Tour Tales | Anthony Supreme photographs J. Cole's shows, tears, and life with care
The photographer speaks about the importance of discretion when shooting J. Cole, his ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ memories and more.
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.’
Anthony Supreme’s photographs are taken with care. Born into the world as Anthony Thompson, the 30-year-old photographer only left his hometown of Monroe, North Carolina to head to Los Angeles with Dreamville Films director Scott Lazer in 2014, following Supreme’s mother’s passing, once he knew his dad and sister were OK. This emotional intelligence translates into stylized, yet intimate photography for J. Cole’s “4 Your Eyez Only Tour” and “KOD Tour.”
“I just think about the moment. I think sometimes it’s trying to create something that nobody has ever seen before,” Supreme told REVOLT TV. “I try to go with something that makes me feel a certain way, a certain emotion.”
But, photographing with care can sometimes mean not photographing at all. For this installment of “Tour Tales,” Supreme speaks on the importance of discretion when photographing on tour with J. Cole, the 4 Your Eyez Only memories he’s lost, as well as the joys and pains of being a photographer.
What’s the most difficult thing about being a photographer on tour?
Consistency and trying to keep a schedule because you’re always working everyday. After every show, you’re basically editing photos all night and editing footage of things.
How long does it take for you to understand where you have to be for certain shots?
It takes a few shows to figure out where to be at.
For the “KOD Tour,” Young Thug, Earth Gang, and Jaden Smith were performers. What was it like backstage?
They all knew each other in multiple ways. The first time Cole met Will Smith was when Will came to the show in Miami. But, I think he knew Jaden for a while and they just kept building. I think he always knew Thug, too. This is maybe Thug’s second real tour he’s completed all the way through. It was pretty good energy backstage. When Mac Miller died, while we were on tour, Jaden and Cole got together and had a little conversation. They really were close to Mac. Cole actually cried on stage. That’s the first time since working with him that I’ve seen him cry onstage. To the point where I almost lost my composure crying. It was really affecting me. He did about three songs before we got completely back to normal. It was a weird time, but life carries on. By the end of [the] tour, everybody were buddies. But, I think Cole built this relationship before because they were doing stuff in the studio. Thug had a tour bus with a studio [in] it.
Records were being made on the tour bus during the “KOD Tour”?
Yeah. Thug probably made the last project (On The Rvn) on it, or something like that. I don’t really know the logistics of that. I think he made the song with the Elton John sample on it (‘High’) on the bus. I think he definitely recorded the one with Jaden (‘Sin’) on the bus. I think Thug and Jaden’s relationship got stronger on the tour.
What’s an example of what J. Cole’s dedication to working on music was like on the “4 Your Eyez Only Tour” and “KOD Tour”?
We were in Sweden [in October 2017] and I was coming back from the movies. It was a night we had an off day. He was in a security sprinter outside of the hotel recording, while other people on Dreamville were basically in the bar next door. It was an interesting contrast. But, I think he does that because he truly enjoys it and if he has nothing else to do, he gets inspired and is like, ‘Fuck it, let me do it now.’ He’ll perform, go back to his room, take a shower, come back out and start making music. We have these engineers on the road with us sometimes making music, laying down beats or laying down tracks. He’s always in it, sort of like Thug is. Thug records all the time. So, Cole might start some stuff, come back tomorrow, come back to it next month.
When you’re shooting live performances, do you think about the edit when you take the photo or just the moment?
I just think about the moment. I think sometimes it’s trying to create something that nobody has ever seen before. I try to go with something that makes me feel a certain way, a certain emotion.
You were around J. Cole during pretty private moments, as shown in your picture of him in the jumpsuit in the bathroom before a show on the “4 Your Eyez Only Tour.” What are the privacy rules with shooting a guy like Cole?
That’s a good question. You see anybody with Cole together, you take a picture of it, do what you can, and keep it moving. He’ll also let you know to stop shooting. If we’re in the room and the conversation gets a little more serious he’ll be like, ‘I want to have a serious conversation with this artist.’ I remember one time with Kodak Black, they asked us to stop shooting for a little bit, so they could have a real conversation and not feel like it’s too staged.
It’s definitely a hard space to be in. But, it’s more a privacy thing. We have access to things people don’t have access to. It’s a responsibility. I’ve been told before about posting stuff. It’s just protocol and playing your space, and playing your role.
As a journalist, I have to walk that fine line, as well. I’ve been in rooms when things have been said and gone down that I know, journalistically, is newsworthy. But, I understood there was an unspoken agreement of privacy. Are there any moments you wish you could’ve shot, but couldn’t?
Mostly the cool moments with Cole and his family. His family’s pretty cool. [It’s] not like he has a big family. Just his wife and his kid. He doesn’t let me shoot any of their stuff. These are the moments he wants to have for himself.
What’s the one J. Cole song that gets the craziest reaction live?
I think the one with Miguel (‘Power Trip’) gets the biggest reaction. His hits get the biggest reactions sometimes. The bigger hits have a huge reaction.
Now, that’s the thing about tours. Album cuts become what I call ‘tour hits.’ Those are songs that may not have been Billboard hits, but get reactions. What’s a J. Cole ‘tour hit’?
Oh, ‘Neighbors’ definitely gets the best reaction.
Photographers I’ve talked to have all said you have to prepare for something to go wrong on tour because something always goes wrong. When have you had to adapt to on tour?
I’ve lost a hard drive and a couple of card readers. I remember we shot this stuff [for the 4 Your Eyez Only album art] at this car wash. Out of nowhere, the card reader wouldn’t read the footage and we lost a whole day of photos of stuff that you’ll never see.
Oh, no. What goes through your mind at that moment? How do you react to that?
I’ve been to photoshoots before where it’s more stressful. But, with the album and the tour stuff, you can fix it. So, if you miss it, it’s no big deal. You’ll make up for it the next night. For the 4 Your Eyez Only shoot, we had so many days. So, I got kind of lucky on that. But, if it’s something that he’s seen and it’s disappeared, he might be mad.
Let’s go back on tour to end off. What is on J. Cole’s rider?
Organic stuff (laughs). Apples and stuff.
That’s the most “J. Cole” rider. What about Jaden Smith and Young Thug?
Jaden has his water company Just Water. He has that every night. Jaden has an interesting rider. He has Kombucha and Impossible Burgers (laughs). Super vegan stuff. His water’s pretty good. Thug’s was just regular shit. I think Thug has his own personal cook.
You’ve been photographing J. Cole for years. Do you feel like you’re living your dream or do you have bigger dreams?
Hmm, I think I’m inside a dream right now. But, I think there’s certain things I could be doing. When you start noticing different avenues you could be trying to do, you start realizing it’s not the end. There’s more that I can do in photography.