UNCOVERED: Ol' Dirty Bastard's RapPages Cover (1995) with photographer B+ and art director Brent Rollins.
If The Source and Vibe were the Coke and Pepsi of this rap mag game, then RapPages was the Shasta. Actually, RapPages was Dr. Pepper. Not everybody likes Dr. Pepper, but those who do, looovvve Dr. Pepper. That was RapPages, published on the cheap by porn magnate Larry Flynt of Hustler infamy — a fact which makes the publication's June 1995 cover featuring Ol' Dirty Bastard groping an anonymous hottie's money-makers pretty much a natural fit.
Not merely the first magazine with national distribution to give DJ Premier, Goodie MOB, Tha Alkaholiks, and E-40 the front cover (actually, we'll have to flip through our old issues of Murder Dog to see if they put Forty Water on there first), RapPages was also where one half of the ego trip squad got their beginnings. Art Director Brent Rollins and Managing Editor Gabriel Alvarez done put in work at Larry's rag under the leadership of EIC Sheena Lester and Music Editor Bilal Allah. Also part of the team was Photo Editor/Irish ex-pat Brian Cross, better known as B+. An accomplished lensman who shot for the likes of URB, as well as numerous album covers, and is the author of the West Coast rap primer, It's Not About a Salary, B+ went on to form the creative team of Mochilla with fellow photographer Eric Coleman. He also shot what might have been RapPages' best cover; a firmly tongue-in-cheek homage to photographer Patrick Demarchelier's famous 1993 Rolling Stone cover wherein a topless, tight jean wearing Janet Jackson had her two's covered by some lucky hands (no, not U-God's).
But as one might imagine, B+ had his work cut out for him in order to get the illustrious shot. A series of cancelled photo shoots, a fast approaching deadline and an erratic ODB all stood in the way of capturing the provocative image. Here, with input from our own Brent Rollins, we present the lowdown on how a parody of an iconic photograph was pulled off at the last minute, nudity, curse words, and all.
So how did this crazy image come about?
B+: We had pitched [the label] the idea. My memory of the idea is that it [sprung from] one of those meetings in [RapPages managing editor] Gabe [Alvarez]’s office, where it was Brent, me and Gabe, and we were kind of bullshitting about ideas and the idea came up [to parody the Janet Jackson Rolling Stone cover].
Brent Rollins: Yeah, I remember Sophia Chang [ODB’s manager] was visiting L.A. and came to the office to visit [RapPages editor-in-chief ] Sheena [Lester] and talk. I can’t remember specifics, but it didn't seem like it was a tough idea to sell to ODB. Once the idea of riffing on the Rolling Stone cover popped up, I remember the laughter and sense of enthusiasm that was in the air.
RapPages (1995) by B+ vs Rolling Stone (1993) by Patrick Demarchelier
But the funny thing to me is that we weren’t really sure initially if we wanted to give [ODB] a cover in the first place. I mean, the Wu was hot then, but he just seemed so “out there” that we were worried. We got the advance cassette of maybe the first 4 or 5 songs off Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version and at first listen it seemed really far out and strange. It was different. And then I remember the next day Gabe throws the tape on in the office to give him one last chance and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” comes on and suddenly we're all throwing our arms up in the air and whylin’ out. It was like [the moment we realized], “Yes. This must happen.” So then a week or so later we fly to New York. Me, Brian, and Sheena. And it was cold, must've been March or April.
B+: And it was a pretty truncated experience. It was like incredibly short. I think he was there for a total of maybe 30 minutes, 40 minutes. I remember it [took place] in the back of a small studio of a camera store in Manhattan in the mid-20s in this photo district.
Brent Rollins: So Ol’ Dirty comes in late, of course. And I tried to tell him what we wanted for the magazine interior shots first, without the model. And we were expecting him to be all wild for the camera. And I distinctly remember him telling me, “Nah man, I’m on some cool out shit.” And in my mind I was just like, “Wow, dude. You’re fucking our shit up.” We flew across the country with a crazy deadline expecting to get these action shots with the maniac from the music videos and instead he decides to be Mr. Chill. [laughs]
B+: But in the end he gave it up. When I look at those frames. All of them are amazing. When you look at the composite of everything, he gave exactly what was required.
But what about the model? PLUS: Exclusive photoshoot rejects on the next page...