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

Chi Modu, the man behind some of hip-hop’s most famous photographs, has died at age 54.

The tragic news was announced Saturday afternoon on his official Instagram: “Our hearts are broken… We continue the fight,” the post read, which listed the year of his birth and death. “The family request privacy at this time.”

The details surrounding Modu’s death have not been revealed.

The Nigerian-born, New Jersey-raised photographer graduated from Rutgers with an economics degree in 1989, and received a certificate in photojournalism/documentary photography just three years later. According to The History Makers, Modu landed his first photography gig with the Harlem-based the New York Amsterdam News, and went on to become the director of photography for The Source, where he shot more than 30 covers. Some of his most iconic images featured Biggie, Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J, Mary J. Blige, and 2Pac; the latter of whom was the subject of Uncategorized, his 2016 book of never-before-seen photos of the late rapper.

In addition to being featured in outlets like the New York Times and Rolling Stone, Modu’s work was also featured on album covers for artists like Snoop, Method Man, and Mobb Deep. 

Modu explained his approach to photography—specifically his work with Pac, in a 2016 Medium post:

When I set out to take these photographs I knew they were important. 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.

Fans, photographers, and media outlets have since taken to social media to pay tribute to Modu’s life and career. You can read some of the messages below.

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