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Pioneering Hip-Hop Photographer Ricky Powell Dies At Age 59

The counterculture icon chronicled the early days of hip-hop and the downtown arts scene.

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Ricky Powell died
Photo: Johnny Nunez/WireImage

Trailblazing hip-hop photographer, author, and honorary “fourth Beastie Boy” Ricky Powell has died at the age of 59, his manager and business partner Tono Radvany confirmed.

“I just want to let everybody know he was a very special man, and he will be sorely missed,” Radvany said.

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The Brooklyn native was born on November 20, 1961 and made a name for himself immortalizing local legends on film and chronicling the early days of hip-hop.

“In ’85 I had a girlfriend that went to NYU, a weird kook, an art kook I met in this club, Dance Interior. We’d go to clubs and we’d each take a camera. I would take her spare – a little point-and-shoot, easy to carry, on this little strap. It just went from there: taking pictures on the run, on the hang-out tip,” he said in a Medium interview.

After graduating college, he connected with The Beastie Boys through a mutual friend and joined them on an early tour, earning the honorary title of “the fourth Beastie Boy,” and was immortalized on the Paul’s Boutique cut “Car Thief.”

Soon after he became Def Jam’s unofficial photographer, snapping the likes of Run DMC, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, and Eric B. and Rakim. Powell always had his finger on the pulse and captured icons of the downtown New York scene throughout the 80s and 90s from Keith Haring to Basquiat, Madonna to Warhol. He also applied his gritty aesthetic to high fashion shoots, commercial campaigns, and celebrity culture.

“My grandmother used to take me shopping on Orchard Street in the late 60s. She used to talk Yiddish with all the shop owners. It was special. So in faces, I look for authenticity, down to earth, sometimes comical shit. Models or posers don’t do a thing for me,” he told Interview Magazine.

Along with being a prolific photographer, he’s also penned several books including Public Access: Ricky Powell Photographs 1985–200, Oh Snap!, and Frozade Moments: Classic Street Photography of Ricky Powell, and was recently the subject of a new documentary, Ricky Powell: The Individualist, that premiered last year.

Following the news of his passing, many friends have shared their tributes to the late photographer.

“Shoutout to The Rickster for being our first tour guide. We were just some young cats in the game on our first American tour and like the freshmen we were Rick was the varsity cat who literally introduced us to everything,” shared Questlove.

“Saddened to learn of the passing of Ricky Powell, legendary photog, Beastie buddy, NYC counterculture icon – a quirky, hilarious and kind soul, the underdog you loved to love, a one-of-kind, original downtown force of nature. Rest peacefully good sir,” wrote Jonathan Shecter, co-founder of The Source.

This story is still developing.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Boig

    February 3, 2021 at 11:41 am

    He was a useless POS

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