DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip Hop (Interview with Bill Adler & Cey Adams)

AllHipHop Staff

Perhaps more

unforgettable than the classic tracks on Public Enemy’s seminal album Yo! Bum Rush The Show is the album’s

actual CD cover. The timeless pose

of all the members in dark berets gathered in a dimly lit room prove that

Hip-Hop is just as much visual as it is audio.

But this is not news to

Bill Adler and Cey Adams. As producers of the vanguard book DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip Hop,

they show Hip-Hop art through sneakers, cars, film, clothing, and corporate

logos. Bill Adler is the former Director of Publicity for Rush Artist

Management and founder of Eyejammie Fine Arts Galleries. Cey Adams is a high

profile designer for Def Jam, MCA, Universal, Warner

Brothers, Bad Boy and BMG. Together they give voice to dozens of artists weaned

on graffiti spray paint and cultivated by corporate sponsorship. Obviously, DEFinition is

not just a coffee table book. Who are its ideal buyers and readers?

Bill Adler: There are at least two audiences. One is Hip-Hoppers and the other

is people who come from the art world. These folks aren’t necessarily

Hip-Hoppers but follow trends in art and art scholarship.

Cey Adams: Also, somebody that just wants to learn about the

history. Many people don’t embrace Hip-Hop history. We only embrace it as we

create it. The way that we treat the old school is not how Rock ‘N Roll treats Eric Clapton or Led Zeppelin. We don’t give a

damn about Kool Herc or Afrika Bambaataa and we

should. In the book, there is underground graffiti next to corporate Mountain

Dew and Hawaiian Punch logos. Is there a conflict there?

Cey Adams: Well, not really. A lot of that is the evolution. When I was doing graffiti, I

was 19 years old. I’m 46 years old now. It’s not like it happened over night.

It’s been a long journey. I went from one thing and slowly progressed. Back in

the day, there weren’t as many opportunities to go mainstream, but as things

changed with Def Jam, my career followed. It basically evolved with Hip-Hop


Bill Adler: Artists work in a variety of fields. One day they have to create a

logo, the next day it’s some sneaker. The day after that they have an art show.

I don’t think there’s tremendous sense of conflict. There’s little distinction

between fine artists or commercial artists. I see some top Hip-Hop journalists like Michael Gonzalez and Sacha

Jenkins have contributed essays to supplement the art. How did you round up the


Bill Adler: They’re friends of mine. Most of them were people I thought would do

a good job. Sacha Jenkins has really established himself as an expert of

graffiti. Carlo McCormick knows about album covers. Michael Gonzalez chose

sneakers. Armond White is the critic for New York Press. Twenty years ago he

wrote for the City Sun. I always admired his writing and I thought he would be

able to do a good job on the movie chapter. Why did Lil Kim get the cover of the book?

Bill Adler: It’s not really that Lil Kim got the cover. It’s Mike Thompson who

got the cover. Mike Thompson is a painter who has the ability to paint

whomever. He could be painting portraits of kings and queens, presidents, yet he’s

chosen time to express his ability on Hip-Hop subjects. One way or another, we

were gonna have one of Mike Thompson’s images on the

front cover.

Cey Adams: Originally I wanted the image of Tupac that was

inside the book on the cover, but it ended up being a crap shoot really and the

folks at Harper Collins liked the Lil Kim image. I was amazed by the album covers chapter. How

much of the design is artist input and how much of it is your input?

Cey Adams: Well it depends on type of artist you’re talking

about. I just did the new [cover for the] Scarface Emeritus CD. That was a lot

of fun because last time I with Scarface was The Resurrection with The Geto Boys so we go way back. Somebody

like Scarface is gonna give me a lot of freedom because he knows what I’m

capable of doing. Somebody like Chuck D from Public Enemy will give me a lot of

freedom too but he also has his own ideas. Is there going to be a sequel to DEFinition?

Cey Adams: We would love to do a follow-up and we’ve talked

about the possibility of that because there’s so much ground that we didn’t

cover. As you know, we could go on and on about this subject. There’s always

artists that get left out, so I would say I would love to do a follow up but

right now I think it really depends on how this one performs.

Bill Adler: We would also love to mount a full-scale museum gallery exhibition

[based on the book] but it will take a lot of sponsorship. We made some

inquiries already but we need some real money to put together the kind of show

we would like. I think it would travel well and we could tour it through a

bunch of other cities in America and then to other capitals in the world.