Eye of The Culture: Chi Modu by Vofo
by Rapjoint Lagos
It’s been 6 days since we heard the shocking news that one of earth’s legendary photographers & an intricate part of the hip hop renaissance from the early 90s passed away at 54. If you mention Chi Modu’s name amongst the hip-hop crowd numerous conversations will reverberate around how he managed to capture icons in their most memorable moments. Biggie’s famous photo in front of the Twin Towers?, The black and white photos of Tupac smoking & playing with his bandana?, Nas posted up in his childhood bedroom? Chi captured that. To put it simply: you just can’t talk about 90s hip-hop without mentioning Chi Modu.
Chi Modu born July 7, 1966 in Arondizuogu, Imo State, Nigeria, but raised almost entirely in New Jersey.
In 1969, Modu and his family moved to the United States around which at this time the Biafra War (6 July 1967 – 15 January 1970) was ongoing.
He graduated from the Lawrenceville School in Princeton, New Jersey in 1984. He earned his B.S. degree in economics from The State University of New Jersey, Rutgers in 1989. Modu also received a certificate in photojournalism and documentary photography from the International Center of Photography in New York, New York in 1992.
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, Mobb Deep, 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.
Chi had been searching for a way to make his art accessible to more people. he once said “The art world tends to be very exclusive and full of obstacles for both the artists and the public. My goal is to make art more inclusive by pulling an end run on the galleries and the museums, breaking down the barriers, and bringing the art directly to the people. Like graffiti, but legal.”
Modu explained that the on-camera rapport he had with his subjects came from the fact that he shot many of them before they were famous. “When I was doing it, hip-hop was still an outsider,” he told HipHopDx in 2016. “The good part about it was that there were a community of outsiders, but we were having fun while we were changing the world.”
Asked how he would like to be remembered, Modu told Coveteur magazine in 2019: “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. For me, that’s very important. As long as I do that and I do my job well, then people will remember me.”
Rest In Peace.