Photographer T. Eric Monroe didn’t realize he’d been sitting on a rare Hip Hop artifact for almost two decades. But while organizing his archives in 2012, the former Thrasher Skateboarding Magazine and The Source photog stumbled upon an old photograph of Tupac Shakur — which in itself was a prized possession — but as he looked closer, it suddenly dawned on him The Notorious B.I.G. was in the photo as well.
“The picture was taken in 1993,” Monroe tells HipHopDX. “So 1993, I set up a shoot with Onyx to do an article in Thrasher. They were in concert, opening for either Ice-T or Public Enemy or something. So I get there around soundcheck time. We’re standing in the dressing room, talking to the guys, planning it out. We go down to the stage area because the performance wasn’t starting yet and I got our group shots that I needed from them.
“As I was packing my equipment away, someone from the other side of the stage goes, ‘Yo, come take our picture.’ I literally said, ‘Yes, give me a second.’ Then I ended up going over to the guys who said it. Literally just look at them, line up the picture and took one picture and said thank you and then went back to the dressing room to Onyx. I got the film developed at some point and I kept remembering this giant middle finger. I remember writing the name Tupac on it, but I didn’t really understand who he was in 1993.”
Back then, it was almost unheard of for magazines to publish a photo with someone flipping the middle finger to the camera, so Monroe basically stashed it and left it alone.
“So the picture, yeah, it’s cool,” he says. “It’s 2Pac with the finger, but there’s nothing to it. I can’t do anything with it. So when I got that picture, I just put it with the rest of my slides and stored it.”
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Nineteen years later, as Monroe was sifting through his storage, he picked up the 2Pac photo, got out his light box and magnifying glass to study the image further — and all he could do was laugh.
“To me, it was always a moment I knew I couldn’t publish,” he explains. “I’m looking at it and looking at it — something makes me stare at it. Then I just started laughing. I get up from the light box and can’t stop laughing. I realized it was Biggie and 2Pac together in 1993 wearing ‘I’m A Bad Boy’ t-shirts, which was Biggie’s label. He said that in his first song ‘Party & Bullshit.’ That was basically his catchphrase.
“The only thing I could do was start laughing at that point because it’s just like, who knew? That’s the beauty of just paying attention to your surroundings. If someone says, ‘Hey, can you take my picture?’ — just be a cordial person. I could have turned around and said, ‘Who the fuck are you guys?’ That’s not of my nature, but I’ve seen people do that. Photographers do that to other people. That’s not the way I get down because for me it’s like going back to skating or being friends. You just be cordial to everyone around you as much as you can or give as much of yourself as you can while also capturing moments. You’re not there because you’re cool. You’re not there because you’re on stage.”
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After Monroe’s shocking discovery, he quickly digitized the photo but didn’t tell anybody about it until 2013.
“Monster Children magazine ended up doing a video interview with me about the picture,” he explains. “It was a part of a bigger article. So in 2013, there was a little buzz, but I wasn’t that heavy or hard on social media just yet, so when social media started, I waited a while, waited a while and then I’d post it but I’d have my stamp on it. Whether it was a watermarked T. Eric Monroe or the rectangular @tdoteric in it, I just wanted to let people know I’m the one who took this picture.”
Monroe eventually connected with Biggie’s longtime friend and fellow rapper Lil Cease to see if he could recall that particular show — which he could.
“I have a whole video of him talking about that night and he remembers that night vividly of all of them hanging out,” he says. “So that’s another piece of content that I was able to create and create a new friendship with Lil Cease who didn’t know me from Jack. Now he has a face with an image of a historic moment of him, Biggie and Tupac together being friends, just pure friendship. So it’s helped bridge the gaps in the story.”
Monroe captured numerous Hip Hop legends throughout the 1990s during his time at The Source and Thrasher, many of which can be found in his books Rare & Unseen Moments of ’90s Hip Hop Vol. 1, a collector’s edition and the Broadened Exposure collection.
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