Some of the most iconic photos of legendary Hip-Hop artists you’ve ever seen were shot by him. You’ve seen his work in magazines, on billboards, on t-shirts and on many of music’s most well-known album covers—his impact on the culture is undeniable.
Legendary photographer Chi Modu has died at the age of 54, according to an announcement made by his family Saturday.
“Our hearts are broken… We continue the fight,” the Instagram post read. “The family request privacy at this time.”
Modu was born in Aronbizoug, Nigeria in 1966 and was raised in New Jersey after his family moved to the U.S. in 1969. According to The History Makers, he graduated from Rutgers University with an economics degree in 1989 and received a certificate in photojournalism and documentary photography in 1992.
From the History Makers:
His first position as a photographer was with the African American newspaper the New York Amsterdam News in Harlem. In 1991, he was hired by The Source magazine, where he worked as the director of photography. Modu’s photographs were chosen for over thirty different covers. Modu photographed some of the biggest names in hip-hop at the time, including Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J, Mary J. Blige and the Notorious B.I.G. He left The Source in 1997 to work as the co-creative director at C-Squared Studio. During this time, Modu became interested in digital photography sharing and founded diverseimages.com in 1998, which later evolved into ephotos. He also worked for a variety of marketing companies, including as the chief executive officer for REBRAND, as a digital strategist for DI Digital, and as a brand strategist for Diverse Insights. In 2006, Modu joined Diverse Images, Inc. as the chief digital strategist and remained there until 2009. Following his departure from Diverse Images, Inc., Modu began working for DOTGO as a digital strategy consultant. He founded ephotos in 2012, with the goal of making the world’s images accessible to anyone with an internet connection.
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“I’m a documentarian,” Modu said, according to an article published in the New York Times last year reporting on his recent success in selling iconic portraits of Tupac Shakur, The Notorious BIG, Eazy-E and others at auction as well as his forming of a partnership with designer David Helwani to make limited-edition luxury clothing featuring images of Hip-Hop artists he captured. “As a documentarian, you really want people to be able to look at your photographs and see what was going on.”
In an interview for Showcase with TRT World Arts Reporter Aadel Haleem, Modu was asked what developed his love for Hip-Hop and his chosen art form.
“Well, the love is really for photography,” Modu answered. “That’s what drove my passion for Hip=Hop. I was a Hip-Hop fan, of course...but I was really a photographer first, and I saw this movement bubbling up, and I knew it needed to be documented.
“My real focus was making sure the person who documented it was from the community,” he continued. “You’ve never really seen that before. When you look at most genres over the years, it’s usually an outsider recording it, so I look like the people I was photographing, so it brought a little bit of an advantage to my camera.”
Seriously, if you’re not familiar with Modu or his work, just take one look at his Instagram page and you will certain to see a myriad of photos you recognize. It’s impossible to be a true Hip-Hop head without having come across images he captured.
R.I.P., Chi Modu. Your contributions to Hip-Hop and to the world and genre of photography are immeasurable.
The cause of Modu’s death has not been revealed.