R.I.P. Ricky Powell, Iconic Hip-Hop Photographer and Honorary Beastie Boy Dead at 59

His career photographing the New York scene in the '80s and '90s made him a beloved figure in the hip-hop community

ricky powell hip-hop photographer beastie boys dead death rip obituary
Ricky Powell, photo via WikiCommons

    Ricky Powell, the celebrated hip-hop photographer who was known as the honorary fourth member of the Beastie Boys, has died at age 59. Powell’s manager and business partner Tono Radvany confirmed that his client had passed away on the night of February 1st. No cause of death has yet to be revealed.

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

    A New York City native through and through, the Brooklyn-born Powell entered photography mainly to stick it to an ex-girlfriend. He discovered a camera she’d left behind and determined to use it to make a name for himself. After photographing art galleries in Greenwich Village and hip-hop shows in downtown Manhattan for a year, he was able to quit his job selling lemon ices to head out on tour with the Beastie Boys when they joined Run-DMC’s 1986 Raising Hell tour.

    From there, he went on to photograph major players in the ’80s and ’90s NYC scene, including the likes of LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Eric B and Rakim, and even Madonna. He also captured the city’s denizens such as Andy Warhol, Sofia Coppola, Laurence Fishburne, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring. Powell’s work has hung in numerous art galleries and can be found in several photo books, in addition to being published in The New York Times, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, TIME, and elsewhere.


    For all of his credits, however, he was most closely associated with the Beastie Boys. As the unofficial fourth Beastie, he often appeared in the group’s music videos (he’s one of the nerds that throws the party in “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)”) and frequently joined them on the road. He was also immortalized in a line from the Paul’s Boutique track “Car Thief”: “Homeboy, throw in the towel/ Your girl go dicked by Ricky Powell.”

    Outside of his photography, Powell hosted a New York public access television interview series called Rappin’ with the Rickster. Using his connections from the city’s celebrity circles, he was able to bring in guests well above your standard PA show, including Run-DMC, Sonic Youth, and Fishburne.

    Below, read some of the tributes that have been pouring in since news broke of Powell’s passing.

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