Hip-Hop Community Mourns the Death of Photographer Mpozi Tolbert


culture has lost a celebrated photographer who depicted The Roots on their first

album, Do You Want More. Mpozi Tolbert suddenly fell ill last week and died a

short time later due to unknown reasons. The

34-year-old, who took pictures for the Indianapolis Star, collapsed at work at

his photo desk, according to the Star. He was pronounced dead about an hour after

being taken to Wishard Memorial Hospital. An autopsy did not reveal the cause

of death at press time. "He

was a very positive lovable brother who always had a camera and a smile on his

face," veteran journalist and Philadelphia resident Tonya Pendleton told

AllHipHop.com. "sometimes when folks die their positive qualities are exaggerated

but in his case-not at all." In

addition to photojournalism, Tolbert was known as fixture in the Indianapolis

music scene as a DJ and artist with his recognizable six foot six inch frame and

dreadlocks that extended to his waist. Among those Tolbert captured in photos

were The Roots and the late music producer Jay Dee.Roots

member Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson described Tolbert as "the nicest

dude that you ever wanted to meet. He always saw the bright side of things and

always had a joke to tell," Thompson said on his website, Okayplayer.com.


influenced Thompson, who became motivated by capturing images on camera. "Mpozi

was dedicated to his life and to his art. For real, he is the sole documenter

of all that is Square Roots," Thompson said referring to The Roots original

moniker. "He was the cat that made me wanna document my travels via the camera.

All that photojournalism s*** I try to do I got from Mpozi Tolbert." Okayplayer.com

co-founder Shawn Gee cited Tolbert's willingness to help in whatever way possible."In

1999, the point when myself, Angiee, Doug (newguy) and ?uesto were building what

would become Okayplayer.com. Mpozi was the go to guy in many clutch situations.

I mean the visuals for the beginnings of Okayplayer (photo visuals not graphics)

were probably 70 percent to 80 percent Mpozi. He always had a picture for us,

regardless of what time of the night Ang would email him, he would always come

though. Mpozi never asked for anything in return, he was just happy to help out."Tolbert

garnered various awards during his career, including two Keystone Awards from

the Pennsylvania Press Association, one for a photo essay on the AIDS quilt and

the second for a photo illustrating housing discrimination against gays and lesbians.

He established himself in the local music scene through a residency with the Crush

Star Crew. Most recently, Tolbert played with DJ Dicky Fox at deano's vino on


was a gentle giant whose infectious laugh echoed throughout the newsroom,"

Matt Detrich, one of Tolbert's co-workers at the Star, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"Now it is quiet in here, like a bad dream." Tolbert's

gentle personality struck a chord with Star editor Dennis Ryerson who said the

photographer had a "big heart and a kind heart. I have seen him several times

with subjects he was photographing, and he was, with them, as he always was with

us - totally courteous, with a kind sense of humor."Tolbert

is survived by his mother Maisha Jackson; father Rudy Tolbert, stepmother Sunni

Green Tolbert; three brothers, Sadiki Tolbert, Dedan Tolbert, and Paul Robeson

Green, and one sister, Ayanna Tolbert.On

July 15, a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. at the International House,

located at 3701 Chestnut St in Philadelphia.To

view Tolbert's photos, visit Okayplayer.com

and IndyStar.com