Ricky Powell, a New York photographer who created era-defining portraits of the Beastie Boys, Andy Warhol, and Run-DMC, has died at 59. Powell’s manager and business partner Tono Radvany confirmed the news to Complex. “I just want to let everybody know he was a very special man, and he will be sorely missed,” Radvany said.
Powell spent his life documenting the city’s scenesters and street culture as it existed many New York neighborhoods, from his native Brooklyn to downtown Manhattan. He captured intimate images of musicians like Madonna, Eric B. & Rakim, and LL Cool J, as well as artists including Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
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In 1986, he quit his job selling lemon ices out of a street car to join the Beastie Boys—the group’s Ad-Rock (né Adam Horovitz) was a high school friend—on the band’s “Licensed to Ill” tour. Powell continued to photograph the band up until its 1994 Lollapalooza set, in the process earning the nickname “the fourth Beastie Boy.” The rappers honored Powell with a now-iconic line on the 1989 song “Car Thief”: “Homeboy, throw in the towel / Your girl got dicked by Ricky Powell.”
From 1990 to 1996, Powell provided candid insight into New York’s underground culture with his cable access show Rappin’ With the Rickster, which he described as “a time capsule of someone growing up in Manhattan during that era and being around the music scene.” He published four collections of his photography, including the books Oh Snap! The Rap Photography of Ricky Powell, The Rickford Files: Classic New York Photographs, and most recently The Individualist, which explored the intersection of fashion, street art, and hip hop during the late ’80s. He premiered a documentary of the same name at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival 2020, with Natasha Lyonne, Mike D, LL Cool J, and other New York artists making cameos.
Since the announcement of his death, musicians have taken to social media to pay their respects. “Shoutout to The Rickster for being our first tour guide,” wrote Roots drummer Questlove on Instagram. “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.”