The Untold Stories Behind These Legendary Hip-Hop Portraits
"After Ice Cube's concert, I went backstage to give him some photos we'd shot that afternoon. When the door opened, his bodyguard asked if I could bring some ice cubes."
A version of this article originally appeared on Noisey Netherlands.
Ilja Meefout has spent the last 13 years photographing some of the biggest names from the international rap circuit, from Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube to Common and Kendrick Lamar. He got his start at Paradiso—an iconic Amsterdam venue that just celebrated its fiftieth birthday with an epic lineup of Dutch hip-hop artists—and has seen some of the venue's most historic moments, both onstage and off. Noisey Netherlands sat down and talked to him about some of his favorite photographs and the anecdotes associated with them.
Noisey: This is quite the collection of photographs.
Ilja Meefout: Yeah, man. There's too many to count. It wasn’t easy to choose.
What sets Paradiso apart from other music venues in the Netherlands?
This is the music venue in the country. For an artist, playing here is as good as it gets. The church windows are gorgeous and even though there are multiple sections [for the audience], it still feels intimate when you’re inside. It’s a very special place in the heart of Amsterdam. At Paradiso, photographers can take pictures for as long as they want to. And they can use flash. In [the sports stadium] Ziggo Dome, they tell you to go home after three songs. Which is too bad, because the best moments often happen when the show comes to a close.
This is my first photo that was published in print. In 2005, it was featured in the first and only ever edition of Vibe Magazine. This concert was great, and the backdrop of the stage featured a subway car from Queens, where Nas is from. His shows are great because they're messy. Nas disappears into his music so much that sometimes, he doesn’t say full words. He mumbles along and picks it back up after four words. In some way it’s bad and unprofessional, but that’s what I liked about this concert. It wasn’t scripted or slick.
Fun stuff happens backstage at Paradiso. After Ice Cube played a show, I went backstage to give him some photos we'd shot that afternoon. When the door opened, his bodyguard asked if I could bring some ice cubes. I thought they were joking. But, just in case, I went to get a cup full of ice and they ended up letting me in. That afternoon, I had taken pictures of Ice Cube with a cigar for State Magazine. I gave this picture to him as a gift and asked if he could sign one for me. So that was backstage at Paradiso.
I took this picture of Common downstairs in Paradiso’s basement after he did a press conference for his album Universal Mind Control in 2008. I think this is a beautiful photograph. Looking at the composition, his hand is in a good spot. He's calm, but the photo has a sharp edge. He looks like he’s in control. Common is a very charismatic and calm person. His lyrics are musically sound and well thought out. He’s a warm and kind guy, but he can also flip the switch to his street mentality.
Ice T and Body Count
This show by Ice T and metal band Body Count was amazing, but I had a terrible headache and the noise didn’t help. After I took this photo, I thought, Fine, this is good enough to go with the concert review. Then I went home. The next day, [music journalist] Job de Wit called me and asked if I had a shot of Ice T and his wife Coco, who had been topless on stage. I missed that moment. It goes to show that at the end of a performance, the craziest stuff can happen. Personally, I really like this photo, so I wasn’t too upset about it.
Fat Joe’s performance at Paradiso in 2006 was terrible, but I do like this picture. The image emanates a certain cheerfulness, but also a hip-hop attitude. This photo proves how much I love music. I literally waited backstage [for him] for hours. Ultimately, he showed up around 11:30 PM, carrying a huge bucket of chicken from his dressing room. Looking back, I’m not upset that he was an asshole—he came here to have some fun, not to do interviews for some Dutch magazine.
To me, this Lupe Fiasco show in 2007 showcased how hip-hop was changing in the Netherlands. In the front row were four college students, arm in arm, all staring at one another lovingly. The song Lupe Fiasco played was probably their anthem, but it kind of annoyed me. I do like Lupe as an artist, but the crowd he attracted just consisted of a completely different kind of people. During this time, I think hip-hop started reaching a wider audience in the Netherlands. That’s why I chose this photo.
During my first photo gig in 2005, when I shot [Dutch rapper] Sugacane, Slick Rick didn’t show up. Nice & Smooth played in his place. That night, I was primarily there to interview Slick Rick and to take his picture, but there was some sort of hassle with the tour because he was convicted for being an accessory to murder a few years prior. Paradiso had to cancel his show at the last minute. I took this picture 12 and a half years after that cancelled show, and it’s the very last photo I took at Paradiso.
Last question: Are there any legendary Paradiso moments you weren’t able to capture?
When Redman vomited in one of the corners inside Paradiso and picked right back up after that, and when Ol’ Dirty Bastard performed in that same year. Ol’ Dirty Bastard made everyone so crazy; people started jumping down from the balcony. Everyone was stage diving; so much weird shit was going on on stage. The atmosphere at concerts used to be very different from the way it is now. It wasn’t aggressive, but it was grimy. These days, it’s all a bit more mellow, which is also fine, of course. I’m really happy the Dutch scene is doing so well and feel blessed that I’m still working with the current generation of Dutch artists.