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Chi Modu
Via Instagram/@chimodu

Acclaimed hip hop photographer Chi Modu has died aged 54

Modu was best known for his iconic portraits of Tupac, Snoop Dogg, Notorious B.I.G., and many more

Chi Modu, the legendary hip hop photographer who shot some of the scene’s biggest names in the 1990s, has died aged 54. The announcement of his death was made yesterday (May 22) in an Instagram post that read: “Our hearts are broken… We continue the fight.”

Born in Nigeria and raised in New Jersey, Modu graduated with an economics degree from Rutgers in 1989, before receiving a certificate in photojournalism and documentary photography in the early 90s. His first position as a photographer was with Harlem’s New York Amsterdam News, but his breakthrough came as director of photography for The Source.

Modu would go on to create some of the most iconic portraits of rappers from the era, shooting Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J, Mary J. Blige, Lil Kim, Wu-Tang Clan, and countless other stars. His work also appeared on album covers for Snoop Dogg, Method Man, and Mobb Deep.

“When I set out to take these photographs I knew they were important,” he wrote of shooting iconic images of Tupac, in a 2016 blog post. “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.”

“When you look at my photographs, I’m there with them,” he adds. “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.”

Source co-founder Jonathan Shecter has also posted a tribute on social media, sharing stories about Modu’s early days at the magazine. “He was the guy we sent to Brooklyn to shoot a new guy ‘Biggie Smalls’ when we heard his demo,” Shecter writes. “He headed to Queensbridge to snap a rookie MC named Nas in his childhood bedroom.” 

“What made Chi special as a photographer was not just his technical skill, but the genuine and human approach to his work.”