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Tour Tales | Nikon Papi talks shooting a Megan Thee Stallion party, candid J. Cole shots, and Baby Rose

In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the photographer explains capturing J. Cole moments seldom seen, how he’s photographed Baby Rose’s onstage evolution and much more. Read here.

Megan Thee Stallion Getty Images/Erik Voake

Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For ’Tour Tales,’ we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it’s still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on ‘Tour Tales.’

If you’ve been to a hip hop or R&B concert in Atlanta over the last three years, you’ve probably seen Wildy “Nikon Papi” Civil in action. “The Hottieween party (in 2019) was at a mansion that I think was Young Thug’s old mansion. There was a lot going on and you couldn’t just walkthrough. Megan [Thee Stallion] had to walk through people. There’s really not much security you can have. So you’re really getting a unique, intimate experience,” Papi told REVOLT.

In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the experienced photographer explains what else went down at the party, capturing J. Cole moments seldom seen, and how he’s photographed Baby Rose’s onstage evolution. Read below.

You have shot all of the Afropunk Atlanta shows over its four years. What artist gave you the best photos?

Miguel because he really puts a lot of attention and time into his performance. There are people who are good sonically and [give a] good stage show. But, as a whole, Miguel gave you that experience. He came out with the ‘fit, background dancers, the music was amazing, and his live performance sounds a lot different than his studio albums. To see that all play out was really crazy. There’s one that sticks with me all these years after all of the performances I saw.

What sort of shots does he give you?

Miguel is a very swagger-based artist. He has that walk, look, and the hair. One time I shot him not for Afropunk. He had the zoot suit on, his hair done, background dancers. He utilized the jacket and the mic, so I was trying to get angles that utilized this whole body as a piece of art from top to bottom. I want to get everything from the shoes to the hair. He’s a shorter guy, so shooting him from low angles makes him look larger than life, which is how the performance feels.

How do you choose when to take a photo during a candid moment?

It’s hard. That understanding of the moment comes from experience. There are times when you want to be a fan, but now I try to be a friend first. Being a homie in the studio or at the concert is way more important than being a photographer because the moments are going to come, but how you’re treated or acting in the moment will determine if you can capitalize on capturing it. I feel it out.

Is there a candid moment you captured and didn’t release that you can describe to us?

The last show I shot before the pandemic was Earthgang’s homecoming show in Atlanta (This took place at Centerstage on February 27, 2020). I was backstage and all of the people backstage got quiet and someone told me, “J. Cole’s about to be here.” I never met Cole or shot him. It was really cool the presence he came in with. He was super quiet, very well respected, and it showed on his face. Cole was super to himself. Seeing him chill in the cut, having his head down, and observing people was a great moment to capture because it spoke to who he is as a person and not just an artist. He’s a cool, calm, and collected guy who is to himself. Getting a photo of him by himself at that moment was really dope.

What was that show like?

The energy of that show was really wild because everyone was hype. They were bouncing off the walls the whole time. J.I.D came out. 6lack came out. When Cole came out, the whole place erupted. Dreamville is such a powerful collective.

Photographers have to adapt quickly during shows, which can be unpredictable. What are moments where you adapted?

During Fashion Week in New York (2019), I shot a bunch of different runway shows, but also concerts during that time. One of the shows I shot was the Kid Super fashion show, and they had a performance by Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era. As soon as I got there, my laptop crashed. My SD cards were full and I couldn’t offload onto a laptop or hard drive. So, I was shooting the show and deleting photos I thought weren’t good during the show. I was trying to adapt to make the most of the moment because they’re not going to perform again.

Sometimes you have to finesse to get a shot. What are photos you’ve taken that were the results of finessing?

One of the craziest stories I have, finesse-wise, is Red Bull Culture Clash in Atlanta (This took place on August 25, 2017). I move around the city a lot, so I’m able to hang around people in certain spaces. I called some people and [was] able to finesse my way into the concert. I had someone else take my camera bag, I walked into general admission, and then picked up my gear later. The finesse was me getting through the door. The second finesse is me getting to the pit. The way it was set up, then, was there were different layers of security. If you don’t have a pass, then you’re going to be s**t out of luck. That’s when the finesse came in.

What had happened was I tried to find someone I knew on the Eardrummers team, but I couldn’t find anybody. So, I ended up going to the Eardrummers team room. Being the chameleon, cool guy I am, I just blended in with the crowd and ended up finessing one of the team jackets. I threw it on. When they walked over to perform, I walked right in with them. Nobody questioned anything. What’s crazier is, while I was on the way to the stage, one of the Eardrummers dudes stopped me and said, “Where did you get that jacket?” I said, “I’m with Eardrummers,” and he said, “No, you are not.” I said, “Look, I don’t know who you are but we’re about to go perform.” He followed me for a little bit, he looked away, and then I dipped out. I finessed myself on the stage and the rest was history.

What were some of the most emotional reactions you’ve seen at live shows?

I have to say Earthgang’s show. We all support Earthgang in a way where they’re like family because we know they came up from the city. It’s so beautiful seeing people in the crowd crying and smiling. Seeing it on camera is amazing to hold on to.

One special moment you captured was LVRN Unplugged with Young Nudy rapping with a live band.

At first, I was like, “Nudy? Live? With a band? I don’t know. That’s a little too hood for a band.” But, he did a great job. You can only keep up the gangster look for so long before you crack a smile. It was cool seeing him react to the band and smiling. It was dope. I got a photo of him cracking a huge smile and vibing with the fans.

You shot Baby Rose on “Ari Lennox’s Shea Butter Baby Tour” in early 2019 and then again in August of last year. What did you notice was different about her performance?

The greatest mark of experience is comfortability. I’ve seen her perform many times, I know what her voice sounds like as she’s working through these songs and she sounded more confident. On Ari’s tour, her head was down and she was a little bit shyer. But, on her own show where she had her own set that she handpicked the design, she was walking around more. She was more confident. The way she held the mic is way different. She’s really singing out towards the crowd, giving them emotion and it captures well in photos. That confidence is palpable. When you really have it, you can see it in the photos.

What’s the best stage design you’ve shot?

I’ll give it to Miguel, Jorja Smith, and Baby Rose. But, lighting-wise, one of the best shows I’ve shot was the Playboi Carti show at Tabernacle (This took place on August 18, 2018). The set wasn’t too crazy, it was just green, but the lighting was fire. Those are some of my favorite shots I’ve ever taken.

What was that Megan Thee Stallion Halloween party like?

That was really cool because it was private and like a kickback. We were all in the house. Everyone had costumes — I was Black Goku. Megan came and I didn’t expect her to perform. She was just vibing and having people drive the boat. Then, she went up to the second floor, performed, and gave everyone a concert.

How did it work shooting that compared to a regular show?

With a regular show, the artist is a little bit further away from you, you’re on a lower level or you’re much higher than the artist on a different floor. But, for the Hottieween party was at a mansion that I think was Young Thug’s old mansion. There was a lot going on and you couldn’t just walkthrough. Megan had to walk through people. There’s really not much security you can have. So you’re really getting a unique, intimate experience.

What shows got canceled by COVID-19?

I’d have to go through my calendar to see everything that got canceled. I was looking forward to the Common and Erykah Badu show at State Farm Arena (Scheduled for March 13, 2020). I didn’t have credentials, but I was going to find a way.

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