How Do You Know When You’ve "Made It"? ::

That guy above is hip hop legend 8 Ball. I had the opportunity to photograph him about three years ago. We shot in the studio and then headed out on location in his completely tricked out Hummer. * Ball came up in Memphis with MJG. You may not have heard of 8 Ball. If you like any sort of hip hop coming from the south then you most definitely have heard his influence. Everyone from T.I. to Luda to Andre 3000 all talk about how they were influenced by 8 Ball and MGJ early on in their career.

I was, of all things, folding socks this morning thinking about anything but folding socks. There are some who look at me and say, “Wow. Zack has made it.” From my view point I will say I’ve “made it” when I don’t have to fold socks ever again in my life. That got me thinking about 8 Ball and I thought I would share this interesting personal story…

As I was steaming Ball’s 6XL shirts for this shoot I was asking him about his career. I asked one question and he told me something that has stuck with me ever since.

I asked… “When did you know your career was to the point that this was now your job? Like, you made it.”

Ball stopped rolling his “smoke” and sat back and told me about growing up as a kid in a poor neighborhood in Memphis. He lived with his mom and grandmother in a shotgun shack. He slept in the den. One of his daily chores was going around the house and collecting the mouse traps in the house, take them outside, and get rid of the dead mice. Then he had to reset those traps and put them back around the house. He told me that he knew he had “made it” when he could throw away the whole mouse trap and reset a new one. He was making enough money in hip hop that he could just buy a new bag of traps every week instead of using the old ones.

8 Ball bought his mom a house. He’s doing well. He’s influenced an army of rappers. He knows he made it when he didn’t have to use a used mouse trap.

It doesn’t take a whole lot to make it does it? He made it but still had to set those traps. He still had a long way to go before he could just buy his mom a new house. It’s such a great story. For those of you who just discount hip hop as “crap” you ought to listen beyond the ho’s and rims and hear the stories of people who came out of nothing and into something. There are a lot of stories of redemption that come out of hip hop. Not exactly your Sunday school stories of redemption but redemption all the same. Go watch Hustle & Flow. It’s one of my top three favorite movies of all time. It’s about a small time pimp coming up in hip hop in Memphis. 8 Ball, of course, is on the soundtrack.

Here’s another one…

Cheers, Zack


  • cat said on June 27, 2010

    Great story, Zack! Thanks for sharing.

  • Javier said on June 27, 2010

    The day I can quit my day job…

  • LaKaye Mbah said on June 27, 2010

    I think I will count myself as having “made it” when I’m supporting myself full-time from photography and I no longer have to live with roommates.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  • Jeff Simpson said on June 27, 2010

    8ball, MJG, project pat, and of course Three 6! All great dirty south artists.

    Quality post, provides another perspective on what ‘making it’ means.

    To me, ‘making it’ is when I have a sound business, efficient workflow, steady flow of work (that I ENJOY), and the luxury of not having to reinvest all profits back into photography.

  • chrisdavid42 said on June 27, 2010

    I don’t fold socks anymore but not because I made it. It’s because I work 2 jobs and the kids are old enough to fold the socks. :) You have a good way of putting perspective on things Zack. Thanks for another great post.

  • Edd Carlile said on June 27, 2010

    What about it Zack?
    Is making the cover of Rolling Stone gonna be your crowning achievement….or just a milestone on the way?

    Great story…thank you for posting.

  • Prdica said on June 27, 2010

    socksessful :)

  • shiv said on June 27, 2010

    Thank you for sharing! What a wonderful post.

  • Michael Warth said on June 27, 2010

    Thanks for sharing Zack…when you asked for one word on the wall and I said “when” was my word, this is exactly what I was thinking at that very moment.

    Deep topic; so much to know and learn.

  • Jesse Bone said on June 27, 2010

    So true! It doesn’t take much to “make it” How many of us always say when “I get here” or when “I can do this” then I have made it! I’m 100% guilty of it too. I have learned so much from your story Zack, about making the best with what you have. There will always be a better camera, a better lens, a better flash, a easier way to pay bills, and easier life. But the reality is, if you don’t make the best with what you have, the pursuit would never end, usually at the cost of your family suffering. (I know from experience)

    Not saying you should never stop learning, but I think there should be a level that you get too that you can balance home life and work.

    Thanks again for all the great posts and education Zack.


  • Brent said on June 27, 2010

    I’m not sure if the great ones ever think they “make it”. They just keep moving forward. It’s all about the journey right? Great article. Thanks!

  • Phil said on June 27, 2010

    I’ll have made it when I look forward to the weekday, rather than the weekend…

  • Trudy said on June 27, 2010

    Don’t insult me Zarias. Of course I know 8 Ball and MJG. LOL! Great photograph. It feels so “true.”Love the story, one that isn’t too distant from me or many people I know.

    Also, Hustle & Flow is a PHENOMENAL film. The church scene where he starts crying during that beautiful hymn, Juanita Bynum’s I believe, I start BAWLING. There is an element to gospel, hip hop and r&b that stirs the soul and tells the story of truth.

    Thanks for this awesome post.

  • Tommy said on June 27, 2010

    8 Ball and MJG used to bounce my 12 inch subwoofers in the trunk of my old ’77 Chevy Nova back in the mid-90’s.

    I keep thinking back over my life and feel grateful for being where I am right now. Thanks Zack!

  • Jamie Carl said on June 27, 2010

    I’ll probably never make it because I’ll never settle for anything less than total world domination. Gonna die trying though. :)

  • Debbi said on June 27, 2010

    Hi Zack
    Can you, or your assistant post the setup to make Lightroom 3, Canon camera tether and Pop up in Lightroom like you did in the seminar? I can tether in EOS (Canon) or I can start Lightroom 3 and tether, but I can’t seem to make it go from the EOS software and pop up on the Lightroom screen Big like you did. I need each detail as I must be missing something basic. No tutorial online has helped me

  • Tim Skipper said on June 27, 2010


    In 2006 I lost my mother and a very successful business within three months of each other. I had just started playing with photography again then, after not shooting for years. For one solid year I was resentful and angry at everything I lost. Then in November of 2007 I learned about the concepts of what we think and say we attract. Since that time I have made a 180 degree turn in my life.

    Today I have managed to go full time with my photography, despite the recession. I am still shooting more local work (portraits, local ads etc) but I am doing it. I am doing it with my eyes on much larger goals.

    Your right in that “making it is relative.” I feel as if I’ve made it, even though my business is still small compared to others. Life is and has always been a matter of attitude. Redemption starts on the inside when a person decides they can no longer stay in the place they are. When they determine no matter what I have to change my situation. Its realizing that no one is going to just give it to you. You have to do the work, hold the faith, and keep the dream.

    Too many people let life pass by because they think that they have to instantly have the gold ring. They think if there’s not “instant success” then they failed. They fail to realize that success is achieved on step at a time. It takes going from goal to another, to another, to another.

    Anthony Robbins teaches that success leaves clues. I search for mine in people like yourself, Joe McNally, Chase Jarvis, Scott Kelby, and others who have worked, sacrificed, and given themselves to achieve a goal bigger than their surroundings.

    I have determined to make whatever steps are necessary to reach my goals. I have small goals and large ones. My small ones may be as simple as to meet and talk to people I admire such as yourself and the others listed above, the large goals. . . well let’s just say most people would laugh if I told you, they can’t see past where they are.

    I want to say thank you for sharing this story. Thank you for sharing that even someone who I and others look up to is still working on making it.

  • zack said on June 28, 2010

    Tim… Wow. Great to see folks rising up and making it happen. Sorry it’s on the midst of loss.


  • Philip said on June 27, 2010

    That’s a moving story……really helps to keep things in perspective…inspiring and motivating, thank you!

  • Atldoc said on June 27, 2010

    Great read.

    I want the sunglasses!

  • Huggs said on June 27, 2010

    I found it ironic that my gf asked me to help fold laundry while I was reading this.

  • Juan Pablo said on June 27, 2010

    Thanks for sharing that story Zack. It’s very interesting to hear and think about this sort of stuff. Thanks again for the inspiration and great work that you put out there.

  • Kevin said on June 27, 2010

    Thanks Zack… perspective is an amazing thing- isn’t it?

  • zack said on June 28, 2010

    Kevin- It sure is.

  • Mike V. said on June 28, 2010

    All I can think of is “My Homeboy’s Girlfriend”! Amazing Group!

  • Mike V. said on June 28, 2010

    And I Second the Hustle & Flow Statement! It’s hard out there for a pimmmp! :-)

  • Charlemagne Obana said on June 28, 2010

    I might not know for sure when I’ve made it, but I’m gonna be damn proud when I do. Best part is when that happens and someone asks me about what helped on my journey, I’ll definitely credit you for the influence you’ve been on me. I’m glad to say that you’ve been pretty instrumental in the process of getting me where I need to be. Thanks.

  • Johann said on June 28, 2010

    Thanks for sharing this. I work in a psych hospital with kids/young adults that are often at a loss for inspiration. I will be sharing this story with them.

  • Mike said on June 28, 2010

    Who folds socks? I just throw them all in the top drawer and frantically search for two that match at 7 a.m. before heading out the door.

    I will have “made it” when I no longer have to rush out the door at 7 a.m….

  • Glyn Dewis said on June 28, 2010

    ‘How do you know when you’ve made it’ is a question that is sure to get a whole mixed array of responses.

    Personally in my Photography life, in fact life as general I have alot to prove…mainly to myself but also to those who doubted me throughout my life no matter what I took on; from my School Exams, my Bodybuilding to now my Photography. There’s something in me that fires me up to make sure I ‘make it’ so that one day … ‘they’ll know’ …does that make sense?


  • Christian said on June 29, 2010

    The day I can feed my family by doing what I love to do, rather than what I have to do.

  • Mark said on June 29, 2010


    Great post. For me, making it would be steaming ‘Balls t-shirts before a shoot with him. He and ‘G are southern hip hop legends par excellence. Big Fan of both yours and his.

    -on my way to “making it”

  • Kathryn Wagner said on June 29, 2010

    “You have to do the work, hold the faith, and keep the dream.” – great mantra Tim

    The awesome thing about photography (and creative professional work in general) is that it is challenging and engaging. Striving to ‘make it’ as all of us are doing, is interesting. We all have different goals and different yardsticks to define the success of those aspirations.

    Thanks for sharing your goals with a gal who agrees that not folding the socks is a great thing to strive for.

    Now I understand why my mother and father so looked forward to getting the five of us flip flops every summer! :)

  • Derek said on June 29, 2010

    I will know I have made it when there comes a day when I don’t want to pick up a camera anymore. Then I’ll know that chapter in my life is over. If that day never comes, if I shoot until the end, that’s fine. Because photography to me isn’t about making it in terms of career success, but about enjoying the medium during the ride of life.

  • Geo said on June 29, 2010

    We all wanna make but where we’re different is our image of having made it.

    Photography and Hip Hop two of my favorite things. Love how you enjoy hip hop and see beyond the image normally associated with hip hop. Gun’s, brick’s and cash… Awesome post!

  • mike murrow said on June 29, 2010

    I’ll know I’ve made it when I don’t have to be a plumber anymore.

  • Dave The Canuck said on June 30, 2010

    Great story, but I agree with Mike. WFS?

  • Mike Hall said on June 30, 2010

    Great story… and logo placement!

    Curious: What are the other movies in your ‘top 3’ of all time?

  • Paul Smart said on June 30, 2010

    Great post as usual.
    Though I think the reference to * Ball was meant to be to 8 Ball

    – 😉

  • Henny van Roomen said on June 30, 2010

    ”For those of you who just discount hip hop as “crap” you ought to listen beyond the ho’s and rims and hear the stories of people who came out of nothing and into something.”

    With this quote you even MORE became my idol. Like Mike Hall im actually also curious what are your top3 movies of all time.

    One of mine is Boys in the Hood, also a Hiphop like movie en great story for everyone about surviving in ‘the hood’ and trying to get out of it.

  • Bogie said on June 30, 2010

    Hoss, don’t get too comfy.

    “Making it” can be very fleeting.

    I thought I’d made it when I graduated from DINFOS, and I was officially an Army photojournalist.

    I thought I’d made it when I opened a business doing graphics (and it ran for five years, and then I went to work for a Fortune 100…).

    I thought…

    Well, for the rest of the summer, I’m going to be living in my van at a friend’s machine shop, learning from a master machinist, and trying to get my photo thing back on…

    Maybe I’ll make it. I think I will. I’m 49 years old. I have no choice but to transform.

    Anyone need any cool custom-machined photo dealies? Probably won’t be cheap, but it’ll be some darn good quality…


    Heck, Zack – I’ll be a few miles from Branson, MO (they got both kindsa music there…) – know anyone down there who needs a second shooter? Or a Dan?

  • Demetrius said on July 1, 2010

    Thanks for the story and the shots… “makin’ it” comes in steps for me. When I book a shoot I feel as though I made it, until I complete the shoot and wait for the print orders, then that’s making it. If they call me back for another shoot I am just happy I held on to them…

    I have a long way to go, but I am glad I am still going..

  • Mikel said on July 1, 2010

    It reminds me of the story like to ‘Blind Side’, you have to look below the surface to get to the true story and not just see thigs at face value

  • Tony said on July 2, 2010

    I use to play arcade games with 8-ball, MJG, and Skinny Pimp at Fun Fair Arcade in Memphis. Great times and great photos.

  • MIchael Kalbo said on July 4, 2010

    Great story. It’s true that if people listen pass the hoe’s, pimps and car’s in rap song that they would see the struggles some people face.

  • Nat Nelson said on July 9, 2010

    You ar so true…Hustle and Flow..fabulous…and I’m old school.

  • Karl Johnston said on July 14, 2010


  • k33n said on August 3, 2010

    Wow,I remember talking to you after, you were hyped up. God is good my friend.

  • Wing Wong said on August 12, 2010

    mousetraps. amazing bit of perspective wisdom. makes me picture the moment when a log jam starts to give… that critical point when you know the the whole thing will break… seems like 8ball saw the start of his future when something like that changed in his life… very beautiful.

  • Sean Anders said on August 14, 2010

    I love this story Zack. While I was reading I kept thinking about Hustle and Flow. One of my all time favorite movies and I am not even that into the rap scene, but it is in every way a perfect film. Thanks for sharing…

  • Gigante said on August 25, 2010

    Nice story.
    I used to work with Hip Hop here in Brazil…
    Now I’m Trying to “Make It” on photography.
    And although you don’t know that… You’ve been helping me a lot.
    Thanks for that…

    Hustle & Flow rulez!

  • Carlos Lyonns said on August 29, 2010


    Many thanks for recommending Hustle and Flow. I read this blog post when it was written and made a note to watch the film.

    I saw it recently and agree it is a great film, so many thanks for the recommendation.

    Keep up the good work.


  • Gabi said on September 2, 2010

    Thanks for another inspirational post! You’re amazing!

  • Rob said on October 16, 2010

    One of my favorite rappers. Him and MJG.

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