Fabrice Henssens Talks Photographing Tupac and the Outlawz
Interview with Fabrice Henssens, the photographer behind the cover of Tupac and the Outlawz ‘Still I Rise’ album.
December 21st 1999, ‘Still I Rise’ by 2Pac and Outlawz was released through Interscope. This would be the third posthumous studio album from Tupac, and the first album as a group for The Outlawz.
Still I Rise was an instant success, with sales of 408,000 copies sold in it’s first week. On January 2000 ‘Still I Rise’ peaked at number 6 on the Billboard 200 and number 2 on the ‘Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums’. Spending 20 weeks on the chart, the album would eventually reach Platinum status on February of 2000.
The only single that was released from the album was ‘Baby Don’t Cry (Keep Ya’ Head Up II)’, with the video showing footage from the ‘Keep Ya Head Up’ music video. Although only releasing one single, the song ‘Letter to the President’ was featured in the 2001 film ‘Training Day’ staring Denzel Washington.
Outlawz member Young Noble via Instagram told the story of how the photograph for the album cover came about, “Salute and thanks to @fabricehenssensphoto for being at the right place at the right time. We was ridin’ down Melrose Blvd one day and he just walked up and took two pics of us driving by. He submitted the two pictures to Interscope after ‘Pac passed and as soon as we seen them we said that the front cover!!”
Tupac Uncensored caught up with the man behind the photograph for the album cover, Fabrice Henssens. Fabrice reveals the story of how he came to take the now iconic photographs and also speaks about Tupac’s legacy and working with The Outlawz.
Fabrice, thank you for talking to Tupac Uncensored. You captured one of the most iconic photographs of Tupac and The Outlawz, which would later be used for the album ‘Still I Rise.’ Can you tell us how you came to take the pictures?
The story behind this photo is matter of being at the right place at the right time. The day the images were captured, I was making photos of graffiti art around Melrose Ave. I saw Tupac and The Outlawz driving, so I immediately turned my focus on to them. The first photo I captured was of them driving away, which is actually the image on the back cover of the album. As you can see on that image the Outlawz weren’t too happy with me shooting photos of them, therefore flipping me the bird.
When you snapped the photographs, did you get to talk with Tupac or any of The Outlawz and was you a fan of their music?
I followed them for a couple of blocks until I finally caught up to them. I was driving alone, I pointed my camera out the passenger side window. Shot off the last three frames on the roll of film. (Yes this was shot on film! digital cameras didn’t exist back then.)
The Outlawz were mean mugging me, giving me looks like they were ready to kill me while Tupac smiled, looking directly at the camera. I knew I had obtained the shot. I had no more film so I immediately made a quick left and took off. When I later met the Outlawz they did not recall the sequence of events as I did!
I think we can speak for all ‘Pac and Outlawz fans across the globe, thank you for snapping them photographs! They looked so natural. It is believed that you submitted the photographs to Interscope. What was their reaction?
As I was a Tupac fan, I respected him and his music greatly so I sat on the photos. I could’ve sold them to any tabloid or music magazine but decided to sit on the images. A few months after Tupac’s untimely death, a friend of mine named Ben Gordon who was then working at Interscope records asked me if I’d be willing to submit the images for the next album artwork. The answer to that question is pretty obvious. Of course I said yes! I felt honored and privileged to even have this opportunity.
Can you tell us how you felt when you found out that The Outlawz were using your work for the cover of the 1999 album Still I Rise?
It is my understanding that as soon as the Outlawz saw the image they immediately decided the photo would be the cover to the upcoming release. When I first heard that they were using my photos for the album cover and the back cover I was in somewhat disbelief.
In November 2000, The Outlawz released the album ‘Ride wit Us or Collide wit Us’ which you took the photograph that was used on the front cover. Can you tell us about that shoot at Belmont tunnel, Los Angeles?
The cover photo for “Still I Rise” lead me to making photos of the Outlawz for the “Ride wit us or collide wit us” album. Shot at the LA legendary graffiti location the Belmont Tunnel. The mural was the perfect backdrop for the group photo as we were able to include Tupac’s image in the photo. The session was very relaxed and went really well. I was able to connect with the Outlawz. They were immensely grateful that I had captured that moment of them with Tupac.
I’ve remained in some contact with EDI and Young Noble throughout the years. I had a photo exhibition last year where the “Still I Rise” cover image was displayed for sale. EDI made an appearance at the photo show. We marveled over the image and reminisced about how the day went down with very different perspectives!
It’s been 19 years since the ‘Still I Rise’ was released. Like with most of Tupac’s and The Outlawz music, the message in their songs have always been hard hitting and full of substance. Their lyrics still have meaning today with everything going on in the world. What are your thoughts on Tupac’s legacy, the Outlaw movement and what can people learn from ‘Pac’s lyrics?
Before the image was used for the album and long after, I remain a Tupac fan. Although I come from a completely different background and upbringing, his music has always spoken to me. Tupac was a documentarian. He documented the life he lived and the reality he saw around him.
“Dear Mr. President” is my favorite song on the album. It has powerful message of what was going on then and it is still completely relevant to our current situation. “Baby don’t cry“ showed how Tupac could be compassionate and sensitive. It conveyed how he greatly respected women as not many other artists of his genre can.
When the song would play on the radio, I would get super hyped up and emotional at the same time. I’d feel extremely proud and honored to be part of something so big and something I felt highly passionate about.
One of my all-time favorite Tupac songs is “Changes”. I love the production on it. From the piano keys sampled from Bruce Hornsby to the beat. The lyrics on that song are profound, they speak directly about our society and how we still need a multitude of changes. Tupac in my opinion, is still one of the most prolific rappers of all time. His music will live on forever. It will Inspire and move future generations.
I am extremely honored, privileged and proud that I can be part of the Tupac legacy through my images. Thank you to EDI and Young Noble for always showing me love throughout the years. Much respect. 2Pac and The Outlawz Forever!
Interviewed by Andy Moffatt.