Cey Adams went from stealing paint and throwing up tags in the Bronx to happening upon a brilliant career in art direction and design—one that would brand the burgeoning movement of hip hop in New York City.

Wheat Field

Cey Adams

DESIGNER / ARTIST / STREET ARTIST

2019

ART / STREET ART / ART DIRECTION / DEF JAM / BEASTIE BOYS / RUSSELL SIMMONS / STEVE CARR / DRAWING BOARD / PUBLIC ENEMY / RUN-DMC / NOTORIOUS B.I.G. / PUFF DADDY / JAY-Z / GRAFFITI / JOYCE TOBIN / BASQUIAT / KEITH HARING / ANDY WARHOL / DANCETERIA / QUEENS / NEW YORK CITY / JACK DAVIS / MAD MAGAZINE / NATIONAL MURAL DAY / PABST BLUE RIBBON / HOT 97 / GOOGLE

Early on, the brilliant Cey Adams was perpetually rubbing shoulders with brilliance—but nobody involved really knew it yet. Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring were just friends and fellow artists. The Beastie Boys were just a group of eccentric pals who had a band. Biggie Smalls was just a guy Cey lived next to. Russell Simmons was just an entrepreneur trying to launch a business, and many of the people he brought into his label where Cey worked as a designer were just a bunch of largely unknown artists who happen to now be ubiquitous legends.

Collectively, they would all lay the foundation for the modern hip hop movement. And it was Cey who would define it aesthetically.

As he told Insomniac Magazine, “We helped to create this artform and this culture that wasn’t here 40 years ago. That thought is never, never lost on me.”

Of the many visual touchpoints that Cey established along the way, here are a few key pieces—and a sampling of the artist’s more recent collage and mural work, which serves as a striking evolution of his roots writing graffiti across 1970s New York. Spray can in hand, one wonders if he had any idea of the movement that awaited him.

—Zachary Petit, Design Matters Media Editor-in-Chief

[Images coming soon.]

And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both.  — Debbie Millman