March 9 is a day the hip hop world stops and remembers the life and legacy of Christopher Wallace, known to the world as The Notorious B.I.G.
For years, Ernie Paniccioli helped document the growth of hip hop as it rose from a new genre in music, to the world’s biggest phenomenon. His photos through the years showcase legends such as LL Cool J, Public Enemy, DMX, Foxy Brown, Lil’ Kim, Nas, Jay-Z, 2Pac, and the list goes on.
His passion was to showcase who these artists were to the world.
“My work shows them as larger than life but also as part of life,” he said to New York Times back in 2013. “My work has a pulse. It three-dimensionalized a lot of these people. And the artists themselves have always let me be up close and personal. There never been dichotomy between the photographer and the artist. It’s a circle.”
One of his favorite artists was The Notorious B.I.G., who he was able to document throughout the rise of his career.
“The first time we met he was preparing to do his part in a New York Undercover TV show,” he said. “He was standing with Eric Sermon and Ice Cube. I went up to introduce myself and shake his hand and said hi, ‘I’m Ernie.’ He loudly replied by saying I don’t give a f***, and then said ‘step off!’ I was like ‘what?'”
He later continued, showcasing at the tense moment at the time.
“I started to put down my two heavy cameras and camera bag I was holding Cube, and Eric from EPMD and a few others tried to calm him down.” he said, “Biggie, Ernie is Cool and Ernie is family. He cursed some more as I got closer and said, ‘I don’t care who he is!’ All of the crew that were around him were shook! Then all of a sudden he broke into his biggest grin and said to all of us “gotcha” and shook my hand laughing like crazy.”
“He often said he went from “ashy to classy,” he said. “That night he took us all from scary to funny. He then reminded me we had met before on the set of a Mary J. Blige’s video and had pizza together at a local store. We became friends and he shared many things with me over the next two years. He is one of the greats, I miss him and cried when he was taken from us.”
Over the years, he was able to accompany the Notorious B.I.G. in various places, resulting in some of the most iconic photos of his life and career. Paniccioli shared a couple of his favorite photos with HOT 97 to help celebrate the life of the greatest rapper of all time.