Photographer Chi Modu, Who Snapped Iconic Pics of Biggie and Tupac, Dead at 54

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May. 23 2021, Published 11:59 a.m. ET

Photographer Chi Modu, who captured images of some of the biggest names in rap and hip-hop, has died. His cause of death has not been confirmed, but a former coworker tweeted that Chi may have died of stomach cancer.

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Posts on Chi’s social media accounts announced his passing on Saturday, May 22, 2021. “Our hearts are broken … We continue the fight,” the Twitter and Instagram posts read. “The family requests privacy at this time.”

The acclaimed photographer was 54 years old.

Chi snapped more than 30 cover photos for ‘The Source’ magazine.

According to NJ.com, Chi was born in Nigeria but grew up in New Jersey, attending Lawrenceville School in Lawrence Township, N.J., and studying economics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

Chi developed a passion for photography during his time at Rutgers and went on to study photojournalism at the International Center of Photography in New York City. After a stint at the Amsterdam News, Chi got a job snapping photos of music stars for The Source in the 1990s, and his images graced more than 30 issues of the magazine.

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Chi developed a passion for photography during his time at Rutgers and went on to study photojournalism at the International Center of Photography in New York City. After a stint at the Amsterdam News, Chi got a job snapping photos of music stars for The Source in the 1990s, and his images graced more than 30 issues of the magazine.

Source: Instagram
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“It was here that Chi developed relationships with the biggest icons of the hip hop movement, including Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., Mary J. Blige, and LL Cool J, most of whom were not yet famous,” the photographer’s online bio reads. “Chi was able to capture the musicians in candid, unexpected moments, due to his disarming manner and unique perspective.”

He’s the artist behind iconic images of Biggie and Tupac.

One of Chi’s best-known photographs is a portrait of The Notorious B.I.G. in front of the World Trade Center in 1996, a photo that sold at auction for $30,240 last year, according to The New York Times.

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Source: Instagram

Chi also took a famous photo of Tupac smoking, a candid image captured during photo shoot break. His portraits of Tupac and Biggie help immortalize the rappers, who were murdered within months of each other in 1996 and 1997, respectively. Chi later collected his photos of Tupac for the 2016 photography book Tupac Shakur: Uncategorized.

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Chi’s photographs of both Biggie and Tupac, as well as his photos of Snoop Dogg and Method Man, were some of the highlights of his 2013 Uncategorized exhibit, which featured enlarged versions of his photos on the sides of New York City buildings.

Source: Instagram
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As if all that weren’t impressive enough, Chi’s work also appears on album covers for Snoop, Method Man, Mobb Deep, and Mad Lion, and his photos have appeared in The New York Times and the London newspaper The Times, according to his bio.

Celebrities and colleagues are mourning Chi Modu's death.

On Twitter, The Source founding editor Jonathan Schecter paid tribute to his late colleague. “Rest peacefully Chi, your warm heart and your artistic gifts will thrive in this sphere forever,” Jonathan tweeted on Saturday. “Love you, brother.”

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Source: Instagram

The following day, rapper Pharoahe Monch tweeted, “Rest easy to legendary photographer Chi Modu. His iconic images are ingrained in my memory forever. To me, his photos spoke volumes about feel, and capturing the human behind these larger than life personas.”

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Source: HVW8 Gallery/YouTube

In 2019, when Coveteur asked Chi how he wanted to be remembered, he said, “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 remember me.”

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