Q&A: Eric Haze On Going From A Graffiti Background To Designing Iconic Hip-Hop Logos
Sometimes cultural icons are known for their contributions to a culture, but the individual behind the talent gets lost in the sauce. Having designed a lot of rap groups' early logos, Eric Haze is one of these individuals whose work you see daily, but whose face and name you may not be familiar with. Ironic, especially since he never "fell off" and has put out a steady body of work since the early 1980s, and he's still out here designing and collaborating and innovating after many years. Then again, when you designed timeless pieces like the EPMD and Beastie Boys logosnot to mention Tommy Boy Records and Tone Loc'syou are your own inspiration.
Eric Haze. Pleasure to meet you, OG. Where are your from originally?
Born and bred in New York City, I'm from the upper Broadway area. I started out in the streets with graffiti, so that's where the name HAZE comes from. I started to get some light [doing graffiti] and saw where it was all going in 1979 so a couple of us called The Soul Artists banded back together from childhood and started on the road to self-empowerment as artists.
Where there any turning points you remember where graffiti started becoming more mainstream or at least when people outside of the culture started showing interest in it?
Actually, it was in the Village Voice. The 1979/1980 Christmas issue had a story on Zephyr, Pink, myself and a few others. That was a big turning point. I've been flying by the seat of my pants ever since.
How did you make the transition from graffti in the streets to logos for corporations and rap groups?
Well, initially when we were coming up the gallery world was the only playing field available so we were all doing shows and painting murals for gigs and what not. I realzed fairly early on that as much as I was in love with painting I was really in love with the written word... with typography and styles and names. So I kind of switched it up early on and took a left turn from where everybody else was heading and decided to go back and study graphic design.
So you went to school for that?
Yeah I went to the School Of Visual Arts, and ironically I studied editorial design under the art director of the Village Voice in 1980. It was George [Delmerico]. I even laid out a few pages for the Village Voice early on. He was one of my mentors as far as learning the grid system and editorial design.
So was there ever a starving-artist era for you? Maybe while you were in school?
Nah not really. I already knew where I wanted to go and I worked on my portfolio all throughout school so when I finished I hit the ground running.
Which logo did you get tapped to design first and how?
I had designed a number of less notable logos before I officially set up my design studio in 1986, but the first significant logo I created from my studio was the LL Cool J logo. This design was also one of the very first logos with which I paralleled the emerging new ethos of sampling in visual terms, referencing the style and interlocking "O's" of the Kool cigarettes logo. This all came together about 2 years after I graduated SVA with honors.
How did the rest come about? Did it just snowball from the first one?
Coming from a graffiti background of name and letter style development, becoming a great logo designer was actually my main goal and focus as a designer and art director from day one. I was essentially the first and only graphic designer who came out of the real hip-hop movement at that point, so I was in a unique position to establish clientele and form relationships within that market and community. From there, I would like to think that simply doing good work gained me more work and increasing visibility, and I was focused on making the most of those opportunities every step of the way. During that period I had a great run of projects in the late '80s into the early '90s. I created logos and identities for LL Cool J, EPMD, the Beastie Boys, Tone Loc, Tommy Boy, Cold Chillin', Delicious Vinyl, and MTV's Headbanger's Ball among others.
Now you're doing stuff with New Era?
Yeah. I'm an artist who runs a design-based company that has their own brand of products, not a clothing line proper. So there's been some adjustment periods in terms of finding my balance between those roles. Projects like the New Era stuff are perfect example of my being able to apply what I do as a designer through their mediums.
How'd you come up wih the name Haze?
Haha. Tripping my brains out listening to a lot of Jimi Hendrix.
Any crazy graffiti stories? Ever been arrested?
I got a slap on the wrist once when I was 13. I got caught at 149th and Grand Concourse. That's about the only time I got popped. See, we were grown men with jobs when [graffiti crew] RTW was at its peak. I was driving a cab in the 1980s, so we weren't little kids on the train with paint on our clothes and dirty sneakers. We would drive to a spot and if it was too hot we would drive to another spot in another borough. Once me and Quik drove into the 4 [train] yard in my Crown Vic. We were on our way home from the 5 yard, so we had already finished our paint. So we were driving up and down in the 4 yard punching each other 'cause we were out of paint.
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