The MoMA is paying homage to the first generation of artists that started it all in the Hip Hop game. One of the influential Creative Directors of that era is a man named Cey Adams who will be at the gallery May 5th to sign posters along with Riot Girrrl icon, Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill.
In 1984, Cey, a young artist and graffiti writer at the time, got hired to work at a record label named Def Jam Records. It was a time of paradigm shifts for the baby genre with legends being born every day — Beastie Boys, Biggie Smalls, Run DMC, 3rd Bass, Public Enemy, etc.
Cey opened a design firm with partner Steve Carr called The Drawing Board which became the in-house design firm for Def Jam during those years. The rest is history. Cey quickly moved from bombing subway trains to designing album covers, stage backdrops, sportswear, and indelible logos. Since then, he’s opened his own firm and worked with tons of other clients ranging from Bad Boy Records to Adidas to HBO.
(Meet Cey Adams May 5, 2011 at MoMA’s Looking at Music 3.0)
Flash forward to today. The MoMA presents Looking at Music 3.0, the third in a series of exhibitions exploring the influence of music on contemporary art practices. It was a time when New York City was transitioning. Performance artists took advantage of low rents and put on DIY shows in alternative spaces and underground clubs. The concept of “appropriation” or as others would call it, “remixing” was at it’s peak. The MoMA show will feature approximately 70 works from a wide range of artists and musicians from this era. Looking at Music 3.0 is organized by Barbara London, Associate Curator, Department of Media and Performance Art.
We stopped to ask Cey Adams a few questions about the show and his previous legacy of art direction in a time of creative explosion.
The Standard: Tell me about the overall concept of the exhibit and how MoMA got involved?
Cey Adams: I got a call from a curator at MoMA, they wanted my help selecting important hip hop album covers. It’s a show focusing on New York in the 1980s and 1990s with works by the Beastie Boys, Kathleen Hanna and Le Tigre, Keith Haring, Christian Marclay, Steven Parrino, Run DMC, and Joanie 4 Jackie, a video chain letter founded by Miranda July.
(Cey Adams for Def Jam, The Drawing Board)
The more time passes, and the more you see all your old work (Def Jam History of Album covers), what makes you feel most proud?
I’m very happy to be among the original group of visual artists that helped to shape hip hop culture. I’m so proud of the work I’ve created over the years, it’s great to see the impact it’s made on young lives.
(Cey Adams for Def Jam, The Drawing Board)
Do you still get the urge to do graffiti? C’mon, tell us the last time you tagged something?
YES! After years of not doing graff on walls or really working with spray paint for that matter - I must admit I really wanted to retest my skills. Montana has all these great paint products on the market now, dozens on new colors! Over the last few years I have gotten a chance to paint with some of my old friends…ERNI, LADY PINK, DAZE, CYCLE, WANE and DOC TC5. I’ve worked on some monster mural projects in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Canada.
Lets talk about your other fine art aside from your commercial work - do you have any new projects in the cooker?
I think it’s time for me and other pioneers of the culture to tell our story. I’ve contributed to so many great book projects…The 3D Art Book, Hip Hop: A Cultural Odyssey, The Boombox Project, American Graffiti, Stickers, Subway Art 25 and both Piecebooks. I also wrote a book of my own about hip hop’s visual revolution titled DEFinition: the Art and Design of Hip Hop.
(Poster for Def Jam Recordings 25 Book. Design by Cey Adams)
You are old bro’s with Adam Horovitz and Kathleen Hanna who are also involved in the exhibit. After being the kids in a movement, what does it feel like to now be an authority and an elder to younger ones coming up now?
I think it’s my responsibility to teach our kids and artists about the history of the culture. When I was coming up I didn’t have anyone around to guide me. I travel all over the country giving lectures and teaching artwork shops to anyone who wants to learn about the early days of the movement. I’m always amazed at how excited people are to hear about my journey over the last 30 years. It’s a great feeling to pass along valuable information.
(Logos by Cey Adams. From the book DEFinition. Photo by Angela Boatwright)
Name the last 5 songs you downloaded into your iPod
1- “Time Out”, The Dave Brubeck Quartet
2- “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”, Charlie Rich
3- “Jazz Thing”, Gangstarr
4- “Sergio Mendes & Brazil ‘66”, Fool On The Hill
5- “Too Many Rappers” (Featuring Nas), Beastie Boys
What is your advice to any young minds getting into the hip hop game today and staying true to the craft?
Study the culture…Art, Music, Dance, Fashion…know your history! Respect the pioneers and Keep grindin’…
This event takes place May 5, 2011. It features activities and music in conjunction with the exhibition Looking at Music 3.0, including a DJ set by Adam Horovitz (of the Beastie Boys) from 5:30 to 8:30 pm and a poster signing from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. with artists featured in the exhibition, such as Kathleen Hanna (of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre) and Def Jam Recordings creative director Cey Adams.
Posters are $20 each. For more info, visit MoMA.org.
The Museum of Modern Art is located at 11 West 53 Street New York, NY 10019. Phone is 212-708-9400.