Celebrated Hip-Hop Photographer Chi Modu Dead at 54

The tragic news was announced Saturday afternoon on his official Instagram account; however, the details surrounding his death have not been revealed.

chi modu

Image via Getty

chi modu

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.

#ChiModu. Rest In Power.
He made the visuals of hip-hop electric, magnetic and immortal with his camera. If you are of the culture, you’ve got at least one of his photos forever seared into your perspective. pic.twitter.com/UoA8oUJeg3

— Christopher Smith (@infinitewords14) May 22, 2021

Chi Modu photographed the greatest rappers of all time, up close & personal during their prime. Let that sink in.

— Dedee 🥀 (@thoughtfulbae) May 22, 2021

No photographer captured rap icons of the 1990s like @chimodu. Present on both coasts (and in-between) at the precise moment when hardcore went mainstream, presenting artists simultaneously as real humans and myths, foreshadowing the beauty and tragedy to come. RIP legend. pic.twitter.com/Ftw3Aw3JWP

— Ghostly International (@ghostly) May 22, 2021

rest in peace to the great Chi Modu. Sad to see this news. Among his many brilliant shots, I will always most remember/cherish these photos of Bone Thugs taken in Cleveland, 1995. pic.twitter.com/Ax9OnkwriN

— Hanif Abdurraqib (@NifMuhammad) May 22, 2021

Devastatingly sad news: the sudden passing of Chi Modu—legendary hip-hop photographer, good-hearted friend, talented colleague, kind soul.

Rest peacefully Chi, your warm heart and your artistic gifts will thrive in this sphere forever. Love you brother.

So many memories… 😢 pic.twitter.com/iztrD0I6YR

— Jonathan Shecter (@SheckyGreen) May 22, 2021

RIP to Chi Modu, the man behind some of Hip-Hop’s greatest photos. A true legend and documentarian. He will be missed. 🕊 pic.twitter.com/jOEslk9ima

— Andrew Barber (@fakeshoredrive) May 22, 2021

I need everyone to understand that Chi Modu gave us some of THE greatest Hip Hop photos of all time. A true legend gone too soon. 🙏🏽🕊 pic.twitter.com/wqPc3FYluQ

— Chris Heezy Hurtt (@_TheHeezyLife) May 22, 2021

Rest in Power ChiModu. 😔 pic.twitter.com/rjlINnaOjI

— ᴊɪᴠᴇ (@AtJive) May 22, 2021

RIP the great Chi Modu 💔 The man behind so many iconic hip-hop photos. Talk about documenting culture... pic.twitter.com/EWtOsLfRkO

— andy (@aboynamedandy) May 22, 2021

Rest In Peace to an absolute legend photographer Chi Modu 📸 pic.twitter.com/yuWSxWQkaD

— Joshua Kissi (@JoshuaKissi) May 22, 2021

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