Jelani Fresh is a self-taught, 26-year-old photographer and videographer part of HS87, Hit-Boy’s label. He was born and raised in San Bernardino, California, but moved to Fontane when he was 18 and has been there ever since. In fact, all of the HS87 members are from Inland Empire (I.E.), which is about an hour outside of Los Angeles. Mr. Fresh did the viral “Jay-Z Interview” video for Hit-Boy and has shot photos of many other artists. He’s not just limited to music, however. For example, he works with a nonprofit group called Africa Through Education (ATE) and earlier this year even went to Nigeria and South Africa to work with the children and document the trip for the foundation. Pretty much living the freelance life right now, Jelani is picking gigs as they come, but never not shooting. Keep reading to hear more about his start, how he got linked up with Hit-Boy, and more.
Getting into Photo and Video
I’ve had an interest in photography since I was young, but I never really had an idea to take it seriously. About five years ago a best friend of mine named Charles Marshall got killed. It was a month before my birthday and soon my parents were asking what I wanted as a present and that incident influenced me to ask for a camera. That was the first time I had a DSLR. I kind of would just take pictures of everything and over time I got better at it.
My first camera was a Canon 40D and I had that for about a year and a half. Then when the 5D came out, I saw that it recorded that high quality video and I wanted to make that transition and take a crack at it. I kind of just fell into it like a lot of other photographers have. That was around three years ago.
Relationship with Hit-Boy
I met Hit-Boy through my friend Oktane from Audio Push, who’s now signed to HS87 as well. At the time we were doing a lot of parties and Audio Push was part of that group who did the parties. Hit-Boy came to one of our kickbacks and I was introduced to him there. We just rapped back-and-forth until we linked up. From there, we just progressed.
“Jay-Z Interview” Music Video
It was a crazy experience. When you look at the video, you see so many different clips. There’s a little under three years of video footage in there just from being with Hit, having the opportunity to travel with him. Basically I would just film his life and be a part of what’s becoming of him.
We got a really good response from a lot of people, even Jay-Z. It was crazy because Hit showed me the text message he had got from Hov and it blew me away. I figured that people would like it, but I didn’t think it would get as much of a response as it did.
Visually it’s raw, it’s real. That’s the aesthetic we tried to work with instead of like coloring the footage, just so you can get more of an authentic feel for it. We wanted to do his version of “Through The Wire” and a lot of people got that. I think the mission was accomplished.
Favorite Photography Experience
When we were in London and Hit was working with Kanye and all the GOOD Music cats for the Cruel Summer album. Just the fact that I was out of the country with my boy. That was the first time we had went international, so there’s a lot of sentimental value in those photos. Then of course being around ‘Ye, being around Big Sean and Pusha T, being around all of those cats everyday was surreal. Those are the people that we look up to, so it’s pretty dope to be around them. It’s really inspiring. I just played my position, was as discreet as possible, and respected their creative flow. I would film when they wanted me to. Overall, it was just a great experience.
In retrospect, sometimes I just look back at the footage and get hype. Even Hit too, we’re like little kids ’cause we’re fans of these dudes. We just watch and we’ll be like “dreams are really coming true.”