Back on the Hip Hop Honors for the third time in six years. This year was a tribute to the iconic Hip Hop record label Def Jam.

Being a life long student of Hip Hop, Def Jam has always been particularly closely woven into my musical DNA. LL Cool J’s first single “I Need A Beat” came out in 1984. Followed by The Beastie Boys’ “Rock Hard”. It just so happened that, at the time, my sister Sheelagh was going to college with Mike D. So she was getting advance cassettes of Def Jam records and bringing them home on the holidays.


Hearing LL’s album in demo form was one of the big catalysts for me leaving punk rock behind and embracing Hip Hop. There just hand’t been anything like it. I was hooked. I remember making my girlfriend drive me to the record store the day the album finally hit the stores.

By the time Public Enemy came out 2 years later, I already had my own secret DJ name, the beginnings of a bad graffiti tag, and big plans to move to Brooklyn and become the next Jam Master J. Since then, my record shelves have gathered just about every single Def Jam record worth owning. Asking me to design an entire award show around Def Jam was like asking me to write a doctoral thesis on adolescent masturbation. I was a certified expert.

I began creative exploration by making a mixtape of all of the early Def Jam classics, which I gave out to the VH1 creative group when I gave an informal presentation on the history of the record label. I even got Sheelagh to dig up her original 1984 Def Jam jacket out of storage.

After lots of sketches and a bit of back and forth  between myself and Phil Delburgo, we settled on a wireframe look, in honor of Def Jam’s iconic wireframe tonearm drawing that is printed on all of their 12″ singles. At least we would start out wireframe, then transform into chrome.


They were still using the HHH logo I had designed in 2004. I just had to update it to include Def Jam. As a designer, just getting to play with the Def Jam logo itself felt like a gift from the graphic gods.

From there, things just feel into place. I was freelancing at Stardust at the time, so they agreed to let me run the project through them and use their animators. 3D animator Carey Janks did an amazing job on developing the show open with me. Fabian Tejada brought it all home, as usual, doing all of the compositing. Alex Moulton of Expansion Team did a great job on the music. It was a labor of love for all of us. I posted a few photos from the show, as well as some of the original storyboards, in the BLOG section of this site. Thanks again to Phil Delburgo, Kham Souk Kham, Jimmy Fingers, and the staff of VH1 for helping us it all delivered.

I went to the taping of the show, which was pretty fucking awesome. The BAM Opera House was packed with any and every Def Jam vet you’d expect to see. I got to meet Rick Rubin afterwards, which was an honor, as I’ve been a fan of his productions since day one. He even thanked me for the graphics and gave me a little namasté bow in the middle of the Blue Ribbon dining room. Good times.



Hip Hop Honors

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