If you’ve seen a photo of the following artists from the ’90s and early 2000′s and thought “damn…”, it’s very likely the photo was shot by longtime hip-hop photographer Chi Modu.
Tupac, Biggie, Wu-Tang, NWA, Mobb Deep, Snoop Dogg and Nas are just a few of the names captured by the renowned photographer. Having long been a photojournalist for The Source, Chi chronicled the lives of the most recognizable rappers of our time –- many of which he documented long before the fame and fortune.
We spent some time with Chi around New York City –- where most of his photos take place –- to gain more insight on his role as a hip-hop documentarian. During our time, we not only heard stories from the golden era of hip-hop, but were blessed to witness the connection and camaraderie between the photographer and his life-long friends/subjects. Just one month before the untimely passing of Prodigy, we followed Chi backstage at Mobb Deep’s last show in their hometown of New York City where the duo shared candid stories and reminisced on their past shoots together.
Watch the video above to catch a lasting look at Mobb Deep and to hear more stories from hip-hop’s most iconic photographer.
I first photographed Tupac Shakur in Atlanta, back in 1994. He turned up half an hour early, but my equipment malfunctioned and I had to send him away. I was so embarrassed, I offered to fly to whatever city he was headed to, to do the shoot there. But he didn’t mind sticking around and turned up early the next day. He did 20 press-ups and said: “Let’s go, brother!”
There were no barriers between us. He was prepared to let his guard down, so I could show the human behind the headlines. This shot was actually an outtake. After taking some pictures of him raising his middle fingers, I just started snapping away as he played with his bandana. His gaze is sensitive: he looks a little like a deer caught up in the headlights. But then we all do at the age of 23, right?...
On this week's, episode of "Complex Live," we head to Los Angeles for a tour of Fairfax, where Bobby Hundreds talks about the history and importance of that district to streetwear and brings along, Nicky Diamonds and Anwar Carrots, two other essential players.
Then, we talk with Big Boi about his new album, Boomiverse, his collaborations with Adam Levine, Killer Mike and Jeezy and Outkast’s legacy. And we get to know Chi Modu, a legendary hip-hop photographer who's behind iconic portraits of 2Pac, Biggie, Nas, Mobb Deep and more.
Watch the two minute clip above or you can find the full Complex Live episode here
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For Nigerian-American photographer Chi Modu, imagery goes beyond showing a lifestyle; it is about telling a unique story that brings the viewer closer to his subject’s truth. From photographing legendary artist like Tupac, Biggie and Nas to traveling the world and documenting the daily life of people in Yemen and India, Chi has created a unique lane for himself with a body of work that puts him in legendary status with no questions asked...
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A brief 90 second rough clip of the slide show presentation at the Varner Group in Oslo Norway. 2017
Queensbridge, NY 1993
Today marks the 23rd anniversary of Nas’ seminal debut Illmatic. One year before the album dropped, photographer Chi Modu traveled to Queensbridge Houses to visit the 19-year-old MC (still known as “Nasty Nas”) in his element. The resulting photographs, intimate and visually poetic, offer a rare glimpse into the world of an artist on the brink of greatness. Young Nasir Jones sits on his bed in one shot, a stuffed panda bear behind him, a bullet hole in the wall above his head. Another contact sheet strip shows Nas outside of Queensbridge rolling, vibing etc… These strips, both pre-Illmatic, were taken on two separate occasions. Modu took the photos on assignment for The Source magazine where he was the photo editor at the time...Continue at site
Short clip (58 seonds)
Chi Modu is a photojournalist who's responsible for producing some of the most iconic images of the Hip Hop movement. Throughout his career he has worked with legends including Tupac, Biggie and Snoop Dogg and his photos helped to define Hip Hop culture. He has recently released Tupac Shakur Uncategorized, a book featuring 200 pages of previously unseen photos of the rapper 20 years after his death. In Part I of our interview, Chi talks about how he began shooting with Hip Hop's biggest stars and why an empty billboard inspired one of the most important turning points of his career.
Tell us about your earliest experiences and how you first got involved with photography…
I was born in Nigeria, but raised in New Jersey. There was a civil war in Nigeria, the Biafran War, and my Dad was working on his PhD, at the University of Chicago, in America at the time so the whole family moved here to join my Dad. I moved here when I was three, went to high school here, went to college in New Jersey at Rutgers and then after college I moved up closer to New York City, where I started working small jobs and got in to the International Center of Photography (ICP). Photography was always a passion of mine and when I was in college my girlfriend at the time and I put the money together to buy my first camera in 1987 – and she’s now my wife today, so she saw the whole ride!
As I got a little older, post-college, I knew that I really wanted to do this and that’s where ICP came into play. It was kind of like the photojournalism training ground, a very traditional photo world and they’d train you for New York Times, Time Magazine - photojournalism stuff. But, for me at the time, I saw Hip Hop coming up and thought if I can take these skills and apply them to this burgeoning art form, it’s gonna make a difference. I brought a high level of photo skills into an arena that had been traditionally photographed a little bit more ‘Teen Magazine’, Fanzine style, and I brought 4x5 portraiture into it in 1993. That really jumped up the whole space a lot. I think in retrospect, when people look at my career, they understand that that’s why I became so well-known because I was so technical and serious back then, even when people didn’t really know what I was doing. But now 20 years later, they realize how important it was, but that’s the nature of the medium.
Visited with the folks at Cheddar TV for a quick discussion about the Tupac book. Watch below.
CHEDDAR LIFE OCTOBER 12, 2016
Cheddar Life – 1h 6m
Style Me Pretty on bridal trends, WeTV’s Money. Power. Respect., Danielle Bradbery and Kevin Garrett from Tidal
Guests: Ethan Kaplan, Gabrielle Hurwitz, Wendy Credle, Dana Whitfield, Kendell Kelly, Chris Lindland, The Band “As It Is” and Chi Modu
12 Photographers Who Captured Hip-Hop, from Old School to the ’90s
Nigeria-born, New Jersey-raised photographer Modu is most famous for his iconic 1996 photo of Biggie at Jersey City’s Liberty State Park, with the World Trade Center looming in the background. As director of hip-hop magazine The Source in the ’90s, he shot more than 30 covers and became close with Biggie, Tupac, Mary J. Blige, and LL Cool J in the process. Modu strives “to show them as human beings and maintain their strength, but letting some vulnerability come through”—a skill evident in his simple, close-up black-and-white portraits of Tupac in 1994 that present the rapper at ease. These photos are featured in his upcoming photo book, Uncategorized: Tupac Shakur (2016), published 20 years after the rapper’s untimely death in 1996.