The cover for the Beastie Boys’ debut album, License To Ill, perfectly encapsulated the group’s subversive M.O. It showed a sleek plane with the Beasties’ logo on the tail—a nod to Led Zeppelin’s preferred mode of travel during the heyday of rockstar excess in the early '70s—but only after opening the gatefold did you see the punchline: the plane had just smashed into a cliff.
"That was our kind of sense of humor," explains David Gamble, AKA World B. Omes, who painted the iconic cover in 1986. Gamble’s just one of many artists and designers interviewed in this month’s Juxtapoz, a special issue dedicated to all the compelling art that helped propel the trio’s career. In the clip below, you can hear a bit about the work from the artists themselves.
The magazine goes into more depth, giving the story behind each cover. As they got older, the group became more hands-on with the visual aspects of their output, but in the early days, they were having too much fun to care. That’s how Cey Adams, a young graffiti artist from Queens, got the responsibility of creating the Beasties’ first logo—and ended up becoming the head of the in-house design team at Def Jam records.
Basically in 1983 was when I started designing logos. I didn’t know what doing graphics meant. Russell and Rick Rubin decide to form Def Jam, and because of that, I got an opportunity to design an album. They said, "This is what you are going to be doing, so you got to learn it and do it fast." I had to learn how graphic design worked… quick. I had to learn what non-repro blue pencils where. I had to hand draw out the trim, the safety, and the guides. I figured it out quickly because I didn’t have anybody to go to ask questions to. It wasn’t like Russell or Lyor Cohen (music executive) was going to sit down and give me a run through. They were just like "do it," and they assumed it was right, and if it went to the printer and came back looking like a traditoinal ad, it went right. If it came back looking like shit they would be like, "You’re an idiot. Why do we have you around here?"
Certainly there were books about it, but there was no manual on how to navigate the waters of dealing with professional people when you are 19 years old, calling yourself a graffiti rebel.
The issue’s on newstands now; you can also download it for $3 in the Juxtapoz iPad app.