“Part of the Permanent Record” Captures “Strong Island” Scene that Formed Public Enemy
Hip-Hop Activist & Media Assassin Harry Allen’s “Part of the Permanent Record: Photos From the Previous Century,” a show of rare images from a crucial period of hip-hop history.
“Part of the Permanent Record” marks the 20th anniversary of Allen’s June 1987 debut, not as a photographer but, as a renowned writer and commentator on hip-hop culture. Allen has been published in VIBE, The Village Voice, The Source, ESSENCE, Billboard, and other media, while being quoted as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, on National Public Radio, MTV, VH-1, and CNN, and more. Allen has co-produced and narrated features for BBC Radio, and, since 2003, has hosted and produced a weekly arts radio show, NONFICTION, for WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM.
To even his closest readers, listeners, or colleagues, however, Allen’s earlier work as a photographer, during his student days at Adelphi University on Long Island, was unknown. It was there, mostly at the student radio station, WBAU, that Allen became friends with an extraordinary group of like-minded individuals deeply involved with the emerging culture of hip-hop. This circle included virtually all of the young men who would coalesce as Public Enemy and its production unit, the Bomb Squad: Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Hank and Keith Shocklee, Bill Stephney, Terminator X, and Eric “Vietnam” Sadler, as well as Andre “Doctor Dre” Brown, who would later achieve prominence alongside Ed Lover as the hosts of “Yo! MTV Raps.”
“I connected with these guys,” says Allen, “because, at a time during which the conventional wisdom was that rap was a `fad’ that would eventually `go away,’ they were the first people I’d met who, like myself, looked at hip-hop scientifically and took it utterly seriously.”
Allen decided that the work these young people were doing
- primarily, producing and hosting rap radio shows and live d.j. events - was worth documenting, and he devoted himself to doing so with great flair and attention to detail, roughly between 1983 and 1986. Then, “because I simply could not figure out how to make a living as a photographer,” he put his camera down, his photos away, and began to write. By that time, however, he’d created not only a trove of great pictures of a revolutionary recording group during their incubation period - akin to the Beatles in Hamburg - but of such notables as Run-DMC, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, LL Cool J, Whodini, Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, T. La Rock, Stetsasonic, Dick Gregory, Angela Davis, and others.
This is the first exhibition of Allen’s photos. Eyejammie is honored to be presenting this work as part of the permanent record preserving hip-hop’s exuberance, innovation, and spirit.