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.
The post below is a response to seeing the above campaign on social media. Click the image to view the post on IG
In 1994, Chi Modu was assigned to take a portrait of 2Pac for the rapper’s first ever The Source cover. The two clicked and quickly became friends. Modu continued to work with 2Pac until months before his untimely death on Sept. 13, 1996. In those two short years, Modu captured some of the most iconic pictures taken of 2Pac...
In the week following the 20th anniversary of Tupac’s untimely death, NYC-based brand Pintrill has rolled out a new offering in honor of the late rapper’s life and career. It’s a three-piece pack made in collaboration with Chi Modu, and it features a Tupac pin, a Thug Life pin, as well as a Modu signature pin–the latter of which is exclusive to the set.
As many of you know, Modu is a famed hip-hop photographer who has photographed everyone from Biggie and the Wu-Tang Clan to Snoop Dogg and Mobb Deep. He’s also responsible for some of the most iconic Tupac images and recently released a 200-page photo book dedicated to the rapper. The project, titled Uncategorized, includes never-before-seen photos of Pac taken between 1994 and 1996.
Chi Modu is like the Getty Images of hip hop photography. Born in Nigeria and raised in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, Chi started his career as a photojournalist and soon after leaving college, got a job at The Source heading up the photo department during a fertile, formative time for both the magazine and hip-hop. “I’d been shooting documentary style photography and realized that someone needed to apply the same seriousness of photojournalism to shooting rappers.” he says.
At the time, hip-hop was an outsider’s genre, with photos of steam rollers running over hip-hop CDs in the streets playing their part in the government’s fear-mongering campaign against the culture. It was considered commercially risky and so the only magazines documenting the movement were awash with teen-beat fanzine style photography rather than reportage.
Excited to receive some of the first samples from this collaboration. I chose Pure Waste, from Helsinki Finland, as a partner in this because we both believe strongly that we must all Stop Wasting Earth's Resources. We made these products to bring attention to the fact that water is too precious of a commodity to be wasted. Few know that it takes more than 2,900 gallons of water to grow a little over 2 pounds of cotton. For the rest of the world that's 11,000 liters to grow 1 kilogram of cotton. The Tupac T-shirt I'm wearing below saved over 700 gallons or 2700 liters of water in its manufacturing process. It's made from 100% recycled material. Look good, do good™.
Everybody loves, uses and wears cotton.
Growing the 24 million tons of cotton consumed every year takes 2.6% of all arable land in the world. This is equal to the size of Turkey and enough land to feed over 200 million people.
10 – 15 % percent of cotton is wasted in the manufacturing process.
Almost 3 million tons of cotton are wasted when spinning yarns, weaving fabrics and cutting clothes. This is enough material to manufacture three T-shirts for every person on this planet.
Wearing this product you vote yes to saving water and you look good doing it.
One T-shirt saves 700 gallons or 2700 liters of water along with with a story worth sharing.
You can watch the pure waste cotton recycle process by clicking here
Looking forward to the upcoming collaboration with Pure Waste textiles, out of Finland, this Spring. Pure Waste produces these products from ecologically sustainable, premium 100% recycled fabrics and yarns. The products are entirely made out of recycled textile waste. Check out the short clip above of the making of the Snoop shirt. You can preview the recycling process by clicking ----> here.
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