Photographer Chi Modu Vets Bad Boy’s “B.I.G. Mack” Campaign As A Rap Marketing Blueprint
New York City-based photographer Chi Modu has been an integral part of many rap artists’ marketing campaigns over the past 30 years. He has countless iconic photos of legendary rappers such as Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, Mobb Deep, and The Notorious B.I.G. on his resume.
To commemorate the life of Craig Mack, who passed away on Monday (March 12), Modu posted one of his memorable shots of Bad Boy Records’ first two signed artists — Mack and B.I.G. — as well as the label’s founder/CEO Sean “Diddy” Combs on his Instagram. The photo was from the “B.I.G. Mack” advertising campaign that helped launch the label in 1994.
The imagery within the frame consists of an obvious play off the artists’ stage names and references Mack’s Grammy-nominated single “Flava In Ya Ear” (and its remix that became a vehicle for Biggie’s stardom), which launched Bad Boy’s tour de force in rap through the 90s. The photo is inside a makeshift McDonalds with “B.I.G. Mack” burger containers and cups using Bad Boy’s insignia, along with CDs and menus of their debut albums, Ready To Die and Project: Funk da World.
As marketing strategies for artists continue to evolve, industry professionals have become more creative with merchandise and products (i.e. “Rap Snacks”) to brand the artists beyond EPKs and music placement on blogs, radio, TV commercials and social media.
Modu spoke to HipHopDX about how Bad Boy’s earliest marketing strategy was an ingenious way to promote Mack, B.I.G. and Diddy’s images, and how the photo concept remains highly influential for marketing artists even decades later.
HipHopDX: What’s your take on Craig Mack’s impact on Hip Hop history?
Chi Modu: “Flava In Ya Ear” is one of the best freestyle beats ever. It’s something that everybody still rides to that beat. Everybody.
It stands the test of time almost 25 years later and is one of my personal favorites as well. With your 30-year tenure in the rap industry, how does it make you feel seeing so many legends, including ones you’ve worked with, pass away?
Well, I’m getting used to it. But every single time I wake up and I see somebody post somewhere like uh oh. And I think the whole internet sort of looks to see which clip that I’m going to put up to commemorate it. So, it’s almost like a bit of responsibility that I feel to sort of let folks who might not know already, but do it in a respectful way and still about Hip Hop. Not just about mourning but back to the brighter times. That’s why I put that photo up on my Instagram account of the [Biggie and Craig Mack] shoot.
That “B.I.G. Mack” shot was pivotal for a lot of marketing strategies for rappers from that early-to-mid ’90s era. You’ve worked with so many legendary hardcore rap artists, including Biggie on separate photo shoots. How did you balance that B.I.G. Mack shoot to be creative, funny, but not too campy for the campaign’s lead image?
I think at that point campy was actually okay because, in some ways, that’s Hip Hop. You were appropriating, you know? And the same way we did it with music as well. We take a jazz beat and then rhyme over it. So, I really don’t think it’s all that different from what the genre was about. It’s like we’re going to take what we are and take what you are and meld the two together, which is kind of what we did with that B.I.G. Mack-Craig Mack thing.
I mean, they came to me with a concept. I think [it was] Lou Romain, who was at Arista [Records] at the time in their P.R. department when Bad Boy [Records] was bubbling up. I knew Lou from The Source days, so I think Lou and Puff probably had the concept together with the creative team. There was a Burger King that was nearby the office in Times Square, which was how we could get into Burger King. So, we just did basic Photoshop, right? Early Photoshop and tried to make Burger King look like a McDonalds.
A post shared by C H I M O D U (@chimodu) on Mar 13,…