Cey Adams Talks The Notorious B.I.G. Pepsi Freestyle & More!
21 Oct 2020
The Notorious B.I.G. is one of biggest names and pioneers within Hip-Hop, paving a lane for many generations to come, and with a slew of iconic tracks behind him including ‘Ready To Die’, ‘Juicy’ and ‘Hypnotic’ – just to name a few! 25 years later, we are celebrating his induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, being only one of two solo artists to be inducted, alongside Tupac, Pepsi have unveiled an un-released freestyle from the legend himself as well as a competition (below)!
Who better to talk to about it than, Cey Adams, the founding Creative Director of Def Jam Recordings, who is known for his work with The Notorious B.I.G., Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, LL Cool J and Jay-Z! Having spent the last three decades creating and forming the visuals for some of the most impactful and influential albums within Hip-Hop to date, Cey Adams grew up alongside The Notorious B.I.G. – in-fact just two doors down from him!
Working closely with the icon over 25 years ago, Cey Adams was the Creative and Art Director for Pepsi’s collaboration that is launching today (below). Dropping an un-released and re-mastered freestyle from B.I.G., that see’s him exploring his love for an ice-cold Pepsi, the track is accompanied alongside an animation clip that is packed from start to finish with notable references to Biggie’s life! From his home address, his barber shop, to an array of references to a slew of his iconic tracks, we caught up with Cey Adams to chat all about it…
You grew up in the golden era of Hip-Hop! How did your journey begin with turning into a creative, working on such monumental projects and growing up around these huge names?
Probably a longer journey than your leaders even care to hear about! I grow up during the golden era of Hip-Hop when it first started! Just to put it into context, Keith Haring was a friend of mine, I came up with the guys from Run DMC and the DC Boys, it was literally ground 0 where everything was born out of. That’s the other thing about being in New York City, this is the epicenter of where people come to make it in showbiz!
I mean I want to go there for myself, it definitely is the place where people want to be! Especially for the creative and music industry…
Is there anything in particular you miss the most about this era of music in comparison’s to today’s landscape?
No! Not exactly! The one thing I will say, because there wasn’t this modern day of success, there was a lot more creativity and collaboration and pure friendship. I think some of those things get lost when people just have there eyes on the dollar sign, and that’s why I love that particular period, it’s one of the things that’s really great us talking about The Notorious B.I.G. because he is at the tail end of that, where all you had to do was have a really great flow and you could rise to greatness – that’s a really hard thing to do today!
That’s another thing about that era of music, the amplified affect of individuality, and that’s gotten lost in today’s era.
Right, yeah! That’s also social media and everything being about the self-image. Everyone is so image conscious, this is a guy who for the life of a better time, he was a big guy! In his mind, that was something that was sexy and set him apart from some of the other people at that time. Other than the The Fat Boys, there wasn’t many rappers that identified with being big, maybe Heavy D or someone like that but I think that separated B.I.G from the pack.
You are the Creative and Art Director for Pepsi’s new advert for The Notorious BIG…
My relationship with B.I.G. goes back to his first record ‘Ready To Die’, that’s why I was pulled in because I have a long standing relationship with his music and his image, I guess everybody thought it would be a nice full circle moment to have me involved because I am a Brooklyn artist, he was a Brooklyn artist, we lived on the same block, we shared a lot of the same common interests and I also designed his break-through record. So, the fact I am still around, and I can talk about what he was like as an individual and as an artist, I think is special about this particular collaboration with Pepsi.
So, what was the main concept and message you wanted to create with this project?
Well I think ideally, it all comes back to authenticity. Pepsi is a brand that has been around for a very long time, for 55 years, but B.I.G. is an authentic Brooklyn artist and I think the whole idea about being a great emcee, is to be able to quote lyrics off of the top of your head. For him to give a verbal freestyle off of the top of his head and include the core brand assets is really important. It’s one of those things that makes it really cool and sets you apart from everyone else, that’s what makes B.I.G. a unique artist and obviously it’s what makes Pepsi’s brand unique.
There are so many references throughout the animation clip within such a short space of time, from various parts of Biggies life, from his home address to a variety of his iconic tracks! How did you go about picking these references and putting them into play creatively?
A lot of that was done by Antnamation, but what I bought to the table, was explaining to them that I lived on that block. I literally lived at 234 St James, just 2 doors away from him and I walked on those same streets, we hung out in the same building; just having that close relationship in Brooklyn is what makes it really authentic. In Hip-Hip that’s the most important thing that people care about, being respectful of where you came from, that’s one of the things we had in common, I was doing art and making designs and he was a rapper, but at the end of the day when you grow up in Brooklyn, all you want to do is gain respect and the way to do that is to be authentic.
Did this project challenge you in any way at all? Obviously, it was such a personal project to you…
No! If anything, I was proud I got an opportunity to shine a light on some of the things that people don’t think about when they think of The Notorious B.I.G. That’s one of the things again, I think is so great about this particular project, he made a record that was ground breaking and here we are 25 years later celebrating his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – that’s a really elite club and it’s very difficult to get into! Here he is, being nominated and gets inducted with no problem, and he is the second solo artist to be inducted alongside Tupac.
I think that’s what really great about him as well, even myself and people that I know, still listen to people like him from that era, and he’s still as relevant as he was back then, today.
Sure! Yeah, he’s one of those people, when people think of Rock and Roll, people think of The Beatles, James Brown or Elvis Presley, when people think of Hip-Hop, they are going to think of Run DMC, Public Enemy, The Notorious B.I.G…
You have worked on some insane projects in the past, from people like Jay-Z! For someone who wants to get into this realm of the industry, what advice would you give them? Because now, it’s more competitive than ever!
Oh yeah! It’s competitive because now everybody knows what success looks like. You have these bench marks that people can aspire to, looking to folks like Jay-Z, Kanye and Beyoncé, everybody wants to ascend to those heights. But, you still have to get up in the morning and go to work and really put your best foot forward, that’s the thing about anything, whether you are an Actor or an Athlete, you have to do it one day at a time, one moment at a time! You can’t think about being great unless you are ready to invest a life’s work into doing something like that, it takes a lot to be great and you have to make sacrifices!
Is there a piece of advice that you had been given, that you has stuck with you? Maybe at the beginning of your journey?
No! *laughs* I never had a mentor or anybody that pointed me in the right direction! The only thing I learnt from was trial and error, but also being passionate. I think people can see passion, if you’ve ever seen B.I.G. in some of his early videos when he’s out on the corner and he’s rapping, he’s putting his whole life on the line just to get the verse out, that’s the thing that people relate to when people listen to his music, is that they can appreciate that passion and hunger!
I completely agree, I don’t think there are any words to describe how influential he still is! People now, strive for the ‘I wanna be famous’ bubble and what comes with it, and forget the reason why they started!
It’s a sad cycle, because like you said, here we are 25 years later, and a lot of people can’t last 2 years anymore!
Ideally, a lot of it comes from people from the inner city that want to change their circumstances, the same place Jay-Z comes from. They have this by any means, all-in attitude, they have to make it because there is nothing to go back to. They want to change their circumstances and that is about hard work! That’s what makes somebody a star, you have the talent and you are willing to sacrifice, and you put that together with somebody that see’s all your ability, and they give you an opportunity – you take it and you run with it. That’s what makes The Notorious B.I.G. so great! He can do a freestyle about Pepsi, this wasn’t something that the brand crafted, this is something that he did on his own and he hit all these marks, essentially amplifying what makes a brand popular with nobody telling him this is what you need to do!
Pepsi are taking the release a step further with a brand new competition!
Partnering up with Biggie’s original road DJ, DJ Enuff, and HOT97 to launch the Big Pepsi Freestyle Challenge, this competition is aimed at emerging and up-coming Hip-Hop artists to highlight their talent! Spread across 3 weeks, the battle will be judged by not only the HOT97 team but the public as well! Contestants must use a 60 second track that can be downloaded from Hot97.com/bigpepsi/ and include at least one lyrical reference to Pepsi in their submission! So how do you enter? All enties can be submitted across Social Media platforms including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok or YouTube by tagging @Hot97 and #bigpepsifreestyle.
The winners will be chosen by Hot 97’s DJ Enuff, DJ Kast One of the Ebro In The Morning team, and Loaded Lux will announce on the morning show one winner to receive 4 FREE nights of studio + recording time and 1 week of digital marketing support! Make sure you get involved!