During my last stay in New York I went to this underground hip hop spot in Harlem, where they sell mixtapes, DVDs, magazines, and hold local battles. I forgot the name of the spot but it was a little bit up from 125th street on the west side. I was there with my good friend T. Parris – I will come back to his story later down the road – and he asked me “You want to shoot AZ?” Now I am thinking about the rapper AZ from Brooklyn. I looked at him and asked “AZ? The rapper?” – “No, Azie!” and Parris pointed to a magazine with Azie Faison on the cover.
Azie Faison is a big street legend in Harlem and a former drug dealer, who made over $100,000 weekly selling cocaine in Harlem during the 1983 – 1990. Remember that Jay-Z / Roc-A-Fella Records movie ‘Paid in Full’? Its based on his life. So I agreed, if he can make it happen, why not. A couple of phone calls later he said it was lined up.
Some days passed and we was talking about where to do it, so I told him I want to do it in Harlem, an environment where he feels comfortable. People told me pretty quick that I need to do it somewhere quite, because he don’t want to be around too much attention and where to many people are. So I suggested some grimy back alley. Harlem changed a lot since the 80s, specially the last 10 years. So when Azie heard me suggestion on the other side of the phone he simply replied “Harlem is still grimy?”
We made up a spot and decided to meet there. It was a day full of rain and snow. I thought he might cancel because it was snowing like crazy outside. When I got there, he was already there, sitting on the backseat of a car. Some guy approached us, introduced himself and asked where we want to do it. I picked a spot real fast, and he told me Azie is waiting in the car, he will pull closer to the spot.
After Azie got out the car, he looked at me and said he can not do it at that particular spot. He knows somebody that is “selling” from there, so he don’t want to be all up in his business and specially with cameras. I picked a different spot minutes later and he posted up. Not only due to his weight but also to his appearance he has a pretty crazy presents in front of you. While it was pouring water on him, he stayed relaxed and took all the time in the world, as if there was no rain at all, or it just didn’t bother him at all. He sure been through worse, you can already tell by the scar going from one side of his head to the other side. He got shot a several times in his head. They had to cut his head open to remove the bullets.
After I was done with the photos he asked me if I have some questions for him but I declined. “No interview?”, he asked. Parris told him we just wanted to take some photos and don’t want to be all up in his business, since he never really broke down his story in detail, but he just laughed and said “I don’t care, for you, anything.” After that he said he really appreciate me taking my time to see him and take some photos … like I did something for him. After that we all went back to his car, where he stick around for another good 20 minutes and just spoke about common interests.
During the whole time we did the shoot, there came a bunch of people by. Every single one, no matter if old or young recognized him and shouted “Whats up Azie?”, “ACE!” or “Azie!!” and he greeted each of them, asked some how there families are or just nodded at others. I experienced him as a funny and calm guy. Thank you Azie for taking your time.