By Traci Cloyd
Every once in a while I have the good fortune and privilege to interview a subject who is both brilliant and captivating. In this case it’s super-star graphic artist, Cey Adams. He’s in Fort Lauderdale for the underground art, food, film and music festival “Red Eye” at ArtServe. I spoke to him at the Fort Lauderdale nightclub Stache, where he’s creating a mural. His interview, like his art, stands on its own. I didn’t write a word for this story. All I did was make a few judicious edits and transcribe the interview. Here is Cey ‘on the page’, sharing his wisdom, his wit, and his passion for helping young people.
I want to inspire kids to pursue a career in art. The thing is I started out as a teenager. My parents didn’t want me to be an artist and none of my friends. We’re a family that comes from get a real job. There is no time to think about being miserable in a real job, that’s not even a concern, not when you’re trying to put food on the table.
When I was a kid I was looking for an outlet. I’ve always been an artist, but then I started doing graffiti and that’s where I kind of found a calling. I started as a teenager. I was good at it. It was something that spoke to me and my friends and this is also the beginning of the hip hop movement. The music is starting, the art is starting, break dancing is starting, everything at the same time. It was really interesting because my friends and I were doing something we were excited about, even if adults didn’t understand it. It wasn’t for them. I took it one day at a time and one opportunity led to another. I was lucky enough to meet a photographer who was taking a picture of a wall that I painted. I asked oh, what are you doing? He says I’m shooting pictures for Run DMC’s album cover. It’s 83, so their name doesn’t completely ring a bell, but in the neighborhood I kind of knew who they were. He gave me his business card, and said go see Russell Simmons. I went down to meet Russell and he put me to work that day and everything started from there. At the time Curtis Blow was a super star, so he put me to work designing t-shirts, flyers and posters for Curt. Houdini was hot and a couple of other artists, but they were all on the R&B circuit back then because there was no Hip Hop. There was Lakeside, The Gap Band and I would be doing art work for those sort things. I would do one or two t-shirts for a concert like Budweiser Super Fest.
I was doing a lot of that, then they formed Def Jam and that’s when everything opened up. I started designing album covers. I didn’t know what graphic design was, but Russell would have an idea and say “that’s what I want”. I had to figure it out. When I met him it didn’t seem like an opportunity because he hadn’t done anything yet (He was a club promoter) but I knew that it was better than what I was doing. I was doing storefronts and making a couple of bucks here and there.
When I started at Def Jam I didn’t have anybody telling me what to do because nobody knew what I was doing. I did design. I had a lane all to myself.
Nobody wanted to do flyers. Somebody designs those things? I started out doing that. It was at a really early stage, one thing led to another. I grew as the label grew. Run DMC, and The Beastie Boys went on tour in 86 and they took me out with them. I was working the merchandising booth, selling t-shirts. If they needed a stage back drop I would paint that. The same thing I’m’ doing right here I would do it on a 40 foot role of canvas. I used to have to do that by hand for the Fresh Fest. I would have to paint those kind of backdrops. I would buy the canvas in a tube as that was as long as this room, roll it out, tack it up on the wall and go at it. I was also used to painting subway trains as a kid, so I understood scale and proportion and size.
If you’re an artist it flows naturally, you can teach people certain things, but if you don’t have a sense of instinct, then if you find yourself at a crossroads on the piece you’re not going to know what to do. I always know what to do because I just follow my gut, but also I’ve been doing it for 30 years. It’s still fun to me. It beats working. It never feels like work.
Ideas come to me at the weirdest time: asleep, taking a shower, doing something else. I’ll think, ‘oh, there it is. The second I get an opportunity to put it down I’ll run to Kinkos or Fedex and print it out. I think, oh, there it is. That’s what I wanna do and I’ll come in and execute.
I just want to take all the lessons I’ve learned over the years and put that information in front of young people that’s why I’m working with the Urban League because I know they’re on the ground doing good work. All I have to do really is use myself as a vehicle.
I’m here to tell my story, my journey and let them know you can do it. For me that’s the beauty of having somebody say hey say come to town, we’re going to host you, we’re going to show you around, we’ll create opportunities for you and then I take that opportunity to say let’s create an opportunity for these kids.
That’s what really what matters at this point. I just wanna put good info in front of young people so they know somebody believes in them, the reward is when they pay it forward to somebody else and that happens a lot. That’s one of the most amazing things to see a young person get a foot in the door, get a commission or a project. They start their design firm, tattoo shop, whatever it is and they give somebody an opportunity.
I came from an era when nobody cared. These kids are in era where they think nobody cares but people really do want to reach them. When I was a teenager nobody was teaching how to become a graphic artist. No one was saying let me show you how to paint murals, graffiti, none of that. It was go to school, get a job, the end.
When kids come (to the Broward County Convention Center) we’re going to work on a mural project together. It will be displayed in a new gallery. I imagine this all is to kick off the convention (The National Urban League Convention, July 29-August 1st in Fort Lauderdale) It coincided with me being here. It’s a great opportunity for me to remind them of who we are and where we come from. It’s great to do something with people of color. It’s not mandatory but it’s where my heart lies. I know we need the most help. The minute I got here I said set up something so I can work with an arts organization that caters to young people. The organizers know me and they knew what that meant. Use me as a resource. Just because I’m from NYC it doesn’t mean I don’t relate to these kids. These are the same kids that that come from my neighborhood. I travel all over the country and I remind them they are the same. We’re very much connected even if we come from different cities and circumstances.
I remind them, Jay Z, LL Cool Jay, (I don’t want to use DMX as an example) Run DMC, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, all of them they come from humble beginnings ,nothing, ground zero. You can just take a lump of clay and mold it into what you want it to be but you gotta start and you can’t be afraid of success. It happens one day at a time. Jay Z didn’t wake up and say, hey I’m Jay Z. There were a lot of peaks and valleys, a lot of bumps along the road. A lot of young people, I think they want success before they realize it involves a work ethic. They see the glamour and the glitz and they get really excited. Jay Z is not a star he’s a hard worker same thing with Puff. I love him to death. He came from nothing. He built everything he has. I was there with him at ground zero so I know. I watched him. We worked together, whether it was; Mary J. Blige, Notorious B.I.G. or Revolt TV whatever. Everything good that happened for him happened for me. Everything good that happened for Jay happened for me cause I was working with them, from the start, I was right there with them. I remind young people not to trip on the success and the celebrity, the paparazzi and VIP and all that but instead to focus on the work ethic. This guy gets up every day and grinds. Grinds, like for real. You got business people you gotta watch out for, the record company people who just wanna take, take take once you’re hot but when you’re trying to get there you need people who believe in what you’re doing.
Kanye said it best at the height of his success. He says forgive me for believing in myself. I knew that I was this guy, but nobody else knew.
My success is 30 years in the making. It did not happen overnight and every day isn’t sunshine.
There are peaks and valleys, good days and bad days. Some days all these amazing opportunities are coming out of the woodworks. There are days the phone is not ringing. That can be weeks and months. There are peaks and valleys, moments. Hopefully we learn a lesson from some rappers and we don’t waste our opportunities because there is always a flavor of the month coming right after you. One minute you’re hot, the next minute you’re not. It’s a fact. This is show business. Nobody stays hot forever, nobody.
I’m excited to be in Fort Lauderdale, to see your town. You guys are always lumped in with Miami when people mention it in conversation because they’re in close proximity. Fort Lauderdale is a beautiful place, very different. It’s beautiful. It’s nice to be on the ground and see it. I’ve been to Miami a gazillion times, but I can’t remember the last time I was in Fort Lauderdale, if ever. I’m excited to be here.
Traci "The News Goddess" is known for "keeping it real" on and off the air. She is an outgoing, brainy, extrovert with a wicked sense of humor. – See more at: http://www.hot105fm.com/weblogs/hot-news-traci-cloyd/2015/jul/29/cey-adams-interview/#sthash.CxNQrCUI.dpuf