We all have a friend like Ithaka Papas; he’s the one everyone's jealous of. The guy who picks up sports quicker than anyone. That friend who hears a tune once and can play it on any instrument and he also happens to tell the best stories all-the-while completely nonchalant about the said above. He's that guy that you want to hate on but you just can't. When I first met Ithaka six years back, he came over to my pad with a little point and shoot camera. He snapped a few pics while we were hanging out. I didn’t think anything of it. We later went surfing and I was blown away by his ability in the surf. I got to know him, and he was an unraveling onion. Each layer was a wild adventure; his life was coated with wonder. And, it wasn’t until the feature film Straight Out Of Compton landed in theaters that I learned Ithaka had spent two years with N.W.A. He had shot their album covers, editorial and more. Fascinated by our cover photo of Eazy-E in Venice I grabbed him for the real story and the back story on a few of his other favorite pics.
All photos courtesy of Ithaka Darin Papas/Tack Artist Group
GA: Tell us about the cover photo and how you got to that point with N.W.A?
Ithaka: At the time I was working for Priority Records. I was their main freelance photographer during this period and I had photographed N.W.A. probably more than any other photographer. This particular day was a shoot for MTV and they were doing a little culture clash unite between this pop group Kris Kross and N.W.A. Kris Kross came down and we all met in Venice. Fab 5 Freddy did the interview, an old-school artist and hip-hopper from New York. After the Kris Kross bailed we all walked down to the skate area down there on the beach at Venice. Eazy grabbed some kid's skateboard and took off. I'd already been working with this crew for probably almost two years and I'd never even heard the word skate board came out of anybody's mouth, or surfing, or anything like that. It was a shock to me, and he'd obviously spent some time on a skateboard because he knew what he was doing.
GA: He could skate?
Ithaka: Yes. He was confident on it. One thing we've learned from this photo is Eazy is a goofyfooter. (Ed’s note: Goofyfoot is the type of stance a surfer or skater is defined by)
GA: Back then Venice was still pretty hardcore, we’re people excited to see Eazy, or was he getting a few scary looks?
Ithaka: No, they were super excited to see him. But during that period there were a lot of gang conflicts here. A lot of these shoots that I did with N.W.A., we'd go to a place and there'd be a mixed reaction. I don't think anybody specifically from the band has ever been an affiliated gangster, but friends of theirs are and that ends up being a co-affiliation. Sometimes they'd go to these shoots and there would be some vibe from whoever. But generally speaking it was just excitement, it was a big deal, Eazy-E was down on the beach, he was signing autographs non-stop, and girls were screaming, they were big stars.
GA: Anything else exciting happen that day?
Ithaka: Not really, that was it. We just went down there and everyone went their separate ways. I did another little shoot with Dre and DSC after this. These were good shoots because they were very informal so you could get good material and everybody in their element, that was my specialty, going where they were shooting a video, then doing a portrait session on the side, that kind of thing. It's hard to get everybody together in the same space, like, "Okay, we're going to have a photoshoot out of the studio." It's hard to get them together and focused for more than a couple minutes at a time.
GA: You also shot Eazy E's famous pool party from the movie Straight Outta Compton?
Ithaka: I did not shoot the pool party but I went to the pool party. Way better to participate in that one than photograph it [laughs]. That was pretty nuts, it was at some ranch up in Malibu. No holds barred, they put on a serious party. You know, the great thing about "Straight Outta Compton", you know I'm sure you know people that were even more involved than me might see subtle details that weren't accurate from my perspective, it was exactly the way I remember working with them, the portrays of them.
GA: Let's go through some other photos. Tell me about this one of Eazy on the train tracks.
Ithaka: This was on the east side of downtown LA. Once again, it was myself doing promotional portrait stills on the side of a video shoot, and in this case, this was the video for “100 miles and running”. This was when Ice Cube already left the band. This was the second N.W.A. album. So, this was towards the end of the project because Ice Cube had already left the band a few months before, so it just totally changed the direction of the project.
GA: What a bummer. This one of him here is my favorite of the four. He looks so young.
Ithaka: So, this was, I think it was November 1988. This was the first time I had ever met any of these guys. This was the record cover shoot for “We want Eazy” the single, which just had the song “Radio” on it. So, this shoot was mostly about Eazy. Everybody was there though, so also there's some shots of N.W.A from the day. This is at my apartment on Orange Street near Wilshire and San Vicente. So, this one it was a little bit more produced. I think I got 500 dollars for this shoot and I’m sure I spent more than 600 dollars shooting it. But I didn't care I was so excited to shoot them. (Continued below)
Ithaka: I was a fan of these guys as well. I was a daily listener to K.D.A.Y. I knew the music very well before I ever even worked with N.W.A. or Eazy. So, it was like I knew what I was getting into and I wanted to do a good shoot, and one of the shots from this shoot had all five members, they gathered without their sunglasses, and the image is one of the images that has survived the test of time. Because it’s really rare to see everybody without their sunglasses in controlled lighting.
GA: I remember you telling me a funny story about the catering for the shoot?
Ithaka: Oh, yes. This was Clarity Records and the only records they had really done before this was the California Raisins. You know, the California Raisins?
GA: Yeah I saw it in the movie.
Ithaka: They went into hip-hop and they were treading lightly. Unsure of how it was going to turn out they didn’t want to spend too much money. So the catering for the shoot was four bags of Doritos and a 24 pack of Old English 800.
GA: It’s crazy how young they are here, man. They’re just kids. Eazy would have been what age?
Ithaka: He might have been 20, so let me think. Dre’s a year older than me, ’88, how old was I? So, I was 22, Dre was 23, Cube is like 20-21.
GA: Insane. Fuck, that's such a good photo.
Ithaka: Fun shit though, huh?
GA: Yes, it’s such cool shit, man. Okay last one, what about this one below.
Ithaka: Yes, this was down at MacArthur Park. This was another segment for MTV. This was the record cover shoot for the single "12-inch", extended version of “Express yourself”. Which also had "A bitch is a bitch" on it. This was the cover of that. At the time MacArthur Park used to be a pretty rough neighborhood. I think they'd just drained the lake right before this. They found 700 guns in the lake, 3,000 knives, couple dead bodies. I don’t know what it’s like now down there now but I imagine a lot nicer.