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Madeinewyork Interview: From street photography to iconic portraits of NYC hip hop royalty

Madeinewyork is one of the most star-studded hip hop photography pages on Instagram. It begs the question, who is this guy… and how did he come to shoot some of the most iconic modern-day portraits of Jay-Z in existence?

With a quick glance at his page jam-packed with intimate, crystal-clear portraits of the biggest names in music and many of New York’s most important legends, even the most casual music fans will recognize the iconic faces pictured. From NY favorites like Pop Smoke, Griselda, and A Boogie, to young legends like Juice WRLD, Roddy Ricch, G Herbo, to downright NYC royalty in Nicki Minaj, Mary J Blige, Swizz Beatz, Alicia Keys and literally dozens more – to the holy grail himself: Jay-Z

Given the quality and unbridled access, it would be easy to assume the page belongs to some shadowy, longtime industry veteran deeply embedded in the city’s historic scene. Many are surprised to learn that the man behind the camera, known as Jawad or Moody depending on how well you know him, is actually a scrappy young Buffalo native in his very early twenties.

Through sheer hustle and determination, Jawad went from wandering the streets of Manhattan to connecting with one of the biggest stars to ever emerge from his home city in Griselda’s Conway the Machine – finding a permanent place on his team and fully capitalizing on the opportunity to position himself as one of the hottest up-and-coming photographers in hip hop.

We sat down with Jawad to learn more about how he got his start in photography and navigated to the upper echelon of New York City’s hip hop scene.

AW: Starting from the beginning, where are you from and how did you get started in photography?

Madeinewyork: “Well I’m really from Buffallo now but I actually grew up in Brooklyn, and moved up here when I was starting highschool. Growing up I was always into art, I used to draw a lot. I got my first iPhone in middle school, like 2013-14 when photography on IG was still big and I just started taking pictures of everything. I still really didn’t know much about cameras so I would pull up to meet-ups and events and ask a million questions. Looking back it’s kind of embarrassing but I really learned a lot from doing that. Around that same time I was starting to get into trouble, and by the time I was a sophomore in highschool I had multiple friends getting arrested or going to jail – and two that had gotten killed. That’s when I realized I needed to switch something up and I really dedicated myself to making photography work.”

AW: How did you gain experience and improve your craft in the early days?

Madeinewyork: “Way before I started going to shows or getting little opportunities to do anything music related, there was a point that I realized I really just had to get out there and teach myself through trial-and-error. The time I learned the most was probably my street photography days during these solo-trips I would take to New York. During every break we had from school, I would catch the Chinese bus from Buffalo to NYC. Literally every single day I would go to South Street Seaport on the Lower East Side at like 4:30am to catch the sunrise, and then I would walk from the East Side of Manhattan all the way to the West Side, walk a block up and do it again until I S-curved all the way up past Midtown. I would do that all day, get home at like 9-10pm, do an hour of editing and get up the next day and do it all over again. I basically did that for 2 years. There’s still some pictures on my IG from that time. 

AW: How did you first get started in music?

Madeinewyork: “I’ll always remember the first music thing I did. I was like 15 at the mall in Buffalo, and I got a DM from KYLE’s girlfriend/DJ inviting me to pop out to the show. At Webster Hall in NYC. Mind you it’s sold out, I’ve never been to a concert before, and I’m in Buffalo 6 hours away with 0 money. Still I scrambled to try to sell a few prints to have money for the bus. I pulled up with my shitty Canon T2i and managed to get some good pictures. After that KYLE’s team actually asked me to come on tour. I said yes on the spot but later my parents said “Hell no, you’re 15.” So I didn’t tour with them but I did have my first concert photos that I could use to get my next gigs.”

“From there I started figuring out how to do more shows. I would be in class in high school looking up upcoming events and shows in Buffalo, NYC and even Toronto. I’d reach out to artists and A&Rs, probably mad annoying but sometimes it would work. Or I would find their press contact on Facebook, hit them up, show them the one show I did and offer to pull up and shoot for free. And then hustle my ass off to get the bread to get there, make it there on time, etc. (Again Buffalo is 6 hours from NYC.)”

“When I was starting out I used to kinda finesse my way into a lot of shows. There was one time when Tory Lanez came to Buffalo. I had no way in, but I realized I had a wristband from the last time I had been there. I taped up the wristband, went to the venue 3 hours early, and when I got in I literally hid in the bathroom for 3 hours until the show started. And then I went to the pit when the show started and did my thing. It’s crazy to think about it now but that’s what I felt like I had to do to get in the mix. And it kinda worked.”

Madeinewyork: “By 2017/18 I had shot a bunch of shows but I really wanted to build a relationship with an artist, be in the studio. When I take a picture of an artist I don’t want to be outside of a club or on the sidewalk somewhere to see them throw up a peace sign. My first time really doing that was when I started going to Off Record. I told them I would be there all day every day for whatever they need and one day Eli called me: “Yo Ski Mask (the Slump God) is here, pull up.” So I rushed over there, and I ended up taking the picture that he ended up using as the cover for his song “No Tilt” with A$AP Ferg. After we were done he told me to take his number, and I thought that was so crazy. That was the first rapper that gave me their phone number. So from there on out I felt like I needed to be at Off Record every day, and that really became my foothold into building personal relationships with artists like Smoke Purp, Famous Dex, and a bunch of artists from the city.”

AW: What was your first paycheck from music?

Madeinewyork: “Yeah that’s a good point. All that studio hopping I was doing, shooting concerts was basically all for free. I’m even paying to go a lot of times. But the first time I actually got paid was for a liquor brand. I used to take a lot of their photos for social media. Mind you I’m still in high school so they would literally use bottles filled with water, so that was funny. I also worked for Jimmy Jazz for a summer shooting content for their social media. But as far as music, I was doing it for almost 5 years before I really got paid.

“My first time on tour was 2018, with Cam Meekins, Shwayze and Cisco. I had taken a semester off of college and after I got off the tour I felt like I needed to go to LA. I was sleeping on Cam’s couch in LA and I hit up one of Juice WRLD’s managers, G Money. I could barely believe when he replied and told me to pull up the studio. So I did. G Herbo and DayTrip were there. That’s the day I met Juice, super cool dude and I got that awesome picture of him.”

AW: Are there any moments that stick out as a big turning point?

Madeinewyork: “Yeah, definitely the first time I met Mike Will. I had got connected through my guy Aubz. They were at Complex for Trouble’s press run and called me out of the blue asking how fast I could get there. Later back at the hotel, there was another photographer taking pictures of Mike, and I told him I would wait because I didn’t want to get the same shots as the other guy. I think he liked that because he looked at me different after that. Mike’s one of those guys that notices everything so that really meant a lot. “

And I think that’s why a couple months later he hit me up to tell me Nicki was in town. As in Nicki Minaj. That was like one of my biggest moments for real, and a crazy long story behind it but the short version is I flew from Buffalo to NYC and back in under 11 hours to do that shoot and be back in time for an exam. It turned out to be worth it. When I posted those pics I took of Nicki on IG, that was the first time I really started gaining a crazy amount of followers and had people reaching out to me.”

Madeinewyork: “Another moment that stands out was meeting Pop Smoke. I first shot Pop at the ‘Meet the Woo’ album release in NYC, and then I really met him officially when he came to Buffalo to perform at my school in the fall of 2019. I was already a huge fan and we were backstage and instantly hit it off, we bonded after we realized we were basically the same age because we both didn’t know what the old heads were talking about haha. Which is crazy to think about. After the show he made a point to get my info and we always stayed in touch. There was one night when he hit me to pull up to the studio in NYC and I was just so tired I literally couldn’t. I’ll forever regret that. And just a couple months later he passed. I miss that dude man, he was such a good dude and still one of my favorite artists to this day.”

AW: How did you get connected with Conway the Machine?

Madeinewyork: “I actually linked with Con for the first time in 2018. It’s pretty crazy actually, I randomly got picked up in a Uber in Buffalo by one of Conway’s homies and a couple months later he hit me to shoot their show. Which I did, and after that I would run into Con and his guys a few times. Then in 2019, Benny (the Butcher) had a show in Buffalo. I had got dubbed at the door but luckily Conway pulled up and I was able to get in with him. That night I got pics of all three of them (Conway, Westside Gunn and Benny) and I told them I would get them those pictures that same night. Thing was, my phone was dead and it was pouring rain. I ended up walking 4 miles home in the rain and got straight to editing. It was worth it though, they posted those pics the same night and tagged me and everything. You could tell Grisleda has a serious fanbase because after that my numbers really started going up. 

“I didn’t really become part of the team though until 2020, when Conway was putting out his album. His assistant Chad hit me up to come shoot at a music video, and I pulled up and bodied it. And later on a moment happened I’ll never forget. Conway had thought I was from New York because of my IG handle, but when he realized he was like “You’re from Buffalo? … Oh you’re hired.” I went to the city with him the next week and we’ve been locked in ever since. That was really the shot I was looking for, so from then on I did everything I could I went with Conway taking pictures everywhere he goes, creative direction wherever possible, and then I ended up doing the creative direction for the La Maquina cover that came out in 2021.”

AW: How would you describe your photography style and what makes it special?

Madeinewyork: “I really just try to make all my shots look like real portraits that were taken in a studio. I try not to have a busy background and really focus in on the subject. I like to add color grading that gives a film-effect, and lately I’ve been really into the blackout black-and-white like the Hov shots or the ones I did of Kodak and G Herbo recently. Other than that it’s really about capturing people in the moment they’re in. Making subjects feel at ease so you can capture them like they really are instead of forcing a particular pose or mood.”

AW: So we gotta know, how did those insane portraits of Jay-Z come about?

Madeinewyork: “Well first off all props to Conway. I was moving around pretty good myself but when I got with him it really went to a crazy level. This was one of the craziest days of my life. We were all in Florida for Wrestlemania and come to find out we were staying in the same hotel as Jay-Z in Miami. Somehow someway Con calls me and says “Yo get your camera we’re bouta meet Hov.” But my camera is 30 minutes away so I literally speed there and back to meet them in the lobby just in time to go back to the back room. And there’s Hov. He daps us all up then goes back to the table where they’re all gambling. I’m sitting there texting Con “Wtf bro this is crazy” when I look up and see Beyonce in the corner. Later on Hov introduces us to B as she’s leaving, and Conway gives me the super alleyoop talking me up to Hov and tells him I’m a dope young photographer.  I’ll never forget what Hov said: ‘You’re young man and you’re definitely getting to it. What’s higher than this?’”

Madeinewyork: “I actually got to chop it up with Hov a little, and then I got up the courage to ask him to take a photo. With no hesitation he said “Cmon, lets take it.” I took a few, but I noticed that his ring (the crazy huge multimillion dollar ring that he wore in the “Sorry Not Sorry” video) it was cut off at the bottom of the pic. So we took a few more and I can hardly believe I’m standing there directing Jay-Z how to pose. Then we all go to a different part of the casino and there’s Khaled, Nas, Jay-Z (a legendary moment in itself) all in the same room to shoot the “Sorry Not Sorry” music video. After they were done they all chopped it up for like an hour where I got a bunch of dope pics, and then we all went to dinner together. By the time I got back to the hotel it was like a 12-hour day, my head was spinning like “What the hell just happened.” We posted the pics the next day and my IG went crazy… that was the first time my phone truly blew up where the notifications were all maxed out and everything.”

“Then a couple months later we were at the Harder They Fall premiere. I’m in the cut in the corner and Hov points me out and says what’s up. Add that to list of craziest moments.”

AW: What are some key lessons you’ve learned that might help a young photographer pursuing the same path?

Madeinewyork: “Probably the most important thing is that you gotta create your own opportunities. No one is going to open a door for you, you’ve got to build your own door. 

And once you’re in the door personality is the key bro. You gotta be cool, you gotta be able to read the room and know what to do. And what not to do. I work with Conway. Him and his guys they’re not pop stars, they’re rap stars. They have to move a certain way and you can’t get in the way of that. Some people get really starstruck and overexcited around artists, some people be drinking and partying too much. You can’t be like that, you gotta know how to move.

“On top of all that the most important thing is doing good work. Let the work speak for itself. First off, nobody want a sales pitch. But also when I started in the industry I was literally 15 years old, people don’t want to take you seriously. So I never really told people my age. I don’t want any special treatment for being young, bad or good, so always kept that to myself and did the best work with quickest turnaround that I could, and let the work speak for itself as much as possible.

And also things don’t always work out. There’s going to be lots of missed opportunities, plans fall through, it gets frustrating. You have to keep going and showing up to the next thing. I have to remind myself there was really times I wanted to quit, and now I’m over here taking portraits and having casual conversations with the Carters with 4 Times Square Billboards (2 Conway, Dusty Locane, and Rory & Mal.)”

Jawad is truly living up to the Madeinewyork moniker. Just a few short years ago he was a regular kid from Buffalo doing the photography hustle, literally wandering the streets of Manhattan whenever he had some time off from school. Since then, he’s touched the highest levels of the music game as a key member of Conway the Machine’s team and earned himself a front row seat to some of the most iconic NYC hip hop moments in recent memory: from Jay-Z to Pop Smoke to Griselda, to the posthumous DMX album release, to the Lox vs Dipset Verzuz, to Rory & Mal and so many more. At such a young age, he has multiple Times Square billboards under his belt and has been a part of countless historic moments, with iconic portraits of just about every member of NYC hip hop royalty both past and present – not to mention many of the biggest stars of today from all over.

For any young photographers, creatives or hustlers of any kind, you would be hard-pressed to find a better role model for determination and creating one’s own path in the music industry. They say New York is one of the toughest places in the world to make it, but there’s no question that Jawad is Madeinewyork. 

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