We spend so much time developing new treasures at studio, we want to take a moment to dive into the raw ideas behind our work. To support this effort of sharing our process and ourselves, we are introducing Meet the Maker. Today we are going to dive right into an interview with resident designer, maker, planner, and all-out wizard, Michael Stout. The Hip Hop Quotables Series is the topic under the scope. Have you checked those out? They are right! See them in our store.
1. The Hip Hop Quotables are an exciting addition to the Department
of Everyday lineup. We want to know more about the concept behind the
limited edition prints. Can you start with an artist statement?
The Hip Hop Quotables are a print series that provide a simple message of encouragement that can live outside of the context of hip hop, but that also celebrates the ethos of early hip hop culture. The Department of Everyday is interested in the idea that we have to produce the reality that we want to live in. These sayings are just a little encouragement for that to happen. Originating from the early days of hip hop these quotes reflect the ethos of hip hop pioneers who created something beautiful out of a pretty dire environment. I think that is a good point of reference for us to always be mindful and make the most our of our situations, to develop tools for sharing the beauty of everyday as well as transcending the struggles.
2. Tell us about how the idea was born.
The idea had been circling around for a while. I liked the idea that these sayings were born of a specific time and place, but also had a sort of communal ownership. While you may be able to trace the origins of these saying to a specific person on a specific day, they also took on their own life. They have come up over and over again throughout the years and have been used by different MC’s in different contexts. That is something that is very important to the idea of the Everyday. It’s that ability to take something that exists all around us and use it for our own purposes and to our own ends that is at the core of the Everyday. Putting these quotes of paper in a simple lettering distills them from the aesthetics of hip-hop and makes them more about the language of self-improvement and awareness. I like the idea of waking up in the morning and being reminded of the most fundamental idea in these sayings. But when I read them, I also hear a beat or cadence that gives me the energy to get the day started.
3. Hip hop culture means different things to different people. Not everyone has such a rich knowledge and appreciation as you do. Can you place these quotes in a historic context for us? Like, when did this now-familiar language first emerge?
Honestly, I can’t give you the specific time and place of their origin. Maybe there is a scholar out there who could point to the block party, basement or rooftop where some MC first used these words. For me, that is interesting, but not that important. I’m all about honoring the legacy of individuals and giving credit where it is due. However, what is more interesting to me is that regardless of their origins, they turned into something larger than the person who first said them. They captured the ethos of a time and place and then transcended that to continue reflecting a certain attitude of celebrating the here and now.
All that said, when I look at the beginnings of hip hop I see a microcosm of urban culture, where the exchange of ideas and communication between peer groups represents a model of innovation. One person comes up with an idea and someone else borrows and then iterates on the idea. From here more people iterate on that same idea and before you know it, those ideas are being manifested in various forms to meet the conditions of a specific contexts.
4. What attracts you to hip hop? Is it the same reasons now as in the past?
Not that I put a lot of thought into it then, but originally hip hop appealed to me because it was something other than what I was familiar with, as a midwestern suburban youth listening to music that originated in the urban condition of New York was somehow transcendent of the boring and homogenous culture that surrounded me. At the same time the attitude struck a cord with how I was starting to view the world. We all have the ability to create and share our talents and interests in the world and don’t have to rely on traditional structures of consumption and production. We can make our own music, print our own clothes, embellish the walls of our cities. There was a sense of rebellion from the mass produced monotony, but also a celebration of individual style and ability for a community to form around sharing that self expression that just seemed obvious at the time.
I suppose it is similar now. There are still kids writing rhymes, painting graffiti, breakdancing and spinning records. But as hip hop spread into the far reaches of culture it has also transformed into something almost unrecognizable. That’s not to pass judgement. People have taken their passion and skill at the trades and entrepreneurial spirit of hip hop and made something for themselves. That was always the point in my mind. That is exactly what has always been attractive at its core. But some of the iterations of that don’t appeal to me at all. I retain a love for hip hop ideals and occasionally some of the outcomes we see, but in general I’m stuck on the hip hop that represents the time and place where I first encountered it; in a dark alley with a flicker of light in the form of some paint on the wall and the boom bap of a KRS ONE track in my walkman.
5. Let’s talk about design. You are formally trained as a graphic artist with an emphasis on typography, so we want to know about your font choice here. If the hip hop emergence was aligned with graffiti historically, why such a clean sans serif for these prints?
That’s a good question! Honestly, I started out thinking that it should be in a graffiti style lettering. But it seemed too cliche and obvious. The more I thought about it, the more I considered how this was about more than hip hop, it is about the ideas of the sayings. I’ve always enjoyed typography because it provides context for language. When we see something in a graffiti-style lettering we read the words with that visual language in mind. Letterforms and style have an ability to communicate in addition to the words that they form. Sans serif lettering certainly has it’s own contextual references, but to the majority of people it is a more basic and non-specific context. The modernist preferred sans serif letterforms because they did away with historic context. I guess I choose them here for that same reason. By minimizing the hip hop nature of the quotes maybe someone reads them for the words they contain rather than the time and place they came from. That historic reference is there for those who know and it is definitely a layer of meaning that I hope people catch onto and read into the prints, but I didn’t want it to be so dominating.
6. And… did you ever dabble in graffiti??
Depends who’s asking. I might have spent countless hours sketching in blackbooks, walking around the city at odd hours in inclement weather with ink stained hands and running from workers in train yards. But I don’t think there’s any proof of that happening. It might just be a figment of my imagination.
7. You are about a decade deep in your formal practice as a screen
print artist and maker, where do you see your path taking you for the
next ten years and beyond?
I certainly couldn’t have predicted where I am now and can’t imagine where I will be in the next decade. I can only hope that it is a far as I have come from where I started and also as close to where I began as I am now.