Cey Adams

Cey Adams
Born 1962 (age 5354)
United States
Occupation Visual 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][3]


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.[4][5] In 1982 he appeared in the historic PBS documentary Style Wars about subway graffiti in New York.[6][7]

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.[8][9]

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.[10][11][12]

The Drawing Board closed in 1999 and Adams began working on corporate advertising campaigns for companies such as Nike, HBO, Coca-Cola, Burton Snowboards, Moët & Chandon, Comedy Central, HBO, and Warner Bros.[13][14]

After Def Jam

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.[15][16][17][18][19]

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.[20] In 2001 Dave Chappelle hired Adams to create the logo for his new sketch comedy show, "Chappelle's Show" on Comedy Central.[21]

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.[22][23][24] The shoes were included as part of “The Rise of Sneaker Culture” exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York.[25][26]

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.[27]

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.[28][29][30]

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."[31][32][33] Also in 2011 he designed Tommy Boy Records' 30th anniversary poster.[34]

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.[35][36] 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.[37][38]

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",[39] and in an interview with the Omaha World Herald talks about developing his new series of artworks referencing classic corporate logos.[40] In his recent artworks, Adams employs mixed media including hand-made papers and magazine clippings on canvas, and silk screening.[41]

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."[42] 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.[43]

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.[44][45]


  1. MOMA
  2. Brooklyn Academy of Music
  3. Complex Magazine
  4. Huffington Post Beastie Boys article
  5. Antisociety
  6. The Rock n Roll Picture Show
  7. Bret Dougherty interview
  8. Beastiemania, Who is Cey Adams?
  9. Beastiemania Cey Adams interview
  10. Music Fan Clubs
  11. Manifest Worldwide 11 Questions for Cey Adams
  12. Global Grind, Def Jam's First 25 years
  13. Hip Hop DX
  14. Harper Collins author listing
  15. Revolver logo Archived April 29, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  16. Asylum Records logo Archived April 29, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  17. Foo Fighters logo Archived April 29, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  18. Don Henley tour poster Archived April 29, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  19. Mary J. Blige record cover and tour merchandise Archived April 29, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  20. Antisociety interview
  21. IMDB
  22. Sneaker Museum
  23. Kicks on Fire
  24. Sneaker Freaker
  25. Brooklyn Museum, The Rise of Sneaker Culture
  26. Yahoo News
  27. Harper Collins
  28. Standard Culture, MoMA Goes Old School with Cey Adams
  29. MOMA An Insider's Look at Hip Hop Culture
  30. Paper Magazine, Time to Get Ill at MOMA
  31. The Launch Magazine
  32. The Guardian
  33. Def Jam logo Archived April 29, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  34. Tommy Boy Poster Archived April 29, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  35. Juliiard
  36. Amsterdam News
  37. BAM Picture the Dream
  38. BAM Tribute to Martin Luther King
  39. KMTV Archived October 6, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  40. omaha.com
  41. Cey Adams Artist Website Archived April 29, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  42. Rush Philanthropic
  43. NY1 Artist of iconic Def Jam album covers pays homage to pop art
  44. Sun Sentinel
  45. 7 News Archived August 3, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.

External links

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