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A Hip Hop Photoshoot with The Reminders

October 2021

Whenever I get the chance to walk the streets here in Denver, Colorado, I'm always amazed by the variety of music that reaches my ears. For a city not as famous in the music scene as Los Angeles, New York or New Orleans, we have an incredible number of street performers, concerts, and festivals going on every day.


Country, rock, jazz, classical, and other deep, historically-rooted genres are often what the Mile-High City has been known for, but recently, with a more diverse population moving in over the last decade, fresh new music like hip hop, reggae, and metal have been finding their way onto the stage. As a Denver music photographer who also gets to work for a few national music magazines, the word that I keep hearing is that our city is primed for a flourishing musical revolution, and in my opinion, at the very front of that revolution is the hip hop duo The Reminders.

Created by a married couple who are also two incredible hip hop artists in their own right, Belgium-born emcee Big Samir and Queens-born artist Aja Black, The Reminders is an elite-level lyrical group that focuses on positive, empowering, and conscious topics. Their music has been a shining example for Denver's progressive future, and they've also grown quite the touring reputation with their electrifying chemistry on stage. Word about their performances has gotten around so well in fact that they've been invited to perform many times with greats like Snoop Dogg, Method ManMos Def, and Talib Kweli.

As a person who devours hip hop music every single day, when I discovered their music I was instantly captivated. Their buttery smooth yet highly complex wordplay mixed with classic soulful singing was a combo that I'd rarely heard in hip hop, and I also really appreciated the fact that they never kept to one style but were always evolving with each song. It felt as is if The Reminders didn't belong to just one timeline or era, but existed in all at once.

Hearts of Gold

I couldn't resist the urge to introduce myself to Aja and Samir and see what could arise out of our combined creative visions, and after they finished up some tour dates we finally got to make the opportunity happen. Just as I expected, they were genuine, enthusiastic and addictingly creative, and our mutual love for hip hop instantly broke down any barriers. We talked quite a bit about musical history and our favorite songs, but what really got us close was when we discovered that Mos Def and Talib Kweli's album, Black Star, was an enormous mutual influence in our lives. We played that masterpiece and sang the lyrics and bumped our heads, and after a few minutes Aja and Samir asked if they could freely dance around. At that point I could tell this shoot was going to be something very special and I threw out all my pre-made plans. The Reminders were about to go into their element and I was going to capture them at their best.

Since a freestyle flow was the emerging essence, I decided to keep my lighting arrangement simple so I could do less thinking and shoot more in the moment. I set one Profoto 4' OCF octobox as my key light, and to help the scene match that timeless quality that I mentioned of The Reminders before, I attached a gold vintage-looking gel onto it. Gold also seemed like a fitting color for Aja and Samir's brilliant, upbeat auras, and as many professional portrait photographers will also agree, it's a fantastic color match for darker skin.

I also placed a white paper backdrop behind Aja and Samir so that the gold would evenly distribute throughout the scene. If you ever want to try gelled lighting yourself, I highly recommend using white paper over gray or black, mostly because the medium to dark tones of the latter two will eat away away at the color quality.

Aja Black

Big Samir

After we nailed the gold shots I moved on to a new technique that I had been testing for the last few weeks where I combined two gels together to make a sunset-like gradient. Inspired by one of Samir's vests which had the African continent stitched on the back along with the Pan-African colors, I chose red and green with them blending into a soft yellow in the middle. I also tossed another green gel in the back of the scene to outline the duo with some modern neon flare.

During this second session the mood of the shoot self-evolved and went from high performance energy to a slower, thoughtful, heartfelt release. I wanted to capture Aja and Samir's affection, not only as a couple, but also as two people who have harmonized and emotionally supported each other through art for decades. As you can see below, the poses were far closer and intimate, and as always, they made it even better with their own sincere expression. 

Hip Hop Forever

In many ways, this photoshoot was like a love letter to what I adore most about Hip Hop. The genre can be masterful, competitive, bold, and exhilarating, but it can also bring a strong focus on awareness, empowerment, family and community. To me, The Reminders embody all of these qualities, and as a person who respects their music, I'm proud to say I played a small part in supporting that message. 

As a photographer this shoot also challenged me to loosen up, try new things, and let more of my instincts take the lead. I attempted a few techniques that I had never even done during a professional shoot before, and for many of us I think that is an extremely important creative exercise to try. So the next time that you have some free shoot time, branch out, team up with someone who excites you, and go together on a new experimental endeavor. You never know what you might discover.


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