If you’re a hip-hop fan, chances are you’ve seen a Chi Modu photograph. Hell, if we’re being real, you’ve probably come across a picture shot by the former Source Photography Director, even if you don’t like rap. That’s simply how ubiquitous his iconic photos of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. have become.
“Now that I’m 20-plus years removed from some of my pictures, it’s kind of wild to see the impact that they have today,” Chi tells us over the phone. “I have fans from 20 years ago, and then I’ve got the 20-somethings who are fans of it now. Chris [Smith] from The Internet told me his auntie had that Tupac picture on the wall when he was growing up. He even took a picture with me backstage.”
That type of legendary status is worthy of a deep-dive, which is why we asked Chi’s to tell the stories behind his most famous food- and drink-related pictures of rappers. While our conversation touched upon his staged portraits—like his famous fast food-themed Bad Boy advertisement—we spoke mainly about the candid shots he took of emcees like Method Man and Nate Dogg, which provide a more intimate look into their lives.
“A lot of artists need to have that trust to allow someone document their lives,” he says. “You need a storyteller, not a snapshot-taker. You can take a snapshot, but if you can’t tell the story, it won’t be remembered 10 to 20 years from now.”
From breaking down a memorable day tailing Method Man around Staten Island, to explaining how Tupac solidified Heineken as a preferred hip-hop beer, let Chi pull back the curtain on eight of his most memorable photos.