Everyone knows the music industry today is disillusioned. Major labels, who were at one point home to some of the most talented artists in the industry, have begun to flood their rosters with rappers banking on three note hooks and faux social commentary. Hip hop, it seems, is stuck in a paradigm of simplicity, where the most unoriginal wins. This is why exciting and progressive music has found nested with independent labels, those whose models push far past a profit. In the past years of independent hip hop, its almost common knowledge that Stones Throw Record has paved the way.
To put things in epic perspective, this weeks designer has single-handedly changed the face of underground hip hop by creating a distinct and recognizable image for one the most important labels in the genre.
His name is Jeff Jank and he is the art director for Stones Throw records. To date, Jank (an alias of obscurity) has designed influential album art for almost every artist on the roster, from Madlib to Dilla, and Dudley to Quas. Jank has been with Stones Throw from the beginning and took special care to distance from the b-boy/graf vibe of early 90s hip hop, and back into the classic tones of early jazz LP covers.
One thing is for sure, Jank pays attention. He realizes that album art is a tool for publicity, whose only function for many is to put a marketable face to the music. However, Jank has admired influential record covers from the past, and studied how the design can be part of the music inside. Through his experience, Jank creates covers that are both artfully filled throwback references while still relevant to the current tone and image of the artist.
For years, Jank has kept Stones Throw on the cutting edge of the art and music scene by adapting to times of changing technology, where the art associated with an album is often lost through the popularity of digital music formats. For the new era, Jank will be creating a new norm for music art where design and visual style can be associated with everything from websites to ringtones.
Cosign took advantage of his technological cunning for a quick ol’ fashion “Facebook interview” with one of the nicest guys in the biz.
Besides Stones Throw, what are you working on right now and have you formed any new collaborations?
I’m working over full time with Stones Throw right now, so there’s not much time for anything else. Here are some upcoming projects. I’ll let you decide which are real and which are merely ideal: Quasimoto toy for Kid Robot; designing my own line of top hats; coining advertising jingles for Koushik’s Ringtone Box Set; producing Funkaho’s AC/DC tribute album; writing, directing, and filming an all-black cast revisionist biopic of Charlie Manson with Dudley Perkins cast in the starring role. I mean, why not?
Are you starting to explore new mediums (ie. photography, film, maybe more music?) and how do you bring your distinct style to them?
I’m just trying to force myself to keep doing the old ones!
I read about your work on the Charizma and Wolf demos from the birth of Stones Throw. How did that come about– and will the designs ever see the light of day?
I did the Charizma & PBW logo, and some demo tape covers for them back in the day. We’d print them at Kinko’s and assemble the tapes at Taco Bell. Most of this stuff has been released, but not the tape covers of course. My work on the demos really just consisted of me saying, “Sure, come over and use the 4-track.” We went through a lot of cassette back then.
I feel you’re somewhat credited for the growth of Stones Throw as a marketable and influential label. What do you envision being the next big step both as a label and a “scene”, especially in the face of dissolving physical media?
Thanks. It is just as much a learning process now as when I first started. Stones Throw’s already been evolving to the changes for quite some time, so I suspect we’ll keep adapting. In simplest terms, we like music and we like to make stuff out of nothing, and there’s always new ways to do both of those.
Does it frustrate you how the face of popular music and its accompanied art has evolved and lost most artistic credibility? Is it a product of disinterest by the fans or just the commercialization of the whole industry?
Not really. The classic days of the album cover ended with CDs and videos, and I started long after that. Records and covers have always been products and marketing, if you ignore all the culture involved. I’m in it for the culture though.
Your covers have been compared to a producer “sampling” old work. How is the process of taking something older and making it unique and exciting effect your design?
Whether I’m doing something that I’ve never seen before, or taking something that’s been done and doing again in my own way, it’s all the same thing, really. Everyone who has created anything likes to finish, sit back and go, “Yeeeeaaah. That’s Mine!” Last year I did a cover based on ornette coleman’s “Ornette!” which I guess is the type of thing you’re referring to. I did that partly because I’d met the designer, John Jagel, a few months before he died, partly because I’d also worked with his son Jason, and partly because I love old record covers like this one.
What are you listening to right now that has inspired your work?
In the past day I’ve listened to the new Breeders album and Madvillain “2” (note the quotes around 2). They’re both inspiring me to quit work early and go to the park with a 40 of Mickey’s & orange juice and get in a fight with some 10-year-old’s
Here’s the advice:
Go to the illest record store in your spot, walk to the jazz LP crates and peep all the classic covers, go home and listen to any record out on Stones Throw and marvel at how Jank is one of the best artists for today’s music.
For further studies:
|| words by Justin Staple ||
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