This week, longterm hip-hop gots a special treat when previously unreleased photos of a young Nas with Tupac surfaced online, and today the full story of how the photos were rediscovered after 25 years has been revealed. The photos were unearthed courtesy of journalist and producer, Vikki Tobak, who started the Contact High Project in June 2016 to tell the stories behind hip-hop’s most iconic images, the photographers and shoots that created them, and the images that got left on the cutting room floor simply because nobody knew how significant they’d turn out to be.
In an interview with Mass Appeal, Tobak revealed the providence of the newly released photos, taken by Al Pereira (who is currently mixed up in legal drama with Kylie and Kendall Jenner over their T-shirts bearing his images of Tupac and The Notorious BIG) and shared the intriguing story behind their unveiling — and why they went into the archives for so long in the first place.
Well, there’s this one image that’s out there with Biggie and Tupac. It’s super well known, and Redman is in it too. So I said to the photographer, “Show me the contact sheet for that image.” The photographer is Al Pereira. He shot hip hop a ton back in the day, but then he put away all his contact sheets for awhile because he went to go work for the [New York] Jets. But he has his stuff super organized, so he sent it to me. I was looking at it with the other shot in mind, the Biggie and Tupac one. So I was looking at it and there’s a lot of people on it and I noticed in one of the photos it was Nas… like a baby Nas. This was a year before Illmatic even came out. [Pereira] puts these great little stickers on his stuff, which not a lot of photographers do, so I got to see what it was and what day it was shot.
You discovered the picture!
But by accident! I was like, Oh cool! There’s a baby Nas! Everyone was like, “Holy sh*t! A photo of them together hadn’t existed!” So I didn’t know that until the internet told me. I actually didn’t know that a picture didn’t exist of Nas and Tupac, so when I was putting it up, it was kind of in the spirit of like, “Hey, Nas was there too! Like, look at what you uncover when you look at contact sheets!” So that was really like a surprise for me, too.
What was Pareira’s reaction when you told him Nas had been in the photos?
I’m like, “I think that’s Nas. Is that Nas?” And I texted him and I’m like, “Do you know you have Nas in these contact sheets?” He’s like, “Oh, I remember being annoyed that all these people were getting in my shot because at the time really like only Redman and Pac were the only famous people. I totally didn’t even think about Nas back then because it was before Illmatic and I was really trying to get Tupac.”
You can even see where he made a mark where he was gonna crop it, like a Diddy crop! He wanted to only get the two famous people in there. And that’s the spirit of the project, to see how the photographers made their selections. I just thought it was so funny that he was going to put this cropped photo out.
Apparently, the wider rap internet world didn’t quite believe her when she shared the solo image, so she put out the full contact sheet to prove that it really was Nas and Tupac together. Tobak promises more photos and revealing stories in her upcoming book, Contact High: Hip-Hop Visual Culture, which is set for release in fall of 2018 through Random House/Clarkson Potter.