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Conscious, Unconscious

Missy Elliott
Christian Witkin - Missy Elliott, Photographed for Spin Magazine, New York City (1998)

Hip-hop was born 50 years ago in the Bronx. Now, Fotografiska Stockholm is exhibiting two hundred photographs from 50 years of American hip-hop history. The exhibition takes us from the grassroots movement of the 1970s in New York to today’s global billion-dollar industry, with images from some of the world’s most famous photographers and unique portraits of hip-hop’s biggest stars. Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious opens on October 20.

Angela Boatwright - 'Nicki Minaj originally photographed for Vibe magazine at Court Square Diner in Queens, NY on May 20, ~0
Angela Boatwright - 'Nicki Minaj originally photographed for Vibe magazine at Court Square Diner in Queens, NY on May 20, ~0
Sacha Waldman - Eve (2001)
Sacha Waldman - Eve (2001)

From grassroots movement to billion-dollar industry

From an unconscious grassroots movement to becoming a global, and highly conscious, billion-dollar industry. To celebrate hip-hop’s 50th birthday, Fotografiska Stockholm is presenting 50 years of music history. Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious is a retrospective photography exhibition focused on the American music scene, spanning from the earliest photographs of the rising hip-hop scene in the 1970s to modern portraits of some of the world’s best-loved artists.

Works from over 50 photographers are included, with well-known names like Martha Cooper, Jonathan Mannion, Janette Beckman and Campbell Addy. Artists portrayed include Nas, Mos Def, Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Run DMC, Wu-Tang Clan, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah, Kendrick Lamar and many more.

“The exhibition’s lifeblood is the period before hip-hop knew what it was”
Sacha Jenkins
Lisa Leone - Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill, East Harlem, New York City (1993)
Lisa Leone - Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill, East Harlem, New York City (1993)

“It’s easy to forget that there was a time before hip-hop was an industry and before it made money. It wasn’t conscious of itself. It was just existing with young people living their lives, dressing as they did, trying to entertain themselves with limited resources and creating an aesthetic that registered amongst themselves. It wasn’t for the world; it was for a very specific community. Then there was an exponentially paced transition where hip-hop culture became a conscious of itself as an incredibly lucrative global export. The exhibition’s lifeblood is the period before hip-hop knew what it was,” says Sacha Jenkins, co-curator for the exhibit and Chief Creative Officer at Mass Appeal. Jenkins also grew up in New York’s hip-hop scene in the 1980s.

The date of hip-hop’s birth is August 11, 1973, in New York, when an 18-year-old who called himself DJ Kool Herc promised his little sister Cindy to play records at her party. She wanted to buy new clothes for the start of school after summer vacation, and printed up flyers and sold tickets to a party at a meeting room in the Bronx. The record players have two copies of James Brown’s Sex Machine album. DJ Cool Herc starts the song Give It Up or Turnit a Loose on both record players, but extends and mixes the different drum breaks while also scratching the needle across the vinyl albums. What Cindy’s friends don’t know is that they have just witnessed the birth of a cultural revolution that would eventually be called hip-hop.

Several of the works are iconic images that have become their own milestones in hip-hop history, others are rare and unknown moments from what has become the most influential pop culture movement of modern times. The exhibition texts by Sacha Jenkins are interpreted in Swedish by artist Jason “Timbuktu” Diakité and journalist and hip-hop expert Ametist Azordegan contributes texts on the evolution of hip-hop in Sweden.

Jesse Frohman - Queen Latifah, Sky Magazine (1990)
Jesse Frohman - Queen Latifah, Sky Magazine (1990)

chronology and geography

“The exhibition both highlights individual creators and maps different themes, like the women who opened up hip-hop’s male-dominated world, hip-hop’s regional and stylistic diversification, and turning points where hip-hop became a billion-dollar industry that continues to produce international artists. The exhibition is largely chronological and geographic: the early years, the East Coast, the West Coast, the South and the new wave of artists that emerged since the early 2010s,” says Mohamed Mire, Exhibitions Manager at Fotografiska Stockholm.

The exhibition Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious has been created in partnership with Mass Appeal and is being exhibited at Fotografiska Stockholm from October 20, 2023 to February 4, 2024. The exhibition is curated by Sacha Jenkins, Chief Creative Office at Mass Appeal, and Sally Berman, Visuals Director at Hearst Visual Group. With support from Fotografiska International: Johan Vikner, Global Director of Exhibitions, and Pauline Benthede, Global Vice President Exhibitions, and Fotografiska Stockholm: Mohamed Mire, Exhibitions Manager, and Lisa Giomar Hydén, Director of Exhibitions. The exhibition was first shown last spring at Fotografiska in New York where it broke attendance records and was written about in such media as The New York Times, VICE, Vogue, The Guardian and many more.


Photographers in the exhibition include

Adama Delphine Fawundu, Adrienne Raquel, Ahmed Klink, Angela Boatwright, Anthony Mandler, Anthony “Supreme” Thompson, Brian “B+” Cross, Butch Belair, Campbell Addy, Catherine McGann, Charlie Ahearn, Chris Buck, Christian Weber, Christian Witkin, Claude Paradise Gray, Clay Patrick McBride, Danielle Levitt, Danny Clinch, David Corio, Diwang Valdez, Eddie Otchere, Ernie Paniccioli, Estevan Oriol, Geoffroy de Boismenu, George DuBose, Henry Chalfant, Jamel Shabazz, Jamil GS, Janette Beckman, Jean-Pierre Laffont, Jesse Frohman, Joe Conzo, Jonathan Mannion, Josh Cheuse, Kenneth Cappello, Lisa Leone, Martha Cooper, Matt Marzahl, Michael Levine, Mike Miller, Mike Schreiber, Nitin Vadukul, Phil Knott, Piotr Sikora, Ricky Flores, Ricky Powell, Sacha Waldman, Sam Balaban, Shawn Mortensen, Sophie Bramly, Sue Kwon, T. Eric Monroe, Theo Wenner, Thirstin Howl the 3rd and Travis Shinn.

About Mass Appeal

Mass Appeal is an entertainment company dedicated to telling stories from the perspective of those who shape and shift culture. Since 1996, we have documented the emerging movements that influence popular ideas. Today, Mass Appeal is the elevated voice of Hip Hop and its ever-expanding sphere of influence. Integrated offerings in content, music, and creative services stoke Mass Appeal’s ability to maximize the impact of our output. Our diverse school of thought separates us from friends and foes alike. Follow Mass Appeal on all social platforms @massappeal.

Hip Hop: Conscious, Unconscious adds to Mass Appeal’s Hip Hop 50 cross-platform initiative – a manifestation of the company’s commitment to celebrating the culture in the most authentic and globally impactful way possible.


All the music played in the exhibition has been collected on this Spotify playlist.