From legendary rappers who crafted classic albums to groundbreaking moments that changed the genre, hip-hop’s history is storied – and avid photojournalist Shareif Ziyadat has captured countless pivotal moments, one snapshot at a time. A key cog in the culture for over 25 years, Ziyadat has photographed the likes of Jay-Z, Diddy, Kanye West and many more.
His career began when a high school friend asked Ziyadat to shoot The LOX in Yonkers, New York in the 90s, which he accepted without hesitation. Shortly after, a fortuitous moment presented itself when Ziyadat bumped into Joaquin “Waah” Dean, co-founder of the legendary Ruff Ryders Entertainment, on his way home from school.
“I had the camera in my hand and I knew it was my chance, so I went to talk to him,” Ziyadat said. Billboard. “I am 19 at the time. I jump off the bus with no money to get home and show up to Waah saying I always shoot The LOX, even though it happened [every] so often. He invited me to their tour, and I’ve only been in school for a month, but I had to be there.
Before he knew it, Ziyadat was taking all kinds of content for Ruff Ryders’ team to the point that he became their go-to photographer. A love for culture has always driven the Yonkers native to tour, which only intensified after he first encountered DMX in a studio.
“The first thing DMX says to me is, ‘Do you like what you do?’ I said to him: “Of course you do”, and he said to me: “If you do it, you will never have to run after the money”. He will chase you,” Ziyadat recalled. “He was the biggest thing in music at the time, so hearing that was so motivating. The energy was so pure, I wanted to be part of it all the time. When it clicked, I knew he there was nothing else I wanted to do.
All the work and support he received from the Ruff Ryders gave Ziyadat access to other artists outside of the label – and working with 50 Cent in particular helped. Ziyadat saw where he could take his passion. “50 was a blessing in my life because it was a big turning point for me in the world of ad campaigns,” he says. “The fact that I was with Puff and all these guys was great to be exposed, but the way 50 vouched for me and made things happen while I was working with him, no one else has. did.”
These days, Ziyadat is still driven by an unquenchable fire that keeps him in the game. “I never had a moment where I wanted to hang up my camera,” he adds. “I’m at a stage where I want to evolve and be innovative, like Jay-Z, always doing something that turns heads. That’s the energy I want to develop.
Below, Ziyadat selects the seven best photos he’s ever taken throughout his career – ranging from music video shoots to brand campaigns and fundraisers – and tells the story behind each one.
Check out the photos below.
That’s when Diddy had Sean John, and it was the biggest thing at the time for him to have a clothing line and a brand. I was working with the Combs team a lot and building with them, and for that job they called me to be his personal photographer to document his fashion show and the after party, which was a big moment for him. , to be part of fashion week. I was so grateful to capture him doing something we never thought we’d do in theaters.
This shot in particular, he had a crew from Paris documenting the whole thing on film, but I got him as he walked out of Cipriani’s with the revolving doors and it just depicted an iconic guy living a dream – and he was living this vision of what he wanted.
That moment was at his Shawn Carter Foundation gala where the day before the actual event, they throw a private party where it’s just family and friends. He was sitting and Emory was sitting right next to him; As a shooter, you always give everyone their space and read the room to see if a moment happens so you can capture it, the essence of it.
So Jay pulls out the cigar and as soon as you see a moment pass, you position yourself. So as soon as I did that, it was like an energy shift where Jay looked up and basically said with his eyes, “I’m about to do something fiery, so get ready .” It was like an eye-to-eye coordination thing where we [are] talk without really talking and connected at that time. When I looked through the lens, I saw him, and you can see it in his eyes like, “This is what we do, so let’s go.” Even when I took the picture, it hit me inside. I looked at the picture and had to go home.
I got a call from one of his guys who said 50 Cent wanted to shoot a music video. I shoot videos, but he never called me to make one. I had to be there, so I went to the studio and everything was set up and 50 tells me about the concept where the whole video is a sequence of images, and that moment came from that shoot. I don’t know why, but I love cigars, and this shot spoke to me. It was a motivation for me, because he gives off this energy of being a boss.
It was on the set of “Where The Hood At?” We shot two days in Chicago and one day in New York. This photo was taken on School Street, where X was born and raised. DMX arrived 10 hours late – God bless him – and everyone was so happy he came, but it was such a touching moment because Aaliyah passed away and her other boy Kato just passed , so his energy was in all his heart. He is very emotional. I shot him so many times, but that moment… You know, his energy is so powerful, but here it was different.
He pulled me aside to take a picture of him and his girlfriend and he took a few pictures with his shirt on. He looked at them then decided to take off the shirt and put it on the car. So I took more pictures of him leaning on the car and then he decided he needed to squat down and give blessings. I photographed him in this pose where you can see the pain in his eyes, and I knew it was a moment because as a photographer you want to capture your subject and how they feel.
It was Rihanna’s album release party for To classify and it was just her and the anticipation of everyone wanting to be around her. You see that everyone in the photo is feeding off his energy. It was one of those moments where you felt the energy that his arrival was going to bring. It’s like when you’re waiting for something, and it finally happens, and that’s what happened that night. She came, took off her jacket and ordered the room. I like to document the essence before the setup, so it’s more about capturing her preparing to show the world, “This is me and my album. I am ready to conquer the world.
Nas is a legend, and for this moment it was for a birthday party and his manager at the time wanted to have a dinner party and document everything. I’ve had a lot of dope moments, but this one was at the end of the night, and he had just taken his jacket off and was just chilling. He didn’t smoke cigars all night until he was ready to relax.
He sat down, I saw him turn it on and I was like, “Hold it there”, and I seized that moment. He had this look, and I just knew that was the vibe, “We’re here, and we’re celebrating some boss stuff.” We all strive to be bosses and be content with what we do, that confidence is magnetic. If I create those moments and make them look larger than life, their confidence comes out and people feed off of that.
DRAKE & CHRIS BROWN
It was at Greenhouse, the [old] hotspot in New York. They were both coming up with some awesome stuff, and ironically, it felt like a week before it all happened between them with the bottle-throwing incident. But with that, everyone was having a great time and there was a lot of good energy in the air. It wasn’t like it was now where people had much security. That night Drake was coming in and I had patted Chris for a shot, but then he patted Drake and said, “Take it with me.”
It was a moment when it was nothing but love, and I captured it. Next thing you know, the fight happened and that was the image that was going around heavily at the time on all the news outlets. I love capturing moments and telling stories with these images. I capture the journey of these two, which is also part of my journey, and it’s like we all evolve. With this, you never know what the future holds. Look where we all are now.