Era-Defining Hip-Hop Photographer, Chi Modu, Dead at 54

As the photography directory for The Source, Modu captured some of the earliest (and most iconic) glimpses of soon-to-be rap royalty at a crucial and tense moment in hip-hop history.

Pioneering hip-hop photographer, Chi Modu, has died. He was 54-years-old.

Modu’s passing was announced by his family on his Instagram account on Saturday, May 22nd (see below.) “Our hearts are broken… We continue the fight,” the post reads. However, a cause of death was not revealed.

Born in Nigeria and raised in New Jersey, picked up photography while attending Rutgers University. After a stint at The International Center of Photography in New York, Modu landed his first gig with the Harlem-based publication, New York Amsterdam News. In 1991, Modu joined The Source as a director of photography and quickly became a defining lens for hip-hop journalism throughout the decade. At The Source, he was responsible for capturing some of the earliest (and most iconic) glimpses of soon-to-be rap royalty at a crucial and tense moment in hip-hop history.

Many of those images have gone on to be almost archetypal representations of their subjects. Biggie and The Twin Towers? Modu. Method Man with the fangs and the Philly? Modu. The cover of Mobb Deep’s The Infamous? Modu.

Following the announcement of his death, fans and peers flooded social media with fond memories and appreciation. Jonathan Schecter, founding editor at The Source, recalled first meeting the young photographer in a series of posts on Twitter. “What made Chi special as a photographer was not just his technical skill, but the genuine and human approach to his work,” Schecter said. “He made the artists feel comfortable, they would relax and chat as among friends. And then he captured their true essence on film,” Schecter added.

You can read through some of the notes from friends and fans below.


Zo is a staff writer at Okayplayer where he covers music.

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