Detroit Hip-Hop D-Cyphered

Alumna Jenny Risher
“WE LOVE YOUR PICTURES!” two students told alumna Jenny Risher ('97, Photography) outside D-Cyphered, Risher's poetic and groundbreaking portrait series on Detroit’s hip-hop artists, DJs, producers, promoters and more. Selfies were had, and Risher expressed gratitude for the kids who flowed from photo to photo, recognizing Detroit hip-hop heros - and a bit of themselves. These are some of her thoughts on the project.

Detroit’s in my blood, but I’m not a Detroiter. I’m from Mt. Clemens, and lived here while I went to CCS. When I did this project, the people I knew in hip-hop were top tier [including Eminem], only because that’s who I was working with at the time. I didn’t really know real-deal Detroit hip-hop and the underground scene. So I sought out people to help me, and I feel that this work is a collaborative effort between me and the artists. There’s no way I could have learned 30 years of hip-hop history in three years.

People gave me phone numbers and took me to their neighborhoods. But I definitely was referred; they checked me out, for sure! I had the gangsta of gangsta musicians saying that I was ok, like Trick-Trick and all these really hardcore artists. They trusted me, and they knew that I wasn’t taking.

Sometimes locations were iconic buildings in hip-hop or someone would say, ‘I want to take you to this place, because it’s important.’ I kept asking myself: ‘How does this place feel like Detroit? How do I create a portrait for our time?’ We knew it was important because hip-hop was a musical genre that hadn’t been fully documented in this context. But I don’t think we truly realized, initially, what we were creating.

Can you imagine if you had this opportunity in the 1960s when Motown was just starting and Diana Ross and all of them were just getting going? And you were able to photograph all those musicians in their prime and have this cohesive body of work, by one photographer, with one vision? That would be invaluable. These pictures last forever now. They’re in the archives. It’s a moment in time that’s forever preserved. For me, as an artist, that’s exciting.