(excerpted from VIBE magazine as told by Brent Rollins)





If you want to capture rap's raw cinematic drama on your LP's sleeve, Bill Sienkiewicz is your man. The 46-year-old Jersey-bred artist first earned his stripes at Marvel Comics in the early '80s and then did movie posters for Hollywood. But the self-described "Led-head" made his mark on urban culture in 1990, giving hip hop one of its first great album covers: EPMD's Business as Usual. Eight years later; he dropped back on rap's radar with the iconic RZA as Bobby Digital in Stereo cover. Now Sienkiewicz freelances and works on projects for Marvel and advertising agencies, and waits for that call to bless hip hop with another classic look.

"Going into movie posters, my timing couldn't have been worse, because the era of the painted poster was on the way out. So when Def Jam called me in '90, I'd heard of EPMD, and even though album covers weren't a market I was looking to crack, I was happy to do it. I met with Erick and Parrish, and we talked a little bit, but the were really clear about wanting the cover to be about hiding in the swamp as an FBI/DEA posse dragged out the dogs, hunting for them. I remember really trying to make it seem like a movie poster," said Sienkiewicz.

"I found it much more exciting to focus on one piece, rather than what I'd been doing in comics. Taking something and distilling it down to one image that people will hopefully gravitate to, that's a real challenge. RZA was going to go with an illustrator who did blaxploitation movie-poster stuff in the '60s, but he was pretty old and infirm and wasn't able to do it. So I went in and tried to add a sort of modern flair, while at the same time making it resonate with the blaxploitation thing. In this case, it was like no holds barred. And having the Wu-Tang symbol in the back was a great way to tie it all in, to play with that sort of design element that was really prominent back in the '60s."

"Right after I finished the piece, I was walking around Manhattan, and I saw a van with the image on the side. I was like, Damn, this is great! But I never heard from RZA. I'm sure he's busy and stuff, but I didn't have a chance to tell him how much his work gave me a chance to fly."