British photographer Normski celebrates 50 years of hip hop

By Sarah Mills

LONDON (Reuters) - British photographer Normski says he took pictures of some of the greatest exponents of hip hop music, which this month celebrated its 50th anniversary, at least in part because he couldn't breakdance.

Born in 1966 in northwest London into a Jamaican family, Normski is seven years older than hip hop, which dates from a party in New York's Bronx on Aug. 11, 1973.

He says it is impossible to sum up the music's power in a few words, but it established his identity and has done the same for billions of people across the world.

"To me, hip hop is a voice for those who never had a voice. It’s a way for the rest of the world to find out about those people that are not getting a fair ride in life," he said.

Together with its dancing, rapping and deejaying, hip hop has moved from the margins to become part of mainstream global culture and is now, says Normski: "The biggest global genre, I believe, that we've ever had in our lifetimes".

To coincide with the anniversary year, Normski's book of photographs and anecdotes "Normski: Man with the Golden Shutter" will be published in collaboration with Britain's Museum of Youth Culture on Sept. 18.

He described himself as "a little innocent Black guy with a camera" whose approach was to be as spontaneous as hip hop music often is.

"Having the camera ready, grabbing the shot anyway and then thinking about stuff afterwards. That’s kind of how I’ve always worked," he said.

Among those he captured were New York-based rappers Public Enemy, whose 1988 album "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" is considered one of the genre’s most influential.

Normski, who photographed Public Enemy on stage in Manchester, northern England, in 1990, described the group, known for delivering a strong political message, as anarchic.

"They came out with a message to fight power," he said.

(Reporting by Sarah Mills; editing by Barbara Lewis)