Renowned hip hop photographer Chi Modu has died, according to a post by his family confirming his passing on Twitter. The tweet includes an image of Modu next to the dates 1966-2021. “Our hearts are broken... We continue the fight. The family request privacy at this time,” the tweet reads.
Modu is responsible for photographing several hip hop superstars throughout the 90s and early 2000s. He shot iconic images of Biggie Smalls, LL Cool J, Tupac Shakur, Eazy-E, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Mobb Deep, Nas and many more.
The Nigerian-born New Jersey-raised photographer picked up a camera for the first time while studying at Rutgers University. He became the director of photography for The Source where he shot over 30 covers for the publication.
In a 2016 article he penned for Medium.com, Modu described his approach to his craft: “When I set out to take these photographs, I knew they were important,” he said. “I wanted to make sure the images stayed within the community. I wanted to make sure the person who created them was from the community. Historically that never really happens. Most of the visuals of the greats are owned and controlled by other people. That’s tricky because then they can put their interpretation on it. But when you look at my photographs, I’m there with them. I’m one of them even though I’m an observer. I was close enough to live it, and I had the skills to document and record it.”
In an interview with Coveteur just two years ago, Modu described how he became “the guy.” “When I had my first camera, I bought a little darkroom for like $200 from the classified pages in the newspaper, [and] I taught myself how to print. I got pretty good at printing. I made a little portfolio, and the editor at Amsterdam News gave me a shot,” He said, “It was quite an accomplishment for me, it was a start, and when I was there, The Source was starting out in New York, it had just come down from Boston. They didn’t really have a photo crew, so it was pretty easy to get in there, and I’m pretty aggressive in some situations, so I figured it out. They didn’t really pay me anything, but eventually the artists saw me as ‘the guy,’ and they knew if they showed up to my camera, they’d show up in the magazine ... But being the man wasn’t enough, you had to be able to deliver. You have to be strong technically, and you also have to be able to make people comfortable. You can imagine the neighborhoods that my subjects come from, it’s not so user-friendly, you know? But I have a personality that makes people comfortable, no matter who you are or where you’re from. That’s probably my greatest skill. I have genuine curiosity of people, and I want to look into their soul a bit and see what’s there. That’s what I try to do with my camera.”