Book Notes: “The Legends of Hip Hop” By Justin Bua


“Justin Bua does for hip hop what Michelangelo did for the Renaissance—he visually documents our era’s philosophies, ideologies, and culture, so we can remember and others can learn. The Legends of Hip Hop brings to light our time, now and forever.”  -Big Daddy Kane

A classically trained artist and educator, Justin Bua grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near East Flatbush, Brooklyn where, according to his biography, he “was fascinated by the raw, visceral street life of the city.” That fascination led to the creation of some of Hip-Hop music and culture’s most significant artistic contributions.

It was Bua who created the look and feel of the opening sequence for MTV’s “The Lyricist Lounge” show. Bua also created the digital world in the classic Slum Village video, “Tainted,” as well as the look and feel for NBA Street and NFL Street for EA Sports. But, one of Bua’s most recognizable works has been recreated thousands of times, a reflection of his true love of Hip-Hop of culture, the classic print, “The DJ”.

But in his second and most recent book, The Legends of Hip Hop, Bua surpasses himself with a collectible book of art, featuring over 50 Hip-Hop artists and key cultural influencers like Muhammad Ali, Grandmaster Flash, and President Obama. The cover is a classic painting of Tupac, and inside, The Legends of Hip Hop also features beautiful images of Wu Tang Clan, Eazy-E, and Lauryn Hill.

Each piece of art is accompanied by a brief narrative on the artist written from Bua’s viewpoint. He reflects on how he felt when he first heard them, what he loved most about them, and often, what he feels their legacy should be. “Before Spike Lee came out with his Michael Jordan “Be Like Mike” commercials, we all wanted to be like Michael Jackson, from the Jackson 5. Every girl in the neighborhood was in love with him because he could dance, sing, and was hot, and every guy in the neighborhood wanted to be him because girls liked him.”

The back of the book features an index of each portrait and a biography about the artist including their real name and date of birth, as well as interesting facts about their career.

The Legends of Hip Hop is a beautiful collector’s item that was destined to adorn coffeetables, but it would be an injustice if the book wasn’t read and enjoyed. Rap legend Rakim says it best: “The Legends of Hip Hop holds a true vision of our culture—the neighborhoods, the people, and the situations we grew up with. While I paint it sonically, Bua skips the rhyme and goes straight to putting music on canvas.”

Photo courtesy of