Chi Modu attributes his success as a hip-hop photographer to following two simple rules: 1) Always wear a beeper. 2) Never turn down an assignment. Of course it also helped to have an artist’s eye, a cool yet professional demeanor, and basic proficiency with handguns.
As the director of photography and all-around top shotta for The Source magazine during the 1990s, Chi shot numerous covers and developed strong relationships with artists like Tupac, Biggie, Snoop, and Wu-Tang Clan.
Born in Nigeria and raised in New Jersey, Modu’s gig at The Source allowed to him to build an extraordinary archive of images from what he calls hip-hop’s “defining years.” Which also happens to be the name of the exhibition of his work that opens tonight at Culture Fix gallery in New York City.
“It’s about time that we all revisit what we did,” he says. “I feel it’s important to get these photos and these strories out. Our generation, what we came up doing, really changed the world in a lot of ways. For a while a lot of us who worked in hip-hop tried to distance themselves from what they did, almost in an attempt to reinvent. But I think now we’ve come to a place where you can actually be proud of what we did.”
In that spirit, see iconic images of 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G., Snoop Dogg, O.D.B., and more.
“Eazy was always pretty cool. I met him the first time two or three years prior to this shoot.”
“I first shot Snoop for a Rap Pages cover about a year or so earlier. [Editor-In-Chief] Sheena Lester called me and said, “Hey do you want to shoot Snoop? I can’t pay you anything, but if you can get out here you can do it.” So I was like, all right—I got a buddy pass.
“Wu-Tang Clan used to hang out at The Source when they were coming up. So I was close with the Wu, and I was even closer with Method Man. I didn’t get called in for the Wu-Tang album, cause that was by committee. But when it came down to Tical, Meth wanted me to shoot his album cover.
The Notorious BIG
“We wanted to show Biggie as the King of New York. So what better way than getting the twin towers in the background? Being a Jersey guy I know the view from over there, so I was like, Why don’t we do it at Liberty State Park? It’s perfect.”
“That photograph was taken in the 5th ward, which is the hood in Houston. They run that part of Houston. I wanted to do something kinda country, you know? So I was like, let’s go to the hood. And then we found that house and stood in front of it.”
“Like even some of that Tupac stuff where he’s tying his bandana—Rob Marriott was with me that day in Atlanta. And that was actually the first cover story Pac did. And I remember that because it was the only time I had to send Tupac home.”
“I got to know Mobb Deep and them around my friends at Loud Records and we were always cool. I did this as part of the shoot for their first album cover. Mobb Deep means a crew, so I wanted to have their whole crew in there somehow, but still have the focus on the two stars.”
The Hit Squad
“You’re looking at Redman, K-Solo, EPMD, and Das EFX. That was the Hit Squad. Remember when they were bubbling? The Hit Squad was the crew to take out all crews. And then infighting had their reign end within a year. Within a year. They were a crew like we’ve never seen before, and then boom—they’re at war, hiding out with guns near their beds.”
If you thought the pictures were crazy, wait till you hear about the photo shoots.