If you’re a consumer of rap music, then you’ve seen Jonathan Mannion’s work. Many times. Mannion, who is originally from Cleveland, has more than 300 albums to his name. Responsible for such iconic album covers as Nelly’s “Country Grammar” (2000), Ja Rule’s “The Last Temptation” (2002), DJ Khaled’s “Major” (2016), Bust Rhymes’ “Big Bang” (2006), DMX’s “Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood” (1998), Aaliyah’s “I Care 4 U” (2002), and Eminem’s “The Marshall Mathers LP” (2000), among many others. Mannion is likely the most prolific and storied rap photographer you’ve never heard of. Moving to NYC in 1993, Mannion was fortunate to assist photographers like Richard Avedon and Steven Klein, which helped lay the foundation for his technical skills. His easygoing demeanor, creativity, passion, and drive took him the rest of the way. In 1996, at twenty-five years old, he shot the cover of Jay-Z’s “Reasonable Doubt,” and the rest, as they say, is history. Now, twenty-five years since he stepped on to the scene, Mannion is finally putting the finishing touches on a retrospective book. I chatted with him about his favorite shoots, the secret to his staying power, and how he loves giving back to his community of fans.
*This article can be found in vol. 16 of PATTERN Magazine
WORDS BY P0LINA OSHEROV
“I shot this 665 Polaroid from ‘Reasonable Doubt’ at the end of the portrait session in a solarium on the top floor of my apartment building on 72nd street and Riverside Drive in New York City. As Jay Z was heading outside for the last set up by the Hudson River, I asked him to stop for a quick second because his positioning was strong and I thought it could be a good ‘back cover’ for the CD. It felt like a movie poster.”
“This image always makes me think of Russell Crowe’s film ‘A Beautiful Mind.’ Eminem is a genius and his handwriting is absolutely fascinating. I felt that at this particular moment in his career Eminem had figured out his process and could masterfully create wordplay that mesmerized audiences worldwide. These handwritten lyrics behind him allowed us a quick glimpse into how his mind worked.”
“Being in the presence of a musical genius and national treasure was one of those gifts that as a photographer I get from time to time. Quincy Jones has left an indelible mark on music and having the opportunity to photograph this true legend is a moment that I will never forget. The session took place at the Beverly Hilton on the balcony of one of his suites.”