Chi Modu, Legendary Hip-Hop Photographer, Dies at 54

Chi Modu, the renowned photographer behind some of hip-hop’s most iconic images, has died at the age of 54.

The news was announced on Saturday afternoon on the late photographer’s Instagram. “Our hearts are broken… We continue the fight,” the caption reads, under an image bearing his signature and years of his birth and death.

“The family requests privacy at this time,” the caption added.

Details surrounding Modu’s passing have not yet been shared.

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Nigeria-born and New Jersey-raised, Modu first discovered his eye for photography while studying economics at Rutgers University. Upon receiving a certificate in photojournalism and documentary photography from the International Center of Photography in Manhattan, Modu went on to become the director of photography for hip-hop publication The Source, where he shot over 30 cover stories on rap’s biggest names, including Biggie, Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J and Mary J. Blige. Modu also shot influential imagery for Rolling StoneThe New York Times and Jazz Times. 

One of the late visionary’s most influential projects was Tupac Shakur: UNCATEGORIZED, a photo book published in 2016 featuring never-before-seen images of the late rapper.

Modu delved into his behind-the-lens philosophy for his work with Tupac in a Medium post titled: “I Shot Tupac,” in 2016: “When I set out to take these photographs I knew they were important,” he wrote. “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.”

Revisit the celebrated photographer’s 200-page tribute binding, featuring imagery of Shakur from their first meet-up in 1994 to his death two years later.
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