Cey Adams

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Cey Adams
Triangle editathon 2018-01 Cey Adams jeh.jpg
Artist, Cey Adams.
Born1962 (age 59–60)
OccupationVisual artist, graphic designer, author

Cey Adams (b. New York, 1962) is a visual artist, graphic designer and author. He was the founding creative director of Def Jam Recordings and is known for his work with Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Jay-Z, and Mary J. Blige.[1] He has been described as "legendary" for his work in hip-hop graphic design.[2]


Adams was a graffiti artist in the late 70s and early 80s. He studied painting at New York's School of Visual Arts and ultimately had work exhibited in the city alongside Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. In 1982 he appeared in the historic PBS documentary Style Wars about subway graffiti in New York.[3][4]

Cey Adams met Adam Horovitz in 1983, and a close relationship with the Beastie Boys began with Adams designing the graffiti lettering that spelled out the name of the band on the cover of their 12" single for Cooky Puss. Around the same time, he began working with Russell Simmons' Rush Artist Management creating logos, tour merchandising, billboards, and advertising campaigns for rap artists including Beastie Boys, Run DMC, De La Soul, and LL Cool J.[5][6]

In the late 80s Adams and his partner Steve Carr co-founded the Drawing Board, Def Jam Recording's in-house visual design firm overseeing the visual style of Def Jam’s artists as well as artists signed to MCA, Universal, Warner Bros., Bad Boy and BMG.

The Drawing Board closed in 1999 and Adams began working on corporate advertising campaigns for companies such as Levi’s, Nike, HBO, Coca-Cola, Burton Snowboards, Moët & Chandon, Comedy Central, HBO, and Warner Bros.

After Def Jam[edit]

Adams continued designing branding and logos, working with companies such as Revolver Films and Asylum Records, and music artists as diverse as Foo Fighters, Don Henley, and Mary J. Blige.[7]

From 1999 - 2000 Adams worked as a creative director for Urban Magic, an internet startup founded by Magic Johnson and Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz.

In 2000 he co-designed the hip-hop wing of Seattle's Experience Music Project. In 2001 Dave Chappelle hired Adams to create the logo for his new sketch comedy show, "Chappelle's Show" on Comedy Central.

Having previously designed clothes for Run DMC for Adidas, in 2006 he was commissioned to design his own custom track suits and sneakers featuring Beastie Boys. In 2007 he created a limited edition collection for Muhammad Ali for Adidas. The shoes were included as part of “The Rise of Sneaker Culture” exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York.[8]

In 2008 Adams co-edited "DEFinition: the Art and Design of Hip-Hop", published by Harper Collins, with the music journalist Bill Adler, who had been Def Jam's original publicist.[9][10][11][12][13]

Adams was invited to participate in Looking at Music 3.0 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2011. It was the third in a series of exhibitions exploring the influence of music on contemporary art practices, focusing on New York in the 1980s and 1990s. He also designed a poster for the event.[14]

That same year, Rizzoli published "Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label" Adams designed the book and CD box collection for this "comprehensive coffee table book that compiled over two decades of photos, album artwork, and stories behind every record released under the label."Also in 2011 he designed Tommy Boy Records' 30th anniversary poster.[15]

In celebration of Martin Luther King Day in 2013, Adams was commissioned by The Juilliard School to paint a large scale mural titled "Dream," a powerful portrait of Dr. King and a visual timeline of the Civil Rights Movement. He also worked with Brooklyn Academy of Music on "Picture the Dream,” a community-based creative workshop which teaches young people the value of making art while educating them about Dr. King's message of equality through non-violence.[16]

Adams took a two-month residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2014, during which time he also created a mural with local teenagers, with the message "Love", and in an interview with the Omaha World Herald talks about developing his new series of artworks referencing classic corporate logos. In his recent artworks, Adams employs mixed media including hand-made papers and magazine clippings on canvas, and silk screening.[17]

In March, 2015, a new body of collage work incorporating the corporate logos was exhibited at Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, an organization "dedicated to providing inner city youth across New York City with significant exposure to the arts." It was founded in 1995 by Russell Simmons. The Foundation writes that Adams "draws inspiration from 60’s pop art, sign painting, comic books, and popular culture. His work focuses on themes including pop culture, race and gender relations, cultural and community issues. Trusted Brands transforms images and icographics that he grew up with." Adams describes the Trusted Brands series as "an homage to pop art." In an interview with NY1, the director of Rush Art Galleries speaks about Adam's positive influence and advocacy for emerging artists.[18][19]

Adams took part in “Red Eye,” an annual weeks-long exhibition of art and entertainment in Fort Lauderdale, in July 2015. He collaborated with local students, helping them create a mural for the National Urban League conference, as well as teaching, and lecturing.[20][21]

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in September, 2016 and Adams contributed a wall mural for the opening festival “Freedom Sounds: A Community Celebration.” Adams also designed a coffee table book published by the Smithsonian that is a 300-page anthology of Hip-Hop that includes a box set of CDs and never-before-seen photographs.[22][23][24][25][26][27][28]

Beyond Walls is a group of Lynn, Massachusetts residents, business owners, and public art and place-making enthusiasts attempting to create a sense of "place and safety" in Downtown Lynn. Adams completed a mural for this project in July, 2017.[29][30]

Adams was the Brooklyn Arts Council's 2015 50th Anniversary Gala Honoree.[3][31]

Honoring the 44th anniversary of the birth of Hop Hip on August 11, 2017, Google launched a “first-of-its-kind Doodle featuring a custom logo graphic by famed graffiti artist Cey Adams, interactive turntables on which users can mix samples from legendary tracks, and a serving of Hip Hop history - with an emphasis on its founding pioneers."[32][33]

In collaboration with photographer Janette Beckman, Adams worked on a project called the "Mash Up" where graffiti artists "remixed" Beckman’s photographs of hip hop musicians, that was released as a book in 2018.[34][35]

For the launch of Levi’s new store in Times Square in November, 2018, Adams screen-printed and airbrushed clothing.[36]


  1. ^ "MoMA | Cey Adams: An Insider's Look at Hip-hop Culture". www.moma.org. Retrieved 2018-01-12.
  2. ^ "ANTISOCIETY.COM  » Blog Archive  » The Man Behind The Curtain: Cey Adams". antisociety.com. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  3. ^ a b "Honoree: Cey Adams". Brooklyn Arts Council. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  4. ^ Style Wars (TV Movie 1983), retrieved 2018-01-13
  5. ^ Pollicino, Raul. "Beastiemania.com - Who Is Who - Cey Adams". www.beastiemania.com. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  6. ^ "Beastie Boys \ Interview with Cey Adams, member of the Beastie Boys family". www.musicfanclubs.org. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  8. ^ DotDev (2008-09-09). "Cey Adams (Defjam) & Bill Adler Hip Hop Art Book - Sneaker Freaker". Sneaker Freaker. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  9. ^ "The 12 New Art Shows to See This Week". PAPERMAG. 2015-05-20. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  10. ^ "Seminal Graphic Designer Cey Adams "On Def Jam: The First 25 Years Of The Last Great Record Label"". Global Grind. 2011-09-20. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  11. ^ http://hiphopdx.com, HipHopDX -. "Cey Adams And Bill Adler Create Hip Hop Art Book". HipHopDX. Retrieved 2018-01-13. {{cite news}}: External link in |last= (help)
  12. ^ "Cey Adams". HarperCollins US. Archived from the original on 2018-01-14. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  13. ^ http://hiphopdx.com, HipHopDX -. "Original Def Jam Creative Director Cey Adams To Appear In Docu-Series About His Book "DEFinition"". HipHopDX. Retrieved 2018-01-13. {{cite news}}: External link in |last= (help)
  14. ^ "MoMA | Cey Adams: An Insider's Look at Hip-hop Culture". www.moma.org. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  15. ^ "BOOK REVIEW: 'Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label' by Bill Adler, Dan Charnas, Rick Rubin (Preface), Russell Simmons (Preface) «  thelaunchmagazine.com". thelaunchmagazine.com. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  16. ^ "BAM celebrates King's day". Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  17. ^ writer, Casey Logan / World-Herald staff. "Q&A: Def Jam founding designer on Omaha, work at Bemis Center". Omaha.com. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  18. ^ "Artist of Iconic Def Jam Album Covers Pays Homage to Pop Art". Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  19. ^ "dailyfreepress.com/2017/09/07/new-cultural-playground-park-in-south-end-south-boston-set-to-open-saturday/". dailyfreepress.com. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  20. ^ Satchell, Arlene. "Local artists on display at National Urban League Conference". Sun-Sentinel.com. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  21. ^ "Def Jam, local artists create mural for Urban League - WSVN-TV - 7NEWS Miami Ft. Lauderdale News, Weather, Deco". 2015-08-03. Archived from the original on 2015-08-03. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  22. ^ McGlone, Peggy (2017-11-16). "Smithsonian's Hip-Hop Anthology exceeds Kickstarter goal". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  23. ^ "The Smithsonian needs your help to make Hip-Hop history!". Smithsonian Insider. 2017-10-18. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  24. ^ "5 livres qui vont vous inspirer en 2018". start.lesechos.fr (in fr-FR). Retrieved 2018-01-13.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)
  25. ^ "Le Smithsonian publie une énorme anthologie du hip hop américain" (in fr-FR). Retrieved 2018-01-13.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)
  26. ^ "Three-Day Festival Celebrates the Grand Opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture". National Museum of African American History and Culture. 2016-09-07. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  27. ^ Berkovitch, Ellen. "Artist Cey Adams on the Opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture". Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  28. ^ "Smithsonian Institute [sic] announces 300-page Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap". The Vinyl Factory. 2017-10-19. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  29. ^ "Def Jam comes to downtown Lynn - Itemlive". Itemlive. 2017-07-17. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  30. ^ "With 15 New Murals In 10 Days, Lynn Wants To Show It's Moved Beyond Its Negative Reputation". www.wbur.org. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  31. ^ "Alive With Art 2015". Brooklyn Arts Council. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  32. ^ Cavna, Michael (2017-08-11). "Hip-hop history: Google creates epic musical Doodle to kick off 44th birthday jam". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  33. ^ "Google's latest Doodle puts you in the DJ booth while paying tribute to hip-hop's history". Business Insider. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  34. ^ Fox 5 “'The Mash Up' remixes hip-hop photos with graffiti”
  35. ^ Hat and Beard Press
  36. ^ “Levi’s Takes Customization to the Next Level With New Times Square Flagship”

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