Nigerian born photographer, Chi Modu spent the early part of the 90’s capturing documentary-style photography of Hip Hops, early pioneers.
Modu first picked up a camera while a student at Rutgers. After honing his skills at the International Center of Photography, he landed a job at The Source, which was the definitive magazine of hip hop culture. It was here that Modu developed relationships with the biggest icons of the hip hop movement, including Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., Mary J. Blige, and L-L Cool J, most of whom were not yet famous.
In addition to shooting over 30 cover photos for The Source as their Director of Photography, Modu was able to capture the musicians in candid, unexpected moments, due to his disarming manner and unique perspective. His photos include some of the most groundbreaking, memorable images of that era, including Tupac Smoking and Biggie WTC (standing in from of the World Trade Towers). He not only chronicled and defined the most important phase of the hip hop movement, now a global force, he also was able to define the artists and show them as real people, rather than one-dimensional celebrities.
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.
Describing his approach to photography, Modu stated, “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.”
All images © Chi Modu.