus far. Without these rare experiences, I could not have gained access to spaces where legendary artists like Jadakiss, Swizz Beats, The Lox and Wu-Tang Clan could all take the stage in one night and put on a crazy set for intergenerational crowds. Making friends with artist who eventually opened up for contemporary heavy hitters like Pro Era, A$AP Mob and Flatbush Zombies was just a small piece to my journey as a documentary photographer. I began to realize I wasn’t just photographing artists that would eventually go on to grace the covers of Fader, Vice, or even XXL’s Freshman Class ’14 (anyone remember when I ran into Lil Durk in SoHo and took a random portrait of him in the lobby of a Canal St. hotel?). I was recording moments of history, things that may go unabridged or without live commentary for generations to come. I saw my activity in these scenes as a place to exhibit my power as a marginal being, a queer woman of color, with an extraordinary knack for narrative and visual storytelling that not many were dedicating their time to. My choice of weapon was photography, and I lend a lot of my love for hip-hop to the medium in allowing me to express my views in the organic moments I shared with these artists, and eventually lifelong friends.
The purpose of this entry is to close the book on these nomadic ventures (at least for the time being) and commence a new life into expanding my work beyond the scope of hip-hop and music and into worlds that aren’t familiar or I have stake in, and to also start documenting life that needs more voice. It has been an amazing adventure within NYC/NJ’s hip-hop community this year and I couldn’t begin to thank everyone and anyone who has aided my success thus far. Without Blackcongolese, there would be no BLK CRIMZN Photography, Nomadic Summer Series, or the contemporary identity of afrikansniper. Thank you all for putting up with my lengthy live concert coverage, colorful album/single reviews, constant posts on Instagram and Facebook, and keeping interest in what I had in store for you all every week. Going into the second half of 2014, I feel a new wind coming along that will sweep me in multiple directions that will make me astray from hip-hop journalism, and with new inspiration from a book I received from a relative of my favorite photographer, I think my purpose now lies in the capacity I hold in documenting histories that are not being spoken of loud enough.
This may or may not be the last post I will ever publish on here, though, I am putting this blog to rest until its utility becomes necessary again.
Happy Fourth of July and as always:
Support your neighbors, build with your community™.
-Nancy M. Musinguzi
To keep up with my journey, visit my portfolio at: www.nmusinguzi.com