Veteran photographer Chi Modu captured iconic images of some of Hip Hop’s most legendary artists, including The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, Mobb Deep and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. But on Saturday (May 22), Modu’s journey with the camera came to a sudden end.
According to Chi Modu’s official Twitter account, the illustrious shutterbug passed away this week at the age of 55. Although no cause of death was revealed, chatter online suggests he succumbed to stomach cancer.
“Our hearts are broken… We continue the fight ©,” the tweet reads. “The family request privacy at this time.”
Our hearts are broken… We continue the fight ©💪🏾
The family request privacy at this time 📷 pic.twitter.com/zaPXgvgdcm
— chi modu (@chimodu) May 22, 2021
Born in Lagos, Nigeria and raised in New Jersey, Chi Modu studied at the prestigious Lawrenceville School before pivoting to photojournalism as a student at Rutgers University. While working at The Amsterdam News in 1991, Modu landed a gig at The Source during a bygone era when the magazine was considered “The Hip Hop Bible.”
Shooting over 30 covers for the publication, Modu quickly established himself as one of the culture’s most prominent photographers. His work was so highly revered, Modu was asked to shoot the cover art for albums such as Tical by Method Man, The Infamous by Mobb Deep and Enta Da Stage by Black Moon, among others.
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During a 2016 interview with HipHopDX, Chi Modu reflected on those early days, before Hip Hop was as mainstream as it is now.
“When I was doing it, Hip Hop was still an outsider,” he explained at the time. “The good part about it was that we were a community of outsiders, but we were having fun while we were changing the world. We weren’t welcomed. So, we stuck to our own lane. That’s what Hip Hop did and that was create its own lane. That’s why I see the difference from what I did to the later years.
“In the later years, it became a genre full of all the supported staff, label people and stylists, which is what happens to genres when they get big. When I did it, photographers needed their own street credibility. If you couldn’t carry yourself well, you might’ve gotten rolled up on while on location. You had to know how to move. It wasn’t no ‘I came with the label.’ You had to establish your own relationships.”
A cascade of tributes are flowing in for Chi Modu on social media. HipHopDX sends our condolences to Modu’s family and friends.
Check out some of the reactions below.
— GeneralSteele (@GeneralSteele) May 22, 2021
Today I’m going to celebrate Brother Chi Modu the man whos images captured our youth. We love you and will forever miss your unique energy🙏🏼
— Dante Ross (@DanteRoss) May 22, 2021
LONG LIVE CHIMODU 💎 pic.twitter.com/T3K9vufk4z
— La Li Lu Le Lo (@AsapTwelvyy) May 22, 2021
Biggie’s style would quickly become a permanent staple in Hip-Hop’s iconography. Which look is your favorite? #HBDBIG #BiggieChangedMyLife 📸 IG/jayson_keeling, barronclaiborne chimodu, jonathanmannion pic.twitter.com/Q4TP65QUKI
— Rock The Bells (@RockTheBells) May 21, 2021
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Give Chi Modu a whole MUSEUM 🙏🏿 https://t.co/9WXPLCbz48
— Michael Christmas (@MickeyChristmas) May 22, 2021
— Joshua Kissi (@JoshuaKissi) May 22, 2021
RIP Chi Modu
Chi was among Hip Hop's most prolific & in demand photographers.
Just a few of his most iconic shots. pic.twitter.com/h3kWe0oNTh
— Check the Rhyme (@checktherhyme1) May 22, 2021
RIP Chi Modu 📸🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼 legendary photographer and chronicler of hip hop culture pic.twitter.com/6b4XCFYTGG
— ROB KENNER (@RobertJKenner) May 22, 2021
Thank you Chi Modu for allowing us to see the world thru your eyes. Rest in peace. #ThePictureStays
— Kamau (@Kamau_) May 22, 2021