'A Hip-Hop Life': Grammy Museum exhibit covers 5 decades of photographer Ernie Paniccioli's work

NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- The Grammy Museum located in Newark's Prudential Center is celebrating Black Music Month in June with a look at the birth of hip-hop back in the 1970s.

A new exhibit called "A Hip-Hop Life" covers five decades in the life and work of photographer Ernie Paniccioli, who was there to capture the emergence of what became a new musical genre.

The lensman befriended and took some of the first professional photos of Queen Latifah, L.L. Cool J, and many more.

Paniccioli was simply the right man at the right place at the right time to chronicle those early years when hip-hop was born, and you can trace the evolution of the genre through his images and see how it grew from its roots in our area into the the worldwide phenomenon it is today.

"It's a seminal moment," Paniccioli said. "It's something amazing."

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There are photos of Tupac, Biggie, Puffy, and so many more who came to call him Brother Ernie.

"They sensed, here's a guy that's just like us, come from nothing and made something," he said.

Their rapport with the photographer is obvious.

"My style was raw and street and uneducated," he said. "I never had a photography course, and just like these artists created something out of nothing, I created something with my camera."

One of his most notable pictures shows a young Shawn Carter becoming Jay-Z.

"He knew when I met him at 16 he was going to be a star," he said. "He knew that. He said, 'I'm gonna be running this. I am going to be running this whole game.' He was very clear, and he said it with passion, and he looked me in the eye. And I'll never forget that."

Paniccioli is a Native American man who found common cause with African American artists after he grew up on the streets of Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights when those neighborhoods were dangerous.

He said the new art form was born on the same mean streets.

"I was not surprised when the genre blew up, because it spoke to us in the community," he said.

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Paniccioli calls hip-hop, "art from the soul, art from the heart," and it has stood the test of time so that the entire world moves to its beat.

Black Music Month represents the ideal opportunity to check out the Recording Academy's Grammy Museum, located within Newark's Prudential Center. A convenient side door lets you into an experience quite unlike any other in the tri-state area.

For more on the exhibit, visit the Grammy Museum's website.

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