Chi Modu, Photographer Who Described 1990s Hip-Hop, Dies at 54

The Notorious B.I.G., stoic and resplendent in front of the twin towers. Tupac Shakur, eyes shut and arms in the air, tendrils of smoke wafting up from his lips. Eazy-E, perched atop his lowrider, applying it as a throne. Mobb Deep, huddled with buddies on the rooftop of a Queensbridge housing venture. Nas, reflective in his childhood bed room. Associates of the Wu-Tang Clan, gathered in a circle and staring down at the digital camera, sharpness in their eyes.

For the vital rap stars of the 1990s, odds are that their defining visuals were being all taken by 1 individual: Chi Modu.

In the early and mid-1990s, doing the job largely for the magazine The Supply, at the time the definitive digest of hip-hop’s professional and resourceful ascendance, Mr. Modu was the go-to photographer. An empathetic documentarian with a talent for capturing easeful moments in typically amazing instances, he served set the visible template for dozens of hip-hop stars. The Source was minting a new technology of superheroes, and Mr. Modu was capturing them as they took flight.

He died on May well 19 in Summit, N.J., at 54. His spouse, Sophia, explained the lead to was cancer.

When hip-hop was however getting its footing in pop lifestyle and the mainstream media hadn’t caught up, The Supply stepped into that void. So did Mr. Modu, who was routinely the initial qualified photojournalist his subjects encountered.

“My target coming up,” he told BBC Africa in 2018, “was to make sure somebody from the hip-hop community was the a person responsible for documenting hip-hop artists.”

His photographs appeared on the cover of much more than 30 issues of the journal. He also photographed photos for the go over of Mobb Deep’s breakthrough 1995 album, “The Infamous…,” and “Doggystyle,” the 1993 debut album by Snoop Doggy Dogg (now Snoop Dogg), as well as Negative Boy Records’ “B.I.G. Mack” promotional marketing campaign, which launched the rappers the Notorious B.I.G. and Craig Mack.

“We ended up really primitive in our look at that time, and we required another person like him,” Jonathan Shecter, the 1st editor in chief of The Supply, explained.

Mr. Modu’s identity, he additional, was “super cool, no worry, no stress.”

“He’d just be a interesting dude hanging out with the crew. A lot of rappers felt he was an individual they could hold around with.”

Mr. Modu’s signature strategy was crisp and personal — he rendered his subjects as heroes, but with an up-shut humility. As that generation of rising stars was studying how to current by themselves visually, he served refine their images. (He experienced a special rapport with Tupac Shakur.)

“When you deliver that higher level of skill to an arena that didn’t have a significant degree of skill, you can really develop actually significant do the job,” he told Pulse, a Nigerian publication, in 2018.

For Mobb Deep’s album protect, Mr. Modu scheduled time in a photograph studio, which yielded the indelibly ice-cold deal with portrait of the duo. “A substantial part of our achievements was that cover — he captured a vibe that encapsulated the album,” Mobb Deep’s Havoc mentioned. “To see a younger Black brother having photos of that nature was inspiring.”

But Mr. Modu also put in a working day with the duo in Queensbridge, the neighborhood they hailed from, getting pictures of them on the subway, by the Queensboro Bridge, on the roof of the housing undertaking making that Havoc experienced lived in. “Twenty-5 decades later on, they sense just about additional significant,” Havoc mentioned. “They give you a window into that time.”

In addition to staying a nimble photographer — often he shot his photos on slide movie, with its lower margin for mistake — Mr. Modu was a deft amateur psychologist. “He could move from New York to Los Angeles and go into just about every ’hood,” Mr. Shecter stated. “There was under no circumstances a difficulty, under no circumstances an issue.”

His spouse remembered Mr. Modu leaving a Jamaican holiday vacation to photograph Mike Tyson, only to get there and study that Mr. Tyson did not want to shoot by the close of the day, by allure and cajoling, Mr. Modu had his shots.

Mr. Modu was a pupil of the dynamic balance amongst photographer and topic — the celebrity was the raison d’être for the shoot, but the photographer was the shaper of the impression. “The reason I am capable to choose management is that I am below seeking to aid you go wherever you are striving to go,” Mr. Modu instructed Pulse. “I’m on your group. I’m the 1 hunting at you. You might consider you are interesting, but I have to see you as neat to push my shutter.”

Jonathan Mannion, a pal of Mr. Modu’s and a hip-hop portraitist of the following technology, explained Mr. Modu had played a vital function in bringing refined photography to hip-hop. “He kicked a ton of doors off their hinges for us to wander by,” Mr. Mannion reported.

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 mom worked in accounting and computer system programs processing. His family members emigrated to the United States in 1969, for the duration of the Biafran war.

His mother and father afterwards returned to Nigeria, but Mr. Modu stayed powering and graduated from the Lawrenceville College in New Jersey and been given a bachelor’s diploma in agribusiness economics from Rutgers University’s Cook College or university in 1989. He commenced getting images in college — applying a camera bought for him as a birthday reward by Sophia Smith, whom he commenced dating in 1986 and would marry in 2008 — and acquired a certificate in photojournalism and documentary pictures from the Worldwide Center of Pictures in New York in 1992.

Mr. Modu shot for The Amsterdam News, the Harlem-dependent newspaper, and grew to become a team photographer for The Supply in 1992 and afterwards its director of images.

Immediately after leaving The Source, he consulted on range initiatives for promoting and marketing providers and was a founder of a photograph sharing site. And he ongoing to get pictures close to the world, capturing daily life in Yemen, Morocco, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and in other places.

Is addition to his spouse, Mr. Modu, who lived in Jersey Town, is survived by his mother a few sisters, Ijeoma, Anaezi and Enechi a brother, Emmanuel and a son and daughter.

In the early 2010s, Mr. Modu began efforts to reignite desire in his 1990s hip-hop photography, originally by partnering with a New York billboard organization to display screen his get the job done.

“He felt there were certain gatekeepers, specifically in the artwork planet,” Ms. Modu explained. “He normally said the people today are the types that recognize the art and want the art that he experienced. And with the billboard thing, he was getting the art to the folks.”

The billboard challenge, identified as “Uncategorized,” led to exhibitions in towns about the world. In 2014 he had a solo show at the Pori Art Museum in Finland. In 2016 he unveiled “Tupac Shakur: Uncategorized,” a guide compiling photographs from various shoots with the rapper.

Doing work in a time when the problems of movie star photograph shoots had been considerably considerably less constrained than they are now, Mr. Modu retained the legal rights to his pictures. He offered posters and prints of his work and licensed his photographs for collaborations with clothing and motion-athletics corporations. Final year, some of his photos were provided in Sotheby’s initial hip-hop auction.

Several years just after his hip-hop picture-having heyday, Mr. Modu however remaining an perception on his topics. DJ Premier of Gang Starr — a duo Mr. Modu photographed for the go over of The Source in 1994 — recalled getting portion in a European tour of hip-hop veterans in 2019. During a prevent in Berlin, he listened to from Mr. Modu, who was in town, and organized backstage passes for him.

When Mr. Modu arrived, he approached a place exactly where the members of the Wu-Tang Clan were being gathered. DJ Leading recalled the rapturous reception: “As shortly as he walked it in, it was virtually like a cheer — ‘Chiiiiiiiiiiiiii!’”