Erik starts his talk with an introductory video, blasting some of the most influential Hip Hop songs (that’s a fact, look it up!) through the speakers. The music is accompanied by his own lettering of words and song lyrics on the screen. He has come to TYPO so prepared that he’s even created his own hashtags, recommending we use #IchBinEinCurrywurst, #IJustDrank3LitersOfClubMate (part of the reason why he is speaking so fast) and #MöDönerMöTalkings when sharing his talk. His energy and facial expressions give away that he’s excited and happy to be here.
If I have a smile on my face, please excuse it
After explaining the anatomy of Hip Hop (MCing, DJing, Breaking, Grafitti and Style) he continues to break down the art into five chapters and illustrates how all of these things translate directly into his lettering work.
1. Assemble Your Crew
“Something greater than the sum of it’s parts”, as demonstrated by ingenious Hip Hop crews like NWA, Wu-Tang Clan or Ernie and Bert. Erik tells us about his own crew, a collective called Friends of Type, of which he co-founded. Although what they do is technically not type, “Friends of Lettering” just didn’t sound right. Their sketch blog gave Erik a platform to practice and promote his lettering skills.
2. Art of the Sample
Kanye West sampled Ray Charles and Ray Charles sampled The Southern Tones in the same way that Erik samples art that catches his attention or that he wants to pay tribute to. A bad way of sampling is “biting” however, and copying someone else’s work to make money of it obviously isn’t cool. Unfortunately this is something that often happens in Hip Hop, lettering and well, pretty much everything.
3. Break It Down
In Hip Hop, different movements build a routine and the smoother you handle the switching of these movements, the higher your credibility (street talk for “becoming cool”). Erik likes to switch between digital and analog, pencil and chalk, paper and walls—the list goes on. His projects wander between all kinds of worlds, from simple hand lettered envelopes (Do Not Open) to massive snow letters (Frostabet—the 26 year challenge). Other non-type related shenanigans like photoshopping absurdities into his mother’s Europe trip photographs or pointing out the similarities of Muppets and football coaches.
4. Flip the Script
Graffiti is considered Hip Hop’s visual expression. It can be divided in different forms with the hardest (yet maybe the easiest looking) form being ‘tagging’. Tagging is essentially the artist’s signature and requires the most skill and control. Erik considers it the modern day version of calligraphy, and couldn’t stop drawing letters and repetitive forms. His friend James T. Edmondson recommended him to make a useable typeface out of his letterforms, and as a result Viktor Script was born. It ended up being on the list of Typographica’s 65 favourites typefaces of 2015, which is impressive to say the least.
5. Fresh Up
Style is king in Hip Hop and “you dress to look fresh in the clothes that you feel the most comfortable in”. This led him to the idea of designing, or ‘dressing’ his letters more boldly. He picked songs and dressed the main lyrics in a letter style that increased the message even more. This also gives Erik the questionable courage to interpret music into dance moves before the audience’s eyes. But really nothing tops the ‘Underpants Alphabet’ (with numerals!) he came up with while sitting on the toilet. How I understand it, this could also work as a crossover with Chapter 3 ‘Break It Down’. Are crossovers allowed in Hip Hop? Let’s hope.
Just like Hip Hop, lettering has now become a big part of our culture and reached mainstream status. You can find it in all kinds of advertisements, on posters and covers alike. Erik ends his talk by showing some commercial examples to back this up—even teasing us with some recent work he’s completed for Sprite. Unfortunately he couldn’t show it to us, but it will be out in June so it’s fine. At least he was still smiling by the end of it.
Written by: Philipp Neumeyer •