Nigerian born photographer, Chi Modu spent the early part of the 90’s capturing documentary style photography of Hip Hops early pioneers.

Chi 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 Chi 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.

Chi Modu

Tupac laughing with his friends on the roof top of the Wyndham Belage hotel in West Hollywood, CA. December 1995(Chi Modu/diverseimages)

In addition to shooting over 30 cover photos for The Source as their Director of Photography, Chi 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.

Chi Modu

MC Eiht. This image of MC Eiht was taken outside of his mother’s house in Compton, CA 1994.

Chi Modu

Eazy E hitting switches on his ’63 Chevy. Los Angeles, CA 1994. This photo is from the Defining Years of Hip-Hop 1990-2000 (Photo by Chi Modu/diverseimages)

Los Angeles, CA- 1993: Dr. Dre showing his tattoo in 1993. At the time Dre was in the studio with Snoop Doggy Dogg and the Dogg Pound recording Doggystyle. This photo is from the Defining Years of Hip-Hop 1990-2000 (Photo by Chi Modu/diverseimages)

New York, NY – 1994: (l-r) Craig Mack, Sean “Diddy” Combs and Notorious BIG in New York City in 1994, during the early days of Bad Boy Records. This photo is from the Defining Years of Hip-Hop 1990-2000. (Photo by Chi Modu/diverseimages)

Chi Modu

A young Nas sits on his bed in the Queensbridge Houses. Notice the Panda Bear on the desk and the bullet hole in the wall above Nas’ head. Queens, NY 1993. This photo is from the Defining Years of Hip-Hop 1990-2000 (Photo by Chi Modu/diverseimages)

Chi Modu

Mobb Deep. This was the cover for their album infamous release in 1995 on Loud Records. New York City, 1994. This photo is from the Defining Years of Hip-Hop 1990-2000 (Photo by Chi Modu/diverseimages)

Chi Modu

Tupac. Los Angeles, 1995. This photo is from the Defining Years of Hip-Hop 1990-2000 (Photo by Chi Modu/diverseimages)

Los Angeles, CA- 1993: Snoop Doggy Dogg standing near a the Route 187 sign in Los Angeles in 1993 – This photo is from the Defining Years of Hip-Hop 1990-2000 (Photo by Chi Modu/diverseimages)

Chi Modu

Notorious BIG standing in front of the former World Trade Centre Buildings in NYC. This photo is from the Defining Years of Hip-Hop 1990-2000 (Photo by Chi Modu/diverseimages)

all images © Chi Modu