Chi Modu, a legendary hip-hop photographer known for his iconic images of Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan, Eminem, and more, died last week at age 54 – reportedly after a recent cancer diagnosis. The announcement was made on his official Instagram page. ‘Our hearts are broken… We continue the fight. The family requests privacy at this time,’ reads the caption on the post informing followers of his untimely death.
Born in Nigeria in 1966, Modu was raised in New Jersey. He graduated in 1989 with a degree in economics from Rutgers University. While in college, he started experimenting with photography on the side and attended Manhattan’s International Center of Photography after leaving Rutgers. Modu started working in photography at Harlem-based publication New York Amsterdam News.
His career-defining work, however, would come from his tenure at The Source magazine – where he photographed countless hip-hop acts in their prime, starting in the early 1990s, including Snoop Dogg, NAS, Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Mary J. Blige. For 30 years, he was granted behind-the-scenes access to artists and captured them in their most intimate moments.
While his cover shoot of Mobb Deep’s Prodigy and Havoc, for the cover of their 1995 album ‘The Infamous,’ or Snoop Dogg’s ‘Doggystyle,’ might have been amongst his most high-profile gigs, his black-and-white image of a shirtless Tupac exhaling cigar smoke is probably the most memorable. If a hip-hop artist made an indelible mark on society over the past 30 years, chances are they were photographed at some point by Chi Modu.
Chi’s photojournalism extended beyond the music industry. He travelled the world and documented events across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. His family is currently planning a memorial service.