Review of DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip-Hop

Book Review

DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip-Hop
By Cey Adams with Bill Adler
Book release date: October 14, 2008

Cover illustration: "Lust" by Mike Thompson, 2005

Over the Beastie Boys three-decades musical career, no visual artist has been associated with the band more closely and longer than Cey Adams. Adams has continually contributed to the band's visual image and maintained a close friendship with them. His longevity as a professional to whom they turn for graphic needs and as a friend whom they want near when recording and touring is testament of his being an extraordinary artist and a nice guy.

Among Beastie Boys fans, Adams is a legend. It is no exaggeration to say that he is as well known and admired in the Beastie Boys fan community as MCA, Adrock, and Mike D are. (Some fans argue that Adams is the fourth Beastie.) Like his goofball musician friends, Adams exudes an ineffable charm and humor that appeals to everyone who meets him.

As a visual artist, Adams has designed album art, logos, tour merchandise, and promotional material for the Beastie Boys and countless of other hip-hop musicians. If you're a huge Beastie Boys fan, you're probably familiar with Adams' story because it intertwines with the band's story.

Adams started out working for Russell Simmons at Def Jam Recordings, where he co-founded a visual design firm and handled the graphic needs of the bands signed to Def Jam. Designing material for artists like Beastie Boys, Run-DMC, De La Soul, LL Cool J, and Public Enemy earned Adams' respect not only from the hip-hop music community, but also from the visual world (i.e., fine art community) and corporate America. His work in hip-hop music lead him to be sought after by companies like Adidas, Coca-Cola, and Nike to design their advertising campaigns.

[Click to enlarge.]
Beastie Boys logo design by Cey Adams

Adams spent almost two years compiling DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip-Hop. In November 2007, he gave hip-hop fans a preview of what DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip-Hop was about when he spoke to Format magazine. Some time after he conducted the interview, Adams discarded his idea about having some of the musicians with whom he has worked, including the Beastie Boys, contribute essays to the book.

"The musicians already get too much attention and credit," Adams explained. "I wanted the book to be about the artists and their work."

And, indeed, that's exactly what Adams' book is about: art. With DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip-Hop, Adams and his co-author, Bill Adler, have created a serious book about hip-hop art and design that proves it deserves to be respected and appreciated as much as any other art genre or form.

[Click to enlarge.]
Billboard graf design by Faust

"Graffiti artist Faust really crushed this little campaign, which was limited to the neighborhood in Brooklyn where Chris Rock grew up. They hired Faust to spray paint right on the billboard. That's the cool thing about graffiti; it's a one-shot deal with no room for fuck-ups. It's guerrilla marketing for real!"
--Cey Adams in DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip-Hop

Adler, who was the director of publicity for Def Jam Recordings and Rush Artist Management in the eighties, introduces DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip-Hop with a description of what the book aims to achieve. He writes:

"...hip-hop has been every bit as important to the visual world as it has been to the music world. Self-identified hip-hoppers have had significant success in virtually every aspect of the visual media. The sum of their work has changed the way the world looks. This book is an attempt to see the world anew, through a hip-hop lense, and identify these changes."

Adler currently runs Eyejammie Fine Arts Gallery in New York City. His role with the book was cheerleader and editor, helping Adams to chose the artwork as well as find fitting contributors to write the text.

Artists whose work is featured in DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip-Hop are from the old school and new school -- artists like Dalek, Nika Sarabi, Mare 139, Haze, Shepard Fairey, Morning Breath, Lee QuiƱones, Revolt, Lady Pink, Angela Boatright, and Gregory Bojorquez (see his photo of Missy Elliott here) -- just to name a few. Something all of the artists featured in the book have in common, other than being highly regarded by Adams, is they all work in a variety of media. This fact is something Adams feels is important to emphasize because it gives these artists credibility in the visual world. They have both street cred and gallery cred.

Artists featured in the book whom Beastie Boys fans will recognize are Sunny Bak, Glen E. Friedman, Bill McMullen, Ricky Powell, and, of course, Cey Adams.

The artwork alone in the book is enough to impress anyone who would thumb through its pages; however, it's the artwork plus the accompanying text that makes the book essential. Seven essays -- one each about street art, album art, art in advertising, video and film, cars, sneakers, and fashion -- provide a concise story and history of how art and design have played a role in developing and popularizing hip-hop culture. Among those who contribute essays are Sacha Jenkins, the editorial director of Mass Appeal and co-founder of Ego Trip magazine, and Michael Gonzales, urban journalist and fiction author.

DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip-Hop is a beautiful book, filled with page after page of visually stunning art. Although the book will beautifully dress any coffee table, it's much more than a cool art book. It is so informative and educational in the history of hip-hop art and design that it presents, it could easily be used as a primer for art school students and a reference book for art critics now and in the future.

DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip-Hop is available on bookstore shelves now.


Cey Adams and Bill Adler will be signing their book, DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip-Hop, at Hue-Man Bookstore in Harlem on Tuesday, October 14, beginning at 7 pm. On Thursday, October 16, they will be signing their book at Barnes & Noble in Brooklyn, beginning at 7 pm.

If you would like to purchase a signed copy of DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip-Hop but can't travel to Harlem or Brooklyn for the in-store book signings, send an email to bill [at] and request a signed copy. Adams and Adler will be offering only a limited number of signed books at, so don't delay with your request if you want one. Payment will be accepted via PayPal.


9:36 AM Anonymous said...

i want the sounds dope

10:01 AM Hot Sauce said...

Get thee to a bookstore, sire! :D

11:27 AM Anonymous said...


How much will the signed books cost from

11:31 AM Hot Sauce said...

That's a question to ask Bill Adler if you email and request a copy.

The book retails for US$29.95. I imagine it'll cost that amount plus shipping to get a signed copy.

3:08 PM Anonymous said...

Yay for Cey!!! I will ask for this book for my birthday! :)

6:35 PM Anonymous said...

Kimmy on the cover is hot-hot

8:23 PM Anonymous said...

Is there anyone in hip hop Cey doesn't know??

The book sounds serious good.

6:46 AM paulbonardelli said...

Its all about Cey's Cooky Puss logo....hehehe.

Ill def check this book out.

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