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4th March 2021

Ricky Powell: Iconic NYC Hip-Hop Photographer Dies At 59

Ricky Powell: Iconic NYC Hip-Hop Photographer Dies At 59
Ricky Powell: Iconic NYC Hip-Hop Photographer Dies At 59(Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)

Ricky Powell, a popular hip-hop photographer whose photos of hip-hop and NYC icons like Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys and Andy Warhol defined an era, has died. He was 59.

According to Tono Radvany who confirmed the death of Ricky Powell to Complex magazine, said:
“I just want to let everybody know he was a very special man, and he will be sorely missed.”

Brooklyn native Powell’s extensive work with the Beastie Boys earned him the nickname “the fourth Beastie Boy.” He attended high school with the group’s Ad-Rock — née Adam Horovitz — and eventually picked up degrees from both LaGuardia Community College and Hunter.

Ricky Powell association with the Beasties group began in 1986 when he quit a lemon-ice selling gig to accompany them on tour with Run-DMC, an assignment that morphed into a role as Def Jam’s house photographer.

Hip-hop heads rushed to memorialize Powell on social media after news of his death broke. Roots drummer Questlove called Powell, “our first tour guide.”

“We were just some young cats in the game on our first American tour & like the freshmen we were, Rick was the varsity cat who literally introduced us to everything.”

The Beasties themselves honoured Ricky Powell with a line on “Car Thief,” a track on their legendary 1989 sampling masterwork, “Paul’s Boutique:” “Homeboy, throw in the towel / Your girl got d–ked by Ricky Powell.”

As the downtown arts scene of the late 1980s and early ’90s heated up, Powell got in on the ground floor, taking pics of both newcomers like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring and elder figures like Andy Warhol.

Many of the people Powell rubbed shoulders with — like Laurence Fishburne, Sonic Youth and Sandra Bernhard — with wound up on his public access show, “Rappin’ with the Rickster,” which he called, “a time capsule of someone growing up in Manhattan during that era and being around the music scene.”

The show, which aired for six years, was just as likely to feature non-celebrities in and around Powell’s longtime home base of Greenwich Village — like the show’s first guest, a homeless man in Washington Square; Powell called him “a genius, full of lots of wisdom.”

Powell, who also shot for the Village Voice, Rolling Stone, the Post and Time, put together four books of his work and was the subject of the 2020 documentary, “The Individualist.”

“You could say I’m taking the photo of the subject, but I like to say to the subject, person or people, ‘Look, we’re creating this image together,’” Powell told Time in 2016. “‘You be you.’”

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