ROCKPORT — When Isaac Remsen, 33, of Rockport learned about the death of hip hop artist Nipsey Hussle, who was tragically shot in Los Angeles March 31, he immediately went online. Visiting a popular hip hop website, hiphopdx, Remsen said he opened an article that contained celebrity’s tributes to the star.
“I scrolled down and my photo was the first thing I saw,” Remsen said, with a mix of humility and awe.
Remsen said the photo in question was one he made in 2015 when he was part of the media team capturing the Boston Freedom Rally.
He said he was shooting when he got a call about a surprise concert featuring popular New England hip hop stars. The concert also promised a surprise performer. He changed gears and headed to make photos there.
“Maybe half an hour into shooting the event I found out that the surprise performer was Nipsey Hussle.” He said. “It was unbelievable.”
Media pass in hand, Remsen was able to capture photos of Nipsey Hussle and his D.J. from the stage. Though Remsen has an extensive history working with musicians and the hip hop community, he said it was a particularly exciting shoot.
“I would say [Nipsey Hussle] was one of the artists I connected with,” he said. “I connected to him and to what he was all about.”
Nipsey Hussle was known for helping in his community and always appreciating other people. He wanted to improve his own community and remained humble, Remsen said.
He added that he has been a fan of the artist since 2007.
Remsen’s image was shared without credit; he figures that it was likely taken from his Flickr page, the only place he stored it online in high resolution.
Who shared the image?
Remsen said, still with a bit of disbelief, that the hip hop artist Drake chose his photo for a lengthy Instagram tribute to the fallen Nipsey Hussle and which, to date, has received more than 2.5 million likes. Many subsequent shares have been screenshots of that tribute, which have made it onto television and have spread widely across the internet.
“I’m not trying to make any money from it,” he said of the photo. “I just want to share where it came from.”
“Subconsciously I have always wanted to give something back to a community that has given me so much,” he said of the image and the hip hop community. Musing that it’s hard to reconcile the grief of Nipsey Hussle’s death with this astonishing career moment.
“I have received many words of wisdom over the past few days,” he said. “This is the biggest thing that has happened in my career. I am honestly so honored.”
Remsen has been passionate about hip hop music since his days growing up in Midcoast Maine. He recalls buying albums at the former Harbor Audio Video in Camden and driving around listening to them with friends after school.
He graduated in 2004 and initially went to Dean College in Massachusetts, where he began studying and working on ways to merge his passion for the music industry with a marketable future. After two years there, he discovered photography. A medium that gave him the ability to travel and capture various subject matter through his lens. He took classes at Maine Media Workshops and enrolled at the New England School of Photography.
“That’s where I merged my passions for music and photography,” Remsen said.
Remsen said that his images have been used before, but never at this magnitude.
“There are lots of people who support me through sharing my images that don’t necessarily give me credit or have the ability to pay me,” he said. “Out of all of the images of Nipsey, people chose mine to connect with his legacy.”
He said that he worked with Ned Wellbery, a famous hip hop promoter in New England. He said it was through Wellbery that he had tremendous opportunity to make work within the hip hop community. Remsen said he is eternally grateful for the opportunities he has been given.
He said the day he took photos of Nipsey Hussle, over four years ago, he had driven over seven hours and had been shooting just as long. He had a brief opportunity to meet the artist and his D.J.
“I got some inspiration from [Nipsey] and his D.J.,” Remsen said. He said the artist and D.J. both thanked him for being there and expressed that they looked forward to seeing his work from the evening.
“[Nipsey Hussle] shook my hand, he told me he respected me.” The interaction took place in a of period of under a minute, Remsen said.
During his time in Boston, Remsen shot photos of many musicians on many career levels, and was a regular photographer at the Middle East night club in Cambridge.
Remsen said he is grateful for the many people who have helped him build his career.
“A lot of people have been instrumental to my success,” he said. “Yesterday I literally went through my entire Facebook and wrote messages thanking everyone who has helped me. I don’t take any of this for granted.”
He said he has had work included in major albums and has had artists share his work before.
“Getting to meet these artists, even becoming friends with them, it’s just surreal.” He said.
Remsen repeatedly discusses giving back to the industry he loves, “this is something much bigger than just an image,” he said.
When he discovered the image he made a post on Facebook including a screenshot of the post made by Drake (@champagnepapi on Instagram), Remsen wrote: “I can’t believe Nipsey Hussle got killed. He was a father, artist, entrepreneur, role model and activist for his community and beyond.
“Nobody deserves to have their life taken that way, especially in front of their own store, in their own neighborhood that they tried so hard to make a better place.
“We came from completely different walks of life but it hits home seeing that we were the same age and he left behind children, including a daughter the same age as mine.
“This is a reminder of how fragile and short our lives can be. There are too many cold hearted and evil people out there plotting and scheming.
“I have always been a fan of the music and moves he made during his career. I feel blessed knowing I had the honor to meet him and the opportunity to create some iconic images during one of his performances in Boston a few years back.
“This post highlights a few of my favorite images from that event.
“My condolences go out to his family and friends.”
He said that as days have passed he has received lots of advice, with some pushing him to seek credit and others supporting his philosophy of just letting his work be a gift to a community mourning a great loss.
The mixed feedback inspired him to write his own post about the circumstances behind the photo– and its popularity– to clearly express his feelings.
With other projects in the works and a catalog of 170,000 or so images – many that have never been shared– he said that he will work to protect his images but feels more honored than anything else.
“I enjoy paying respect to the people that support and inspire me,” he said.
See more work by Isaac Remsen, including video and photos of Nipsey Hussle, at IsaacRemsen.com or on Facebook at Isaac Remsen Photography.
Reach Jenna Lookner at firstname.lastname@example.org