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Ricky Powell, Celebrated Hip-Hop Photographer and ‘Fourth Beastie Boy,’ Dead at 59

Powell photographed New York’s vibrant downtown arts scene in the Eighties and Nineties, but was best known for his work with the stars of rap’s golden age

Ricky Powell

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Ricky Powell, the revered hip-hop photographer best known for his association with Beastie Boys, has died at the age of 59, eliciting an outpouring of tributes from Q-Tip, Chuck D, Questlove, and more.

Powell’s manager and business partner Tono Radvany confirmed his death to Complex Monday night, February 1st. “I just want to let everybody know he was a very special man, and he will be sorely missed,” Radvany said. No cause of death was given.

Powell spent the Eighties and Nineties documenting New York City’s vibrant downtown music and arts scenes. While he worked with the likes of Madonna, Andy Warhol, Sofia Coppola, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, he was best known for his work with the stars of hip-hop’s golden age.

Born and raised in New York City, Powell began taking photos in 1985, and the following year he was invited to go on tour with Beastie Boys and Run-D.M.C. The tour helped Powell secure work photographing hip-hop luminaries like LL Cool J, Public Enemy, and Eric B and Rakim, although he was always most closely associated with Beastie Boys: He earned unofficial “fourth member” status and even got a famous a shout-out on their song “Car Thief.”

“#RestInBeats The Rickster aka RICKY Powell of course to the right of Clyde Frazier was the quintessential New York Cityer, iconic B Boy and the ‘freezer of great NEW YORK moments and figures’ as a photographer,” Public Enemy’s Chuck D wrote on Twitter. “He shot with authentic ease and NYC swag before the popular term.”

A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip said, “Rip 2 my man Ricky Powell. So NYC official… the parties when he would rock the slides.. the jokes and most importantly his capturing of life.”

On Instagram, Questlove remembered Powell offering his guidance when the Roots joined Beastie Boys on tour in the Nineties. “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 (‘wait you mean I can list like all the cereal i want on my rider & every city it comes and we can take it home?’ …).” Questlove continued: “Powell was that older been there done that figure who schooled us to everything. Last day he told me ‘always save mementos & documents & photos’ I never forgot that. “

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Other artists to pay tribute to Powell include LL Cool J, Run-D.M.C.’s Reverend Run, the Alchemist, and A-Trak.

Along with his extensive photography work, Powell hosted an interview show on New York public access television, Rappin’ With the Rickster. He published several collections of his photography, including Oh Snap!: The Rap Photography of Ricky Powell and Public Access: Ricky Powell Photographs 1985-2005. In 2020, he was the subject of the documentary, Ricky Powell: The Individualist.

From Rolling Stone US