Remembering Chi Modu, the photographer that documented hip-hop

In May, hip-hop photographer Chi Modu sadly passed away. Perhaps you aren’t quite familiar with the name, but you've surely come across his portraits of Tupac, Notorious B.I.G, Diddy, and many more.

Remembering Chi Modu, the photographer that documented hip-hop
© Instagram
Remembering Chi Modu, the photographer that documented hip-hop

Chi Modu arrived in the USA at the age of two, after his family fled the political unrest of Nigeria. He grew up in New Jersey and got an Economics Degree. After picking up photography as a hobby, he signed up at the International Center of Photography in New York, and that is where it all truly began for him.

A photographer surrounded by the very best

Imagine yourself in 90’s New York: hip-hop and rap is having its time, and gentrification hasn’t yet impacted urban landscapes. Those living in the city will truly be establishing a legacy for generations to come.

At the time, Chi Modu was lucky enough to meet the figures that made today’s hip-hop and rap. He started off as an occasional photographer for The Source, then moving up to being its director of photography. That's where got up close with Tupac Shakur, LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Diddy, Mary J. Blige, the Notorious B.I.G, and Mobb Deep, to name a few.

In 2016, Modu published Tupac Shakur Uncategorized, a compilation of candid portraits taken of the infamous rapper.

From the streets of New York to the streets of the world

With his background in photojournalism, Chi Modu decided to travel the world to capture various societies. He seized images of Yemen, Syria, Philippines, Oman, Lebanon, Brazil, and many more. As a photojournalist, he wished to avoid subjective portrayals of the societies he met. In an interview for Coveteur in 2019, he said:

I want to be known as someone that can look at something and bring the truth out without injecting their point of view into it.

Although he wanted to filter out his presence to capture authenticity, Chi Modu managed to create photographic singularity. His subjects seem relaxed and at ease, perhaps suggesting his approachable persona. Musical communities throughout the world have already taken upon social media to pay their respects to the man that captured hip-hop at its peak.