INTERVIEW: Joe Moore, like Chainz, knows that hard work, good relationships and true talent are the keys to a great career.
"I joke around with people and tell them, if you see 2 Chainz, you're going to see me, I'm like his shadow." For the last two years, photographer Joe Moore has been by 2 Chainz' side 3 or 4 days a week, capturing the photos and videos that make up his colorful, personality-filled Instagram page. If you're in the rapper's circle, you probably know the Maryland native quite well, but as fan, you're really only familiar with his eye.
That eye has provided not only the fly-on-the-wall shots of 2 Chainz that make up your feed, but also the increasingly stylish and cinematic music videos of Lil Durk, who Joe got his start with after meeting at a show in his hometown. When I spoke to Moore over the phone last week, he had just got off a flight to Miami to shoot the Chicago rapper's birthday celebrations -- which, as well as a sign of loyalty to his clients, seemed like a pretty regular occurrence for the constantly traveling artist. "I kind of tell people that my apartment is just a place to keep my stuff," he said. "I'm probably in my apartment a week total for any given month."
Moore's line of work has allowed him access to biggest stars in the business, to the point that the photographer had trouble naming an artist he's yet to snap a picture of. "The bucket list was Wayne, Eminem, Jay-Z, Drake, Chainz, obviously. Last year alone, I've done all that," he said, seemingly surprising himself with his accomplishments.
When all's said and done, Moore's primary focus remains 2 Chainz, a rapper who's taught him a lot about the concept of hard work and giving back to those around him. We spoke to Moore about the trusting relationship between artist and personal photographer, snapping one of the biggest Drake memes of last year, and what it's like to document what he called the "no ceiling" rise of one of rap's most intriguing subjects.
Photo provided by Joe Moore
HNHH: Being a personal photographer means spending a lot of time with an artist. How important is it to form a bond with your subject?
Joe Moore: I would say especially if you're going to be an artist's personal photographer, obviously you have to have somewhat of a talent, but I think it's more about having that personal relationship with the artist and the artist being able to trust you. That's the biggest thing -- them being able to trust you and being able to mesh well with you. You can be talented but if the artist doesn't like you or can't trust you then there's not going to be a relationship there.
What's an example of a day you'd spend with 2 Chainz?
We'll fly into a show, we'll get to the hotel, we'll all go check in our own rooms. Chainz, he doesn't go out until it's time to go to the show, so probably about an hour before he's supposed to be on stage is when we'll link up. We'll go downstairs, get in the Sprinter. Most of the time I'll start catching photos as soon as he gets in the Sprinter. Then basically from the time he gets in the car til we get back to the hotel, and he's getting ready for the flight is when I'm taking photos of him. We'll do some photos backstage, obviously do photos of the concert. By the time he gets off the stage, I'm dumping the footage and trying to get the photos back to him within about 20 minutes. With artists like Chainz, he doesn't care about staying at the hotel and sleeping in, so most of the time he's trying to catch the earliest flight back to Atlanta or whatever city we're going to. We'll get off stage at 1AM, and then our flights are usually the earliest possible, so usually around 6AM, 7AM. So we're right back at the airport by 4AM.
How many days a week are you with Chainz?
I would say probably 3 or 4 days a week. He's more of an artist that gets booked. Being with him, he's booked 3 or 4 times a week related to something as him being 2 Chainz. Obviously with him, it's not just shows, he has a whole bunch of other endeavors that he goes out as 2 Chainz. I joke around with people and tell them, if you see 2 Chainz, you're going to see me, I'm like his shadow.
How did you first start working together?
I had actually met him through [publicist] Lacy Eakin. I had come down to Atlanta for the A3C event. I was working with a blogger by the name is PATisDOPE. He had the connection with Lacy. He basically interviewed everyone at Street Execs except Chainz. He interviewed Skooly, Dolph, and Travis Porter, and I was the one to do the filming for those interviews. From there, basically Lacy looked at the work and how quick I got back the photos and the little interview recaps. I guess at the same time [Street Execs manager] Tek [Maquire] was putting out the word that Chainz is getting ready to get back heavy on the music and get back in the swing of things. So he's in need of a photographer/videographer. It just so happened that around that time, Lacy met me and she gave my name to Tek.
A couple weeks after A3C, we had a sit-down, they were like, "we want to have you work with Chainz, but we want to have a trial run with you and him first." We're gonna put you on the road with him this week, he has 3 dates. You do these three shows and he likes you and everything, we'll offer you the job. I went through the three shows, back-to-back, we vibed out, did the shows and I got the call from Tek. He was like, "he likes you, he thinks your work is great, your turnaround time is great, so we wanna offer you the job."
Is there anything that surprised you about 2 Chainz getting to know him so well?
What's surprising but it's not -- since he's in the position he's in -- is how much he records and how hard he works. There's a lot of people who may say "I work hard every day and I record every day," but that man literally records every day. The only way he won't record is if it's something that's out of his control. That's one thing that I've learned about him that really stuck out to me.
Also the fact that he takes care of the people around him, and he takes care of his team. And he wants to see the people that are around him become successful as well. He tries to do everything within his means to make sure that happens.
You got a lot of great shots of Chainz in his wheelchair when he toured after breaking his leg. Did you take a specific approach to capturing him that way?
He's an animated person. He's an animated artist. So him being in the wheelchair wasn't hard to catch photos of. It was an actual concert, they put on a show, so it really wasn't hard to catch photos of him in the wheelchair. I tell people all the time, there wasn't anything different as far as taking photos of him that tour except for the fact that he had to sit in a wheelchair.
You recently photographed 2 Chainz with Eminem, as well as an exclusive studio session with Drake. Are you ever taken aback by what you get to witness in this job?
Of course, Eminem is my favorite artist, so that was a good little cool moment for me. It definitely is a situation where I'm taken aback anytime he's around these kinds of people. Even sometimes I have those moments with him. I tell people all the time, I don't know if I've been working so closely with him for so long that I've become numb to the fact that he is 2 Chainz, that he is an international superstar, sometimes I'll forget how famous he is until we're in situations like that or go into a festival with 40,000 people and fans are screaming and reciting his lyrics word for word. I'm definitely taken aback by experiences like that. Being around him, that's on a constant basis. He's around the Drakes, the Eminems, the Jay-Zs, and he has these relationships with these people.
I guess that's when the trust comes into play. That Eminem photo itself sparked so many rumors about a collaboration. Being so close, you have a lot of insider information at your disposal.
That's the trust situation. He knows I'm not gonna put anything out or drop anything without him seeing it first. Anytime he gets around a certain artist, I'll kind of vibe out and feel the situation first. Most of the time I'll either text him or kinda of nonchalantly ask him "is this a situation where I can take some photos?" He'll kind of let me know. Because certain artists have different things they wanna do. Eminem's a very quiet person.
One shot you had of Drake actually became a huge meme.
Yeah, you know what's crazy? When I took that photo, edited and looked at it, I knew they were gonna turn that into a meme.
Did it surprise you that it went as far as it did?
It surprised me that it took off that heavy, because I still see memes to this day of that photo. I didn't want to put my tag on that. But I've had people show me to this day, they don't realize that I took it. They're like 'did you see this meme?' and I'm like "yeah, you know I took that," they're like "no you didn't!"
There's been a couple other photos that I've taken that kind of turned into viral things. That Eminem photo was the most recent one. That was the first time in a while that he had popped back up.
That was sort of the debut of his beard, right?
You know what? I think it was. When I saw him, I was like.. this is new [Laughs].
Do you find it's hard to get credit for a lot of the stuff you do as a photographer in the digital age?
Yes and no. I feel like earlier on, it was a little harder. I hadn't built relationships with people and they didn't know who I was. Now it's pretty easy to have my stuff credited. I have relationships built with a lot of the blogs, and being around Chainz so long, a lot of the other artists know who I am. So if they get a hold of my photos, they'll tag me or credit me in some way.
You've done a number of Lil Durk music videos. When you work with Durk are you trying to preserve the classic Chicago drill-style of filming at all?
When it comes to music videos, if Durk could have it his way, we might be walking somewhere random, or we might just be somewhere, and he'll say "let's shoot a music video!" Starting out with "500 Homicides" and the earlier videos, that's how it turned out, but he's grown as an artist and I've grown as a director. It was cool doing that at the beginning. Now we try to plan things out and try to make it look like a music video instead of a Chicago-style drill video. For certain songs, it happens like that. But we're not trying to do a video like that every time we shoot something.
You did the videos for 2 Chainz' "Smoke Break" and "Sleep When You Die In Dubai." What it like doing a Chainz video versus a Durk video?
A little bit more set up. Chainz has dealt with plenty of music videos, with his own stuff and features. The preproduction is bigger with him. You've gotta make sure you're on your A-game, like I said, he's been doing this for the last 7-8 years. He's had plenty of talented people around him. He expects whoever's around him to put out the best work. In general with photos and video, I had to step my stuff up when I got with him. I had to make sure to do stuff to separate from the people he's been around.
What makes him an interesting subject?
I guess the best answer is he's an interesting, animated person. 2 Chainz is very easy to take photos of. He'll joke around, but he's got his own little things where he's like 'Logo Ho,' that right there in itself, he's gonna want photos of whatever outfit he's in [laughs].
As long as he's been around, it seems like 2 Chainz' popularity has continued to grow. Is that something you've noticed over the last two years?
It definitely is. I think that's a combination of his hard work. I think it's a combination of Street Execs and the team around him. His management is incredible with marketing. The digital era, he's able to get seen in places more easily. When I got with him, he was already a huge superstar, but it just seems there's no ceiling for him as an artist or as a person. In two years, I've seen him go from international superstar to something even bigger, more known, more popular.
Is there a particular photo or session that's important to you?
Any time I do something related to him and his family, I think personally I like doing stuff like that, because you're not dealing with the artist anymore, you're dealing with the actual person. You're not dealing with 2 Chainz, you're watching Tauheed with his children. I think especially now that he just had his first son, any time I've caught photos of those two, it's been very memorable. As far as the business side of him being 2 Chainz: the Eminem photo, that was one, and probably one of the top ones that we did together was right after Summer Jam, DJ Khaled had the "I Got The Keys" video shoot. I think they used my photo of all of the artists in front of that car in the black and white tuxes. That is probably going to be my most memorable photo as far as you won't be able to catch all of those people in the same room in the same attire like that.
Do you have any plans to venture outside the music world?
The goal is to eventually get into doing something related to movies. It would probably get to the point where I kind of separate myself from road travel in general. I think that gets to a point where you have to kind of step back, because that takes a toll on a lot of people. So I would venture into movies, whether that's directing, editing, or being on set helping. Movies is really the end goal for me.
How about photography shows?
That's something that I was actually trying to set up and do. I wanted to do one in Atlanta after the tour with some of my best moments photo-wise, and I want to do one back home in my area. I want to that before the end of the year.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
I knew you were gonna ask something like that [laughs]. When people hear my name or see my work, I just want them to think of hard work. I try to inspire other people. I wasn't given a lot of help from people coming up. So I want people to look at me and see a motivation for anyone that said you can't do something. I was told that constantly. People laughed at me when I said I was going to do something like this years ago. I want them to be able to read up and see, and think to themselves: "if he did it, why can't I." I know that's kind of cliche, but I think that's the best thing I can give.