PHOTO: Sian Kennedy/RETNA
On November 19, 1998, Sian Kennedy showed up at the temporary residence of a new rapper being touted as the next big thing for the following year. The rapper’s name was Eminem. And Kennedy, on assignment for Spin magazine, started snapping images of his subject almost as soon as the door opened. The rapper didn’t like that too much.
For our latest issue, we spoke to the rapper and the photographer about the experience. Because that’s what we do.
After the jump, read the extended versions of the stories behind the photoshoot, which we couldn’t fit into our magazine.
I haven’t seen that photo in at least 10 years. I’d seen a few of them when that issue first came out, but I haven’t seen it in at least 10 years. There’s more than just this picture that came out in that chair; I’ve seen a bunch. I’m sitting in a chair that looks like it’s kinda from the garbage. That’s ’cause it was—from the garbage. That was the first photo shoot that I ever had with Spin. [Dr.] Dre had put me up in Burbank. It was right before the first record came out and Dre had put me up in Burbank in a little apartment somewhere, and the photographers were coming to the apartment. I had just got off a plane or whatever. I walked in, had just set my luggage down, and I hear a knock on the door and these two photographers come in. When I open the door, they got a camera in my face and they just start taking pictures. I’m like, What the fuck? I know I gotta do a photoshoot, but Jesus Christ! So I didn’t even get a chance to [do anything]. I’m like, Yo, you mind if I shower? They’re like, Oh, we’ll wait! So I went in, I showered, I came out and we went somewhere in the city and we ended up going to a alley and taking that picture. I think it was right next to a dumpster and they found a chair that was by there and they were like, You mind sitting in this? I was like, Alright, whatever, so we took some pictures.
That’s an Avirex jacket; that was actually Royce’s jacket. Me and Royce [da 5′ 9″] had Avirexes and we traded jackets. I had bought a brown one and he bought a black one, and I liked his better and he liked mine better, so we just traded jackets. I specifically remember that jacket. I think it wore it for like a year, two years straight. I was very [much]—especially in the beginning stages, I mean, I still am—a creature of habit as far as certain things that I get attached to; a certain pair of pants and a certain jacket and I’m keeping it forever. I don’t think I still have that jacket. I don’t even know where it went. But that’s kind of specifically how I remember that jacket, though.
It was a nice apartment. It was empty, basically; a new couch, but definitely it looked like he just rolled up. I had a point-and-shoot on my waist, just a little tiny snappy camera,and I was taking some shots of him. In the beginning, we were in his house and he started doing all the signs in my face. I said, “Man you look like a punk, don’t do that.” I was trying to do a little bit of trash talking with him, but he didn’t like that at all. He was like, “What are you talking about? I’m not a punk!” I said, “I’m just kidding. I was trying to get a rise out of you.” So that tactic didn’t work.
You just try for moments and since he was going to be one of the ‘top ten things’ of 1999 or something like that, the world didn’t know who he really was, we were kinda introducing him. It really wasn’t working out in the apartment. I had these places scouted out in South Central. I think we went in my car—he had a publicist and I had an assistant. I remember he put in his tape in my cassette deck, cranked it up really loud and we all listened to it, so we couldn’t talk. We went to South Central and there was a place—I found like this little hamburger joint/taco stand that had a little courtyard fenced in with round cement tables and round cement benches. There was a record store/pot shop right next door.
When we got out of the car and we were walking around and started taking pictures on the street, all the kids were singing his raps. And this was before any records were out. It kinda surprised me because he’s from Detroit and the kids are in South Central. They totally loved him. He was already a star in their minds. They were running up beside us and watching and rapping his raps to him. It was pretty cool. This is before any press or any radio stuff or anything like that. That was kinda awesome.
We shot stuff in the record store, we shot stuff in the alley, we shot stuff by the restaurant, against the wall. I was trying to get him to do stuff, just to be himself and not this projection of a superstar. That’s kind of the way it is: they have the mean look and they do the sign into the camera. He was wasn’t into [my suggestions] at all. We were kind of battling; he was trying to [be a superstar] and I was trying to get something of him. I don’t think either one of us got our way. I think [the shots] were okay, but not great.
This is the part that I remember the best: All these guys gathered around and they were passing a joint. They all sat down around this round table, there’s like six of them. Eminem sat down next to them and they started passing the joint around and rapping—whoever wasn’t rapping was making percussion on the table with their hands, making vocalizations. So they start rapping and they’re going around the table and they’re pretty good but when it comes to Eminem’s turn, he just blows them out of the water. It’s so obvious: he’s rapping about me, the photographer looking like a dork, making fun of everybody and just really in the moment and funny and good. It was pretty great because he delivered in that moment spontaneously. And they knew it. It was a battle and they were crushed. That was kind of the highlight of that.
I just thought he was a chump, to tell you the truth. I was gaining a little bit of respect when the kids knew who he was and then we he did that rap with them it was like, Okay. This guy is for real. He’s a real artist. A lot of times you take a pictures of people and it’s just a bunch of hype—they’re just pumped up by a record company and it’s not that they’re some amazing artist.
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