Designer, Graffer, Comics Nerd, CEY ADAMS

The new issue of Wax Poetics features, among other great things, an interview with graphic designer Cey Adams. Adams is best known as an early graffiti writer, in-house designer for DEF JAM records during the 80s, and brains behind plenty of iconic hip-hop album covers (Ready to Die, Fear of a Black Planet) and could've been one of many dudes to make a book that bigs himself up exclusively, but instead he's gone ahead and made a crazy compendium/history of rap inspired design called DEFinition:The Art & Design of Hip-Hop.

Among the many things Adams and interviewer Michael A. Gonzales (himself something of a legend, check him out at Riffs & Revolutions) get into is illustration and hip-hop and the connection to comics. Adams was responsible for hiring the great Bill Sienkiewicz to paint the cover of EPMD's Business as Usual. A bunch of years later, Sienkiewicz would do the cover of RZA's Bobby Digital album as well- a great mix of Sienkiewicz's hyper-real style of illustration meeting up with those explosive 70s blaxploitation movie painted posters.

Adams also discusses the hiring of children's book illustrator Ed Renfro to do the art for the Beastie Boys' Hello Nasty, which as far I can tell, never came to fruition beyond this great T-shirt design:

Another fascinating aspect of the article is Adams discussing the cover art of Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet and how the idea, after it was conceptualized by Chuck D, they decided to find "an illustrator that really unders[tood] how the solar system works" and they got B.E Johnson who had worked for NASA! One of the coolest parts of Adams' book is the presentation of Johnson's original painting without any graphics on it, just this Public Enemy logo on the moon and then earth and nebulas and awesome space shit floating around behind it:


Beezer B said...

That looks great. I knew Cey's covers and Graf stuff but I didn't know he commissioned all that hot shit for Def jam.

That Fear of a Black Planet image reminds me of the tour poster. I think the tour poster they had in London had that image with the writing at the bottom instead of over it. I remember it looking great on walls. Maybe I'm remembering it wrong but I'm pretty sure it used more of the original graphics than the album cover did.
It looks like it was drawn specially for the cassette, which in reality, it could have been.

The fact that Bill Scienkiewicz did an EPMD cover is one of the greatest facts ever. For me, its like if Rosario Dawson made me chocolate muffins with our initials and a heart on. Or something.

Can't beat the inner sleeve with the pencils on either. That's some SeriousComics nerdery sneeking into Hiphop.

Anonymous said...

This Scinkiewics stuff makes me think of something, how hip hop is all comic books--from Vaugh Bode to Mc's using comic book names but comic books --for the most part have never embraced hip hop nearly as much. I just read a shit issue of Kick ass where the main dude tries to stop some guys writing graffitti.

Not that that's here or there. I'll be interested to see this book. Although I fear (like a black planet) anything with such a blanket look at a culture with all the good and bad of it all.

Also also, years ago I met the dude that did the cover art for Tribe's beats rhymes and life and was amazed that he hadn't done graffitti or comic books. As far as I know he was just a dude that did album covers.


Vee (Scratch) said...

I purchased this book but didn't read it yet. Surprisingly this book didn't get as much hip hop media coverage as I would expect.
One, I knew the book was coming out a year earlier but when it was released . . . no news. Wasn't really covered by many hip hop sites or blogs. Go figure.

I'll add this, as a book on art and design, I think it the overall presentation is lackluster. I was personally looking for more considering hip hop's lengthy history and the many contributors to hip hop aesthetic look and feel.

There's a video on youtube where Cey Adams and Bill Adler discusses the book and what they wanted to accomplish.

American mainstream comics for the most part fail to embrace themes outside of a men in tights and women with extraordinary proportions and dimensions. See Scott McCloud's work for further explanation. So I don't expect hip hop to be truly embraced in comics. I will see that the cool and cheesy strips from De La Sou's debut album and Snoop's debut were great and memorable for me. It also reminds me of the stuff for Parliament/Funkadelic.

P.E.'s Fear is probably one of the best cover of all time, definitely the 90's.

Beezer B said...

I haven't seen a blog post KRS/Kyle Baker's "Break The Chain" yet. I'd post it on mine but it's still sealed in the bag.... :-)

I have an open copy and the tape box too but no open tape. Very sad.

I can't say I sit up at night wishing I could play the track.

You know comics really haven't embraced Hiphop. Noy considering how much the audiences cross over. I was working in a comic shop when the Wu-Tang comics were coming out (remember them?) and it made me realise how many of the regular customers were into their Hiphop aswell.

If you look at how much the Kung-Fu and martial arts film industry has embraced Hiphop after Hiphop embraced them, and compare that to comics... Nada.

samuel rules said...

-Beezer B

Me and Karen were on the metro like 6 months back and these two heads were sitting behind us talking about this manga they are making. I think rap has embraced comics but not the medium, and the small part that has embraced it is just doing regular super hero comics, and not some incredible manga shit. A great example was when MTV had all those rappers do the voices to Volcano High, which was a manga. It was awesome.

The problem with comics is that Bendis is writing Luke Cage and his idea of how a black man speaks is "yo", "thang", and "aint". There's stuff like that Shark Knife comic and Brandon Graham's stuff that has some hiphop in it without it being about hiphop, if that makes any sense?

Beezer B said...

Maybe I should send Bendis my copies of "Brother Man"?

I really want Risso to draw an E-40 comic now that he's finished with 100 Bullets. Preferably written by E-40.