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B+: The Limerick photographer who worked with Biggie, Eazy-E, and Lauren Hill

Words: Mark William Logan
Photography: Brian Cross (B+) & Mark William Logan

Before his book ‘Ghostnotes’, I was familiar with the work of Brian Cross, or B+ as he goes by. I knew the man had somewhat of a legendary status and had worked with some of the greats; Biggie Smalls, Eazy-E and Lauryn Hill to name a few. However, I soon came to understand that Brian is in fact one of our nation’s greatest exports. What he has done for music and culture globally is nothing short of remarkable. He has cultivated deep and fruitful relationships with the most influential artists of our time. These in turn have given birth to some of the greatest films, photographs and music videos ever made.

Brian, in his late teens working in a video shop in Limerick, decided he could be more and the world had more to offer. After completing his degree in fine art at National College of Art & Design, he decided it was time for him to land on more fertile ground, better suited to his energy, interests and talent. “I remember telling my pops when I wanted to go do fine art and he was like, ‘You’re cool to go through the rest of your life without a steady income?’, And I said, ‘If I’m happy I’m ok with that’.

“What the fuck was Samuel Beckett going to do here [Dublin]? It was the same for me, the kind of things I was interested in or inspired by… There was no way for me to grow it or live off of it. I would have been on the dole or miserable.

“I’m not one of these people who has things all worked out, so I just went to LA to see what would happen.” He continues, “My mother applied for a visa for me in a lottery and I got it. I saw it as a kind of omen, I guess. There weren’t that many cats going out there from this side, so I said why not?”

When he arrived he felt at home in hip hop culture, it was the only real thing that made sense to him at the time, it resonated and he was drawn in. The nature of all things are cyclical, especially in music but the last three decades have seen an absolute explosion of hip hop and B+ has been at the epicentre, this boy from Limerick, co-creating with the rap icons of our generation. 

“The nature of hip hop is cyclical, we go through growth periods and we go through stagnant periods. Right now it’s a growth period because we are coming out of a collapse of global faith. Realising that we are not really part of a just system. Hip hop helps figure that shit out when you have proper social problems on the ground.” 

Before we pressed record on the interview I was intrigued by his relationship with Damien Marley and how that had blossomed. “It took time with Damien. You don’t build a relationship with that family in six months or a year. The first time it was openly articulated I was family was 2012, that’s seven years of knowing him.” The Marleys for the most part are regarded as the royal family in Jamaica so I guess that must mean there is an honorary Irish man who’s also considered family there.

Thundercat by Brian Cross

What struck me of Brian was his ability to so naturally integrate and create with greats. I asked him about how he had manifested or had been able to navigate this in his life. “It’s about building relationships, not trying to force things, tip away nice and handy, have integrity, help people out and keep going.” 

The nature of hip hop is cyclical, we go through growth periods and we go through stagnant periods. Right now it’s a growth period because we are coming out of a collapse of global faith. Realising that we are not really part of a just system.

Kendrick Lamar by Brian Cross

That level of sincerity and integrity no doubt comes from how he was raised here in Ireland, he speaks fondly of his mother and how she nurtured his growth and interests. “Everyday I’d come home from school and she would genuinely ask about my day and ask me to explain it.” It’s obvious that that genuine care and interest remains prominently in Brian, regardless of who he’s collaborating with.”The people I work with are people I’m inspired by, I want to help them. Whether it turns into money or not is another issue.”

When I pressed him more on his latest project with Damien, Brian gave an insight into one such adventure. “We were doing a documentary with Damien about his tour in Africa when Jay-Z calls, he’s shooting a video in Jamaica. He says he’ll send a private jet to take Damien from Ethiopia to Jamaica for the ‘Bam’ video… We went with him and then finished up the doc with Damien and Jay-Z together, that was a trip!”

Before we concluded our stroll around the green I had a final question. I wanted to know what Brian thought of the energetic exchange between photographer and subject, as people.

“It wasn’t ’til the mid 90s when I started to fully explore the possibilities of the exchange you can have with someone with a camera. Realising that by having a camera there you can make things happen. In the beginning I also didn’t realise that the cats I was mixing with were in their own right extraordinary people that were doing advanced things. I just felt I could be of use to them through my own lens. “Now I know that using my creativity is my way of connecting with the world.”