Why was pioneering hip-hop photographer Ricky Powell important? This exclusive clip from the forthcoming Showtime documentary “The Individualist” — which premieres tonight (Dec. 10) at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime — will explain.
In the mid-1980s, Run-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J were the pioneers taking hip-hop into arenas and the top of the Billboard 200 albums chart — and they were all on the “Raising Hell” tour together. Powell, who died on Feb. 1, was on the tour — he even had a bunk on the Beasties bus — and he made the most of it, taking multiple candid shots of a pivotal moment in music history.
What makes Powell’s shots special is, like many of very best music photographers, he was one of them, and their affection for him is clear from the photos — even if, as they say, he occasionally annoyed them by getting in their faces with his camera. But the history says it all: in this clip, LL Cool J practically mists up while looking at a photo of his 18-year-old self from the tour, wearing a giant gold chain and a Kangol hat.
But Powell didn’t just photograph hip-hop: The ‘80s were a pivotal time culturally in New York, and he captured everyone from Madonna to Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Run-D.M.C.’s Darryl McDaniels, LL Cool J, Debi Mazar, Fab 5 Freddy, Laurence Fishburne, Natasha Lyonne and more appear in the documentary, which is directed by Josh Swade and produced by Time Studios and Swade Films.
The doc is part of Showtime and Mass Appeal’s “Hip Hop 50” initiative, a multiyear, cross-platform programming initiative celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, with the premiere of three documentaries celebrating the storied history of the music genre.
Directed by Emmy and Grammy Award-winning music legend and Mass Appeal partner Nasir “Nas” Jones (Survival 1), “You’re Watching Video Music Box” premiered earlier this month, “Ricky Powell: The Individualist” premieres tonight, and “Rolling Like Thunder,” directed by Roger Gastman, premieres Friday, December 17 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.