The Architect: Interview With Brent Rollins

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The folks over at The Rap Up recently caught up with the legendary Brent Rollins, a renowned artist who has brought to life an assortment of influential design concepts. Stemming from classic Hip Hop cd covers onto prominent movie covers such as Boyz n The Hood and Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. Boundaries are limitless in his world as he’s also left his imprints with several streetwear giants such as Stussy and UNDFTD.

TRU: When did you decide to become a designer?
BR: I think in high school, believe it or not. I was the kid in school who liked to draw and everything and my mother was more the kind of person who was like, “You need to make money, you need to get a job”. So, I was lucky I was exposed to graphic design in high school, I had a class that taught it.

TRU: Were you exposed to graphic art in any other ways early on? You did a lot of mural artworks and installations for exhibits but did you ever do any mural art of the less legal kind?
BR: Haha, nah, you know what? I’m not one of the graffiti dudes. I have a lot of respect for people who do that or have done that in the past but that was never my thing. I grew up in Los Angeles and there’s graffiti in LA but I never really had that ability to do so because in LA, you gotta drive everywhere. New York has the subways and public transportation but in LA if you wanted to do that stuff you had to really, really go out of your way and that was never my thing. My influences are really kind of traditional, graphic design, you know, like Milton Glaser and people like that, that school of thought. That’s my base but when I learned about hip-hop, that sort of changed things and I tried to put the two together. I want to take the street culture elements and fuse that with the design basics that I’ve learned.

TRU: In moving away from what’s seen as traditional hip hop graphics, you’re creating new hip hop graphics, giving it some new blood. Having done that, you’re often influencing hip hop design that came after you. Where do you draw the line in people being influenced by your style or simply biting it?
BR: I’m flattered when people tell me that, sometimes for me it’s hard to see that in other people’s work. I’m sure there are people who are influenced by that sort of approach I think… You know what man? It’s like this. When you create something, you don’t create something to hold on to it. You create something to share. And as long as people respect and acknowledge where they get their ideas from then that’s a great thing. When I do stuff for people I do it because I have stuff that I want to show other people and that I want to share. You can’t really control something once you’ve put it out there. It has a life of its own, you know what I mean? Sometimes people bite, but sometimes people take an idea and develop it. If you take an idea and push it further, then that’s what it’s all about.

TRU: When done right the packaging can actually add something to the overall experience of the album. like the Freeway & Jake One album packaging, that seems like something that would rarely happen on a major label. Why do you think majors aren’t trying to work an album like indies do?
BR: It’s funny man, people who work at record labels… I’m gonna generalize ’cause I’m sure there are people at record labels, especially those that have been there longer, who remember the old days when record covers were an interesting product. But I think a lot of people that are newer to the record industry get in because they are more attracted to the glitz & glamor of it versus actually thinking about the artist and the relationship of the fans. I don’t really understand it, large labels got more money than anybody.

Check out the full interview at The Rap Up.

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