The infamous big, stable and resplendent in front of twin towers. Tupak Shakur, eyes closed and arms in the air, smoke was rising from his lips. Eazy-E, sitting atop his lower rider, using it as a throne. Mob Deep was cruising with friends on the roof of the Queensbridge housing project. Nas, mirrored in his childhood bedroom. Members of the Wu-Tang Clan, gathered in a circle and staring at the camera, had sharp eyes.
For the essential rap stars of the 1990s, chances are that his defining images – inscribed for decades on popular consciousness – were all taken by one person: Chi Modu.
In the early and mid-1990s, working primarily for The source Mr. Modu, the magazine’s definitive digest of hip-hop’s professional and creative ascent at the time, was a well-known photographer. Often a sympathetic documentary with a talent for capturing spontaneous moments in extraordinary circumstances, he helped set the scene template for dozens of hip-hop stars. The source was building a new generation of superheroes, and Mr. Modu was catching them as he flew.
Mr. Modu died at the Summit on May 19, NJ He was 54 years old. His wife Sophia said that the cause was cancer.
When hip-hop was still gaining a foothold in pop culture and the mainstream media was not completely up for grabs, The Source stepped into that void. So what Mr. Modu, who was often the first professional photo journalist of his subjects, faced.
“I am getting noticed,” Mr. Modu Told BBC Africa in 2018, “was to ensure that someone from the hip-hop community was responsible for documenting hip-hop artists.”
His photographs appeared on the cover of more than 30 issues of the magazine. He also photographed the cover of Mob Deep’s 1995 breakthrough album, “Disgraced…, “And “Doggy style,” Snoop Doggy Dogg (now Snoop Dogg) ‘s 1993 debut album, as well as Bad Boy Records’ “Big Mac” Promotional The campaign, which introduced the rappers The Notorious Big and Craig Mack.
Jonathan Shekter, one of the founders of The Source, said, “At that time we were quite primitive in our look, and we needed someone like them.”
He continued, Mr. Modu’s personality was “super cool, no stress, no pressure. He would be a good friend to hang out with the crew. A lot of rappers felt that he was someone they could hang out with.”
Mr. Modu’s signature approach was crisp and intimate – he presented his subjects as heroes, but with a close humility. As that generation of rising stars were learning to represent themselves visually, they helped refine their images. (He had a special relationship with Tupac Shakur, which lasted and shot for many years.)
“When you bring that high level of skill into an area that doesn’t have a high level of skill, you can create really really important tasks,” he said. Told Pulse, a Nigerian publication, in 2018.
For the album cover of Mobb Deep, he set a time in a photo studio, which revealed indelibly ice-cold cover images of the two. “A big part of our success was that cover – it captured a vibe that explained the album,” said Mob Deep’s havoc. “It was inspiring to see a young black brother taking pictures of that nature.”
But Mr Modu also spent a day with both of them in Queensbridge, where he lived The photos Among them Hawk lived on the roof of the housing project building, on the metro, by the Queensboro Bridge. “Twenty-five years later they feel almost more important,” Havock said. “They give you a window in that time.”
In addition to being an agile photographer – occasionally he shot his images on slide film with little margin for error – Mr. Modu was a skilled amateur psychologist. “He could flow from New York to Los Angeles and go to every ‘hood’. There was never a problem, never a problem,” Mr. Shektor said. His wife remembered that Mr. Modu’s picture of Mike Tyson Going on a Jamaican vacation to pick up, only to come and learn Mr. Tyson did not want to shoot; by the end of the day, through charm and kajoling, Mr. Modu took his shots.
Mr. Modu was also a careful student of the dynamic balance between the photographer and the subject – the prison d’etre for the celebrity shoot, but the photographer was the shaping of the image. “The reason I am able to control is that I am trying to help you here where you are trying to go,” Mr. Modu told Pulse. “I’m on your team. I’m the one watching you. You might think you’re cool but I have to see you as cool to press my shutter.”
Jonathan Mannion, A friend of Mr. Modu and an upcoming generation hip-hop painter, said that Mr. Modu played a key role in establishing the presence of sophisticated photography in hip-hop. “They closed a lot of doors for us to walk,” Mr. Manion said.
Christopher Chijioke Modu was born on July 7, 1966 in Arondizuogu, Nigeria to Christopher and Clarice Modu. His father was a measurement statistician, and his mother worked in accounting and computer systems processing. His family moved to the United States in 1969 during the Biafran War.
His parents later returned to Nigeria, but Mr. Modu remained behind and graduated from Lawrenceville School in New Jersey and in 1989 received a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness economics from Rutgers University’s Cook College. She began taking photographs in college – using a camera purchased for her as a birthday gift by Sophia Smith, whom she began dating in 1986 and would marry in 2008 – and photo journalism from the International Center of Photography in 1992 And received a certificate in documentary photography.
He shot for The Amsterdam News, a Harlem-based newspaper, and in 1992 became a staff photographer at The Source and later director of the magazine of photography.
After leaving The Source, he consulted on diversity initiatives for advertising and marketing companies and was the founder of a photo sharing website. And he continued to take photographs around the world, capturing life in Yemen, Morocco, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Modu, who lives in Jersey City, is survived by his mother; Three sisters, Izoma, Anaizi and Enchi; One brother, Emanuel; And a son and daughter.
In the early 2010s, Mr. Modu began efforts to arouse interest in hip-hop photography of the 1990s, initially showcasing his work by partnering with a New York billboard company.
“He felt that there were some gatekeepers, especially in the art world,” Ms Modu said. “He always said that people are the ones who appreciate art and want the art that they had. And with the billboard thing, he was taking art to people.”
The billboard project, called “Unclassified,” Led exhibitions in many cities around the world. In 2014 he had a solo show at the Pori Art Museum in Finland. In 2016 he released “Tupac Shakur: Unkagged” a book compiling photographs from multiple shoots with the rapper.
Working in an era when the conditions of celebrity photo shoots were much less constrained than they are now, he retained the rights to his photos. He sold posters and prints of his work, and licensed his photographs for collaboration with apparel and action-sports companies. Sotheby’s first hip-hop auction last year featured some of her photos.
Even after years of taking his hip-hop picture, Mr. Modu still made an impression on his subjects. The DJ premiere of Gang Star – a duo Mr. Modu photographed for the cover of The Source in 1994 – recalled participating in a European tour of hip-hop giants in 2019. During a halt in Berlin, he heard from Mr. Modu, who was in the city, and arranged a backstage pass for him.
When Mr. Modu arrived, they arrived near a room, where all the members of the Wu-Tang Clan were assembled. The DJ premiere recalled the rousing reception: “As soon as he walked in, it was almost like a cheer – ‘Cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!'”