ERNIE PANICCIOLI On Hip-Hop History, Photography and the Law…


Editor’s note: ERNEST PANICCIOLI is an award winning photo-journalist and community activist. ‘The Other Side Of Hip-Hop’ is the film biopic of his life and the lessons he has learned through the artistic movement called Hip-Hop. This film won the Best Documentary award at the 2007 Big Apple Film Festival.

In Rock, there were a couple of photographers who caught images of a young Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Bob Dylan, the early Beatles and The Stones.

In Hip-Hop there were a small handful of us who caught Bam, (Grand Wizard) Theodore, Lee (Quinones), Vulcan, graf kids and B-boys, as well as Public Enemy, KRS1, Rakim, Crash Crew, Cold Crush, Slick Rick, Tribe Called Quest, Latifah De La Soul, Zulu, Tony Tone, DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster(s) Flash and Caz.

tony tone

Unlike Rock photographers, those of us who caught the early Hip-Hop magic have not really profited financially. Most of us have done a book or two, and with the exception of Henry Chalfant’s ‘Subway Art’, those books have sold in fairly small numbers, to a very small audience.

Most of the money we’ve earned has come from sales to magazines or the occasional sale to a media outlet like a Vh1 or MTV. Once or twice I’ve received a call to supply images for a retro album cover or I’v completed the sale for a few hundred dollars of a photo in a gallery show. Any fame or celebrity status we’ve acquired is in reality among our peers and a very small circle of Hip-Hop’s true fans.

Now that Hip-Hop is 33 years old or sopmewhere in that range(no BeYonce fake Hollywood age) we would like to be able to relax and to say we were there, that we documented the early phase of this artistic movement, and we did it honestly, quietly and well. Perhaps get a few paychecks for doing a lecture or for licensing our photos to a sneaker company/clothing line, and maybe go to Vegas in a nice hotel for a 4 day package get away, but now a ugly Grinch has reared his head with threats, accusations and warnings of lawsuits. The Grinch in question is not one of the t.I.’s that typically use their lawyers like Michael Vick uses his pitbulls but none other than the alleged “Godfather of Hip-Hop”, the one, the only DJ Kool Herc.


As a DJ perhaps he should rethink his verbal assaults and ask himself if he has paid royalties to every artist, record label, singer, rapper or management group for the records he spins at parties and functions. He should also ask himself what if we as the original historians of this culture decide to write him out of the history (rightly, or wrongly) of Hip-Hop?

If in films, documentaries, magazine articles, speeches, interviews on radio and TV and DVD’s we decide showing images of him or even mentioning his name is too much of a hassle and headache, an outright waste of time?

As far as the law goes we are 100% within our rights to use our images of him in any way, shape or form we see fit (with the exception of using his image on clothing or merchandise), especially since none of our images were shot secretly or without his knowledge or consent and were of a PUBLIC FIGURE in A PUBLIC Setting.

Instead of DJ Kool Herc growing old gracefully and utilizing his fame, his unique position in a historic culture and notoriety as a vehicle to get paid properly by global entertainment vehicles such as radio, television and even the internet as Fab 5 Freddy does or doing DJ gigs that he could command top dollar for, or even getting his own radio show, he has decided to attack, threaten, abuse, hassle and harangue those of us who helped push his face, fame, name and reputation to the world long before the anyone knew or even cared about Hip-Hop.

If he decides to hire some sorry, inept, cut rate sheister to file papers against all of us, or even ONE of us photographers I suggest we unite and fight him with a fury. Not just to protect ourselves in this instance, but to allow us to freely practice our chosen craft that we have used to give so much to so many for so long and for so little.

In unity,
Ernie Paniccioli

born in the bronx

34 Responses to “ERNIE PANICCIOLI On Hip-Hop History, Photography and the Law…”

  1. ERNIE man I was in a Barnes and Noble today and I was trying to pick up a copy of “Who Shot Ya” but damn.

    no more copies in the store.

    internet here I come.

  2. Dart_Adams says:

    As much as I love Kool Herc he’s wrong for that. I understand that he doesn’t want to become an icon that is just an icon that doesn’t get his proper compensation but damn! If you think that you’re not essentially a public figure whose mere likeness (along with a few others) pretty much means “Hip Hop Culture” and that people love and respect you for it then he can easily lose sight of what’s most important (rather than attacking people that actually helped to make him a worldwide legend with said images/portraits/likenesses).

    Ernie P! Rock, rock on!


  3. Blackwater says:

    I think someone just needs to sit down with Kool Herc and bring an agent with you. Make him understand your situation and what he could do to better his as well. THat way the added noeriety would aide his resurgence into the public eye, thereby increasing his paper stack. Everybody eats B.

  4. Ernest Paniccioli says:

    In what was an ironic moment, I was invited two months ago to be part of the crew that laid down sound bites and PSA’s for KRS1’s new Stop The Violence Movement. Also there were Melli Mel, Daddy O, Freedom Williams, KRS1, King Yoda, Zulu Jeff and others.
    I sat on a couch between Herc and Dana Dane, the irony is that Dana Dane was miffed that he was not included in my book “Who Shot ya?” and Herc was miffed that he was included (his photo alongside Afrika Bambaataa open the book and was posed for by the two in my Third Eye Studio.
    Dana Dane was supposed to be in the book, but our photo pages were cut from 300 to 210 and he, Lord Finesse (who I admire), Chuck Chillout and a host of others had to get the cut.
    I spoke to Herc and he was clear that he wanted to get paid for every photo taken of him and every photo used of him. To a photographer that is of course ludicrous. Imagine if every celeb asked for the same treatment. Yeah right, we’d be working for them, nah I don’t think so.
    The reason other artists (and I use that word loosely) don’t ask for the same is first most are supporting themselves from their craft and are hip enough to know that without us (photographers and fans) they would not only not eat, but would be washed up has beens, forgotten in the blur of L’il waynes, Jeezeys, Beyonces and others whose 15 minutes of fame are already at 14.5.
    Out of a sort of blind respect and grudging nostalgia most so called pioneers get a green light and avoid close scrutiny. I too go along with that idea until one decides to step on my toes, disrespect or think they can gorilla me, (aka Kool Moe Dee, fat, broke and 55 who tried to not pay me for supplying all of the photos for his book “There’s A God On The Mic” and who had the vanity to list himself as the 5th greatest of all time above Tupac, Big, Wu Tang and a host of others. Moe Dee gets the Bozack). Cool Jerk now allows himself to be opened to closer scrutiny including his alleged role as “The Father of HipHop” although he has never recorded an album, mixtape or anything else and I have documentation that shows his alleged innovation in 1974 was widely used both in Jamaica and Brooklyn in 1965 by so called Sound Systems, Sound Boys and indigenous DJ’s. As Queen latifah sadi in a response to a diss by Shante “The moral of the story is simple but true, don’t be fucking with anybody that ain’t fucking with you” For Kool Herc to try to shake down Joe Conzo for his book “Born In The Bronx” or my classic book “Who Shot Ya?” only make him look confused, addled and clueless. I spoke to his manager/sister and tried to resolve the whole beef, even offered to get him large paying speaking gigs in Japan and Europe, but she never returned my calls. Plus no one wants to work with a 300 pound man carrying a 400 pound grudge. Ernie

  5. evan says:

    Ernie – That breakdown reply is unreal. Honestly, that closer line is stronger than any dis track I’ve heard in forever.

    Can I ask if I pickup Who Shot Ya that you may sign it?

  6. Ernest Paniccioli says:

    I would love to sign your book. Who Shot Ya? is a classic because it is the first book of Hip Hop Photography covering 30 years of history by ONE photographer.
    Always before Vibe or some corporate funded Europeans would license photos from 30 or 40 photographers, hire some hack with no true knowledge of the culture to write some tired retreads, crib some rap lyrics and call it a book.
    And Who Shot Ya? is not even a distant third to my next project (Still looking for a Hip publisher with some serious funding) which will be a 3 decade, five volume set, one on each of the five elements with essays by Bambaataa, Jessica Care Moore, Henry Chalfant, Koe Rodriquez, Michael Gonzalez, Wendy Day of The Rap Coalition and many more.
    A good place to have me sign or buy books from me will be March 6th at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn where we will have a free screening of my film “The Other Side of Hip Hop”
    We are also invited to St Johns in Queens and Harvard University. So stay tuned and thanks deeply for the support and yes “Plus no one wants to work with a 300 pound man carrying a 400 pound grudge” is cold blooded but true. And Evan I may just write a diss to all those pirates, thieves, TI’s, Lioneers (lying about being pioneers) that cock block Hip Hop. Ernie

  7. Ernest Paniccioli says:

    Wow, Xmas must have you all on the ropes. For far too many of us we are if nothing else predictable. Xmas, Superbowl, New Years we are doing as programmed, no thought, analysis, reality check, just kick up that money hoe.
    Where did that come from? Well this drop concerning beef between not some 6th generation, MTV bought and paif for nigger, but two of the OG’s of this whole culture and it only elicited responses from 4 readers. Again you are predictable. If towel head (sorry to me his ass is CORNY) Sway were to announce it on EmptyTV or one of those high yellow retards on BET were to speak on it while selling weave gel this spot would be blown up. Of all the feces, sneakers, comic books, HAMS, and ghey rapper bs usually on this site, a beef between the cats who have put a face on this game for 2-3 decades and the alleged “Father of Hip Hop” is an historic drop and not even Davey D .com or all hip hop .com dared touch it.
    “A People without knowledge of their history is like a tree without roots”-Marcus Mosiah Garvey
    And it is that ignorance of the truth that allowed some whitebreads to come up to the Bronx, ask some hood rats a few questions and create the Mythology of Herc as some kind of Ghetto Super-Hero which after decades of repetition has gone unchallenged until now. Ernie

  8. Ernie,

    Wise souls have told me many times “Don’t stress the comments”. The hits a drop gets and how many people read it are far more significant. And even when you least expect it, something happens that proves to you that people are reading. Some people may not be compelled to drop a comment but…they are out there. Don’t give up on the readers. You’re doing good things with your words and that will always be heard.

    As always much respect to you.

  9. I just had this article e-mailed to me today…this is a crazy scenario and very unfortunate on a lot of levels.

    I’ve had my ups (great people, personalities and talent) and downs (other things I can’t say right now) dealing with some of the ” old school” (and hell, some of the new school too, I won’t front) in the Hip-Hop realm in my radio and other business dealings over the past few years and it’s a sad case that if folks feel that they need to go after someone for cash, they don’t really try to hit the people who have the ownership of their records that made them what they are or the “higher ups” in the game who truly own the distribution and money of things (the publishing companies of music and books, TV production folks, etc.), but those who grinded with them to get folks to a certain point in the first place.

    One thing I’ve always found strange is that in an industry were folks are naturally inclined to be interdependent of each other to survive and hopefully eat well, that disrespect rears its head on a pretty consistent basis. DJs need MCs, people want to know what the hell these folks look like (hence need for photographers and graphic artists), radio and TV stations need personalities, etc. yet a lot of cats act odd as hell when you say you want to do some positive building – sometimes because you’re not a “name” branded in one’s mind yet (everybody starts out from the bottom folks) or some other reason you’re looked at as being small.

    When the foundation falls (if folks “blow up” in the first place), and folks wonder why people aren’t trying to assist them like maybe back in the day (or at all), its just folks dealing with screwing around with the circle of life in the business and culture.

    It’s understandable that folks want their props, but how far does one go?

    Anyway, enough w/ my rambling – thanks for the thought process sparked with this article and look forward to the new book Mr. Paniccoli – I already have Who Shot Ya. 🙂


    Mary aka DJ Fusion
    FuseBox Radio/

  10. getthesenets says:

    First Ernie with all due respect…..

    I don’t ride with the N word…..I won’t correct a grown man/woman who chooses to use that word….if they re Black..but you’re disrespecting yourself and me by using that word. you don’t get a pass because you grew up among Blacks or because you are an integral part of this culture.

    2nd. Beefs among elders is hard to comment on because we hold,at least I do, these founding fathers in high esteem and aren’t used to seeing them portrayed as real people with real issues.

    I love KRS-One but it threw me off to read about alleged incidents and flareups by the Teacher.

    Herc, and Kool Moe Dee have to maintain their integrity and follow legal rules and GP rules. If not they are burning bridges to opportunities in the future.

  11. the_dallas says:

    If you knew the origin of the word nigger you might not be as spooked out(puns always intended at DP Dot Com) as you claim to be. Then again, you may be part of the jig populace that is hypersensitive to race so much so that issues of class befuddle them.

  12. getthesenets says:

    Nah..I don’t make excuses for my friends…no matter HOW cool they are to speak like that.

    Apparently, you do.

  13. the_dallas says:

    You seem to be a reading type nigga. Enter “whites were the original niggers” in the DP Dot Com search bar and peep that shit.

    Like I said before, if you are still mystified by the word nigger then that is your buisness.

  14. getthesenets says:


    I read the “Whites were” piece.That article was written for the average 9th grader not fairly intelligent adults. I used to think rappers were dumbing themselves down, but the fact of the matter is….even in the internet age and where every community has FREE library, dudes are REALLY not aware of even basic things .

    Was that article supposed to be some kind of bomb drop or something?

    Even the lazy dude who never picked up a book and just watches “Like It Is” with Gil Noble would know about how eastern europeans, “Slavs”… were used as slave labor centuries ago….

    step your game up,DP……

  15. the_dallas says:

    The piece you think you read describes he word nigger as having its roots firmly planted in classism. This is why most niggas can’t wrap they heads around it.

    Go back and read it again. And the read it one more time. If you cant walk outside of the rooms you have slept in since you were six and call the first person you see a nigger pt no pot matter what color they may imagine themselves you are twice the bitchmade coward I imagine you to be.

    Get a MySpace and start your own Black gheys only blog.

  16. getthesenets says:

    The old “you disagree with me so you must not understand the issue” argument.

    Followed by more insults….

    That may play in the barbershop…but in print it’s not a good look…..

  17. the_dallas says:

    Your first paragraph on my page was out of pocket so until you learn how to come correct like you imagine your deadbeat dad would have taught you I suggest you kick rocks to a forum that does respect your opinion.

    You are in my house. Period. Point blank. You don’t agree with me or my views. Okay. You have a judgement for me? Fuck you nigger.

    You don’t know half the shit I have seen so bring the holier than thou fake nigger shit you live by to people that actually give a fuck.

    That would be no one.

  18. getthesenets says:


    this is in PRINT…..anybody can go back and look for my first post/paragraph…..either here or in the Timbs thread and read what I wrote for themselves.

    Neither comment was “out of pocket” or even disrespectful.

    Again, rules for print debate/argument are different than for a face to face one. You can’t makeup stuff or distort things in print argument.Everything is there for people to see.

    You’re out of your league Dallas. And I think it’s dawning on you that you can’t really debate your points against me, so you’d prefer that I bounce.

    Come on,man. Verbal challenges , are part of our history as Africans and the root of the “battles” that are a part of hip hop.

    I’ll step,for now…but you disappoint me.

  19. the_dallas says:

    You simpleton shitbag, read the first paragraph that you left in this thread.

    You won’t correct a Black man for saying the N word? Fuck you nigger. Paul Wall is blacker than you nigger(look that entry up at this site as well).

    This is what I mean by bitchmade coward. You haven’t seen enough in your life to tell a man that volunteers his time in the community who he is disrespecting.

    You don’t own the word nigger. You don’t even understand that the words origins describe a motherfucking agrarian profession.

    You don’t need to use the N word because you are a simple simon. Now go kick rocks boy.

    I don’t give two shits what Africans do since I’m in America because so-called Africans sold my ancestors in chattel slavery.

    You want to help the community? Get off the fucking computer and go volunteer your time in any after school program or church.

    And you can print this out so it is no longer on electronic media. Dumb nigger.

  20. Kode Red says:

    I know this thread is a few years old but man did it ever devolve quickly! It’s too bad these types of threads get started and that people, especially respected pioneers in hip-hop, can’t settle their differences in person and in a reasonable manner. It’s hard to imagine these giants as petty, let alone unintelligent! Ernie, staying humble will preserve your integrity. Keep up the good work and think about reaching out to the reservations one day – Native kids can use a good history lesson from a brother who was there when it all began. Peace and miyo-pimâtisi!

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  33. Wendy Day says:

    Herc has always been bitter, disgruntled, and unhappy. I first met him in the early 90s when I was trying to help many of the “old school” artists get paid back royalties (I never liked the term old school. We have to do better). I found Herc difficult upon our first few interactions and avoided him from then on. As I grew in the industry of hip hop (and I have mixed feelings about the commercialism of hip hop—only because the people who create the art, photos, music, dance, graffiti, style, etc, are usually the last to get paid for their creations), I quickly found the general sentiment for Herc amongst his peers and the industry was that he was an “asshole” and difficult to deal with. The stories surrounding the iconic Source cover alone with the Founders are unbelievable and will go down in the history of hip hop at some point, probably long after Herc is no longer here to defend himself!!

    This prevailing sentiment that he’s difficult, disgruntled, and only cares about how much he is getting paid has become his reputation. I know many people that haven’t dealt with him because of this. His sister, Cindy, has done an amazing job representing him considering what she must go through dealing with him and bringing him offers. Sadly, I know many people that bypass doing anything with the “Founders” of hip hop because they don’t want to deal with Herc. This adversely affects Bam and Flash because of the negativity of one man.

    The sad part is, I believe Herc would be just as bitter if he was cut out of the history. He has proven himself to be an unhappy person who thrives on making others unhappy through his words and actions. I hope he finds peace as he ages. He deserves to be happy. And he deserves the accolades he is still afforded as one of the founders of this great art form we call hip hop.

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