Jul 22, 2011

[INTERVIEW] Miami Kaos

Miami Kaos is a graphic artist whose work can be found on many of the hottest mixtapes of the past decade. His easily identifiable style clearly separates him from the rest of the pack as it relates to go-to designers.

Kaos is heads and shoulders above the rest when it comes to mixtape graphics, and it's become a situation where if you are an artist that claims that they are making money hand over fist with your mixtape sales, and yet you keep using cheap graphics and can't come up with the money to pay for the best, then that shows many that you're not what you claim.

As the adage says, you get what you pay for, and what you pay for with Miami Kaos, is the best. Name pretty much any mainstream hip hop artist that has made their name through the mixtape game, and they've utilized Kaos's talents at one point or another.

Miami was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions here for us, this being his second interview here, and was even generous enough to provide a brand new image exclusively for this interview, which you can see below.

Click here to check out "10 Questions With Miami Kaos".


SFCB: You are widely considered as the premiere guy when it comes to mixtape graphics. How long did it take you to break into the game to the point where you felt you had made it?

MIAMI KAOS:  I think it was within the first year, when I was nominated for a Justo award.  I remember the first time Wiz Hoffa (I wasn't really online at this period) told me that people were arguing who was better, Nojo or Me.   I couldn't believe people on the internet were actually talking about me.

SFCB: Who was your first major artist you did a cover for, and how did that come about?

MIAMI KAOS: The first major artist was Swizz Beats.  I did this compilation mixtape for his Full Surface roster.  That happened while I was under Big Tigger's mentoring, and he was being courted to sign to Full Surface. 

Also, we did their website, so Swizz saw my work.  He then commissioned me to do an original hand portrait of his son.  This was before my digital painting style.


SFCB: I've noticed that a lot of these young artists that are trying to make it, don't seem to have any business sense. Whether it's sending business requests with typos and grammatical errors, or it's not responding to emails asking for more information on what they are looking for. They tend to not care about how they come across, because they figure everyone talks and writes like that.

It's almost as if they have this deluded image of themselves in their head of a young business mogul in the making, that is completely 180 degrees from how everyone else sees them. Sort of like in the movie "White Boyz" where Danny Hoch and Dash Mihok were trying to emulate the rappers they see on BET and think THAT's how the African American culture is. So in their mind, they're ballin' outta control and have hot women and cars and whatnot, but in reality people just kind of laugh at them.

Why do you think that a lot of young up and coming artists seem to completely overlook the idea that you have to present yourself as someone to be taken seriously?

 MIAMI KAOS:  No sense or discipline.  They are not as interested in the art as much as they are the money.  I see this daily as dudes flip flop in their career choices.  I think the biggest joke being played on African Americans is how cool we think we are, as opposed to dumb.  If a Caucasian speaks improper English and acts loud in public he's labeled as "acting Black".  But if a Black person speaks intelligently and carries himself with dignity, he's "acting White".

So while we may think that we are so hip and cool, I believe it's more America is laughing AT us instead of WITH us.  And that is passed down to the kids who in turn think that it's "cool" to talk like that.  Although in some cases it may be all they know as the dropout rate is at an all time high among African Americans now.  I blame hip hop.  A handful of young people were able to become successful without completing high school, and then everyone believes they can do the same now.

SFCB: We've seen in the last decade the image of comic books moving beyond the idea of them being for kids. Graphic novels such as The Watchmen have been credited with moving it into the category of literature as many of these titles have been embracing many complex themes. What are some of your favorite Graphic Novel titles?

MIAMI KAOS: Well, Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight" predates Watchmen as the first Graphic Novel to show the grittier side of comic books.  My favorites are "The Dark Knight", "Watchmen", "Superman: A Man for All Seasons", "The Last Avenger", "Road to Perdition" and "The Death of Captain Marvel" to name a few.

SFCB: A recent court case involved an American who was traveling to Canada, and was found with Manga on his laptop. As a result he has been charged with possessing Child Pornography, and faces a minimum of one year in a Canadian prison. The general consensus of the authorities there seems to be that while it's not depicting any real person or event, that if it depicts something that would be illegal in real life, then it is criminal.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is representing the man in this case, and I think it has the potential to influence future (and perhaps past) legal cases dealing with Manga. I'm torn on this subject, as I've seen some Manga that is truly offensive to me, and is not something that I would want in my life, and yet there's this line you have to draw that states that artistic expression should not be infringed by those who take offense.

It's the old question of what is the definition of obscenity? What one finds offensive, another won't and vice versa. What are your thoughts on this, as someone who is a long time fan of the comic art form and a graphic artist as well?

MIAMI KAOS: Some genres of art are famous for pushing buttons, whether we personally like it or not.  Some anime is defintiely over the top and can be considered pornographic (given the nature of its fondness for school girl uniforms).  Is it any better than feces smeared on a picture of the Madonna?  Not really for me to say, as it's up to that state's level of tolerance.

There's a saying "You have the freedom of speech, but watch what you say."   I think that you have a conscious idea if you want to push buttons or not. A lot of my earlier work was very controversial, but it reflected my life at that time.  as I matured, some of my values changed and became more aware that I have an audience and I hvae to consider what I show them.
SFCB: As a big comic book fan, were you a bigger fan of DC or Marvel comics?

MIAMI KAOS: I've always been a bigger Marvel fan.  Marvel's heroes were always more tragic than DC's, so their characters have always been more interesting.  Also Marvel has always had the best artists, hands down.

SFCB: While I wasn't always a huge comic book fan, my favorite issue overall has to be GI JOE's Issue #21 "Silent Interlude", which was based around Snake Eyes, and the entire issue had no words at all. What is your favorite issue overall?

MIAMI KAOS: I was never into GI Joe or Transformers comics.  Since I was an artist, I was always drawn to a book if I liked the art.  If I didn't like the art, I had no interest.  My favorite comic ever is Avengers #60 "Til Death Do Us Part", when Yellow Jacket is revealed to be Giant Man.

SFCB: Over the last couple decades there have been numerous video games that have been adapted for the big screen, and yet almost without fail nearly all of them have been massive failures. There have been a handful of entertaining ones, but I don't know many video game movies that have found success. Why do you think so many video game adaptations fall short of achieving that combination of critical and video game fan success?

MIAMI KAOS: Simple.  They never hire directors or producers who understand the product.  Just because Steven Spielberg directs great movies, doesn't mean he can do a great Mortal Kombat film (He never tried, it's just an example).  The studios need to take chances on possible lesser known directors, who understand the Genres.

SFCB: Recently the film X-Men: First Class was released, and as many people have pointed out there are a plethora of continuity errors in this movie as it relates to the rest of the X-Men series and Wolverine Origins. Most obvious to me was the fact that at the end of the "First Class" movie, Xavier loses his ability to walk and he and Erik are enemies, yet at the beginning of X3, they were still friends in the 80's (twenty years after the end of 1st Class) and Xavier was walking to meet Jean Grey who was a child then.

Do these continuity errors bother you, or does it just seem to be a common theme in comic books where different writers work on the same IP and they each bring their own take on things, which often overlap and conflict?

MIAMI KAOS: Again, that goes back to my prior answer.  How hard is it to hire a director who's 100% faithful to the comic book mythos?  There's some great fan made short films on the internet, that if given the budget, could be better movies than the studios are putting out.
As for the continuity errors, I tune them out knowing that no one is going to get them right.  I resign to pretending that I don't know anything and judge it as if it's my first time being introduced to the characters.  Sorry though, even doing that Green Lantern sucked big time.

SFCB: A conversation that you and I have had before about my issue with Comic books is something that also impacted my enjoyment of the comic book inspired series "Heroes", and that is how characters will die and then come back repeatedly. Superman has died, Captain America has died, Robin has died, so many mainstream comic book characters have died, only to come back down the road.

To me that cheapens and removes the emotional attachment we are supposed to develop with the characters. In "Heroes", it's hard to really get emotionally attached to characters and to allow the suspense to build when you know that even if they "die", then you know that they'll bring them back eventually. So there's no level of foreboding dread setting in with "oh no, is this character going to make it out of this?"

Does you have the same view of this, or is it just something that you've grown to accept over time?

MIAMI KAOS: It's a formula.  If the character becomes stale, they decide to "shake some things up".  Get rid of that character for awhile, and now have someone totally the opposite become them for awhile.  Deaths are joke now in comics.  No matter how heroic or sacrificial a death is, at some point someone is going to come along and find a way to explain the death away.

Again, this is why I really only get into the art.  If so and so dies this issue it doesn't matter if the art is wack, I'm not buying it.  It won't really be worth anything anymore anyway, as they tend to overprint comics reducing their rareness.

As for whether or not I accept it, I accept it and don't really care anymore, beyond the initial rant of  "How are they gonna bring him back?" SMH

SFCB: Recently I stumbled across this video of rapper Jin, most famous for his battle raps on Freestyle Friday and Fight Klub, called "Angels" and it shows a pretty strong change in his attitude and mindset. He was baptised in 2008, and in the 2010 song "Angels" he talks about his changing views and attitudes, when he says, "All I hear is "Jin What happened to the old you?" / See I could explain but I would rather show you."

And I think that's an interesting point because so often we've seen artists try to redefine themselves as spiritual (such as Harlem rapper Mase) only to eventually reveal themselves as being hypocritical. Or you have rappers who claim to have a faith in higher power (such as Diddy or DMX) and yet while they put a song on their album dedicated to expressing their faith, those songs are often sandwiched between songs of depravity and self indulgence. Essentially everything that is the antithesis to the spiritually themed track.

And I think Jin perhaps understands that and while he isn't claiming to have completely flipped his style, he's just essentially saying that he's not a Christian Rapper, he's just a rapper who happens to be a Christian. And I think he realizes that people have become jaded to that idea of suddenly finding God and wanting to reclaim their old glory.

What are your thoughts on this?

MIAMI KAOS: Well first, Diddy and DMX are Christians.  They don't claim the higher power, but they name Christ as their saviors.  Diddy's pastor is Hezekiah Walker. W hen you walk with God you first have to do a thorough inventory of yourself and you see how broken you really are.  However the plan is to rebuild yourself and become a better person.   I believe that's why people are reluctant, because they're scared to change.

There's things you have to give up, and some things that have to be changed, it's on you.  I had my moment when I had to ask my spiritual parents if they think what I am doing is wrong.   They said it's more my relationship with God that matters.  And I saw that my work gives me a bigger audience to praise God to people who probably wouldn't think it's cool to than if I just worked with fellow Christians.

I can tell Christians all day "God is Good".  They'll agree, but it's different when a non Christian compliments me and I get to give God his glory to Him.

SFCB: When it comes to the Christian faith, one thing that drives me crazy, as a Christian, is when people who have the highest profile are the ones who seem to espouse the most views that stand in contrast to what Christ was about.

Whether it's Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell blaming 9/11 on homosexuals and Planned Parenthood, or so called Christian politicians that continue to cut programs that benefit the low income and homeless communities, while propping up those that make the most money, or men of the cloth being charged with molestation for being with young men, despite their history of virulently anti-gay rhetoric, I think that it's easy to lose faith.

I always try to keep in mind that these are simply people, and no more or no less, but I think that it's very easy to sort of feel that my faith is being hijacked, for lack of a better word.

What can actual Christian people do to combat those who are constantly making a mockery of their faith, by doing things that are in direct contradiction to their professed beliefs? Particularly when they are in such a heavy position of authority and get so much press?

MIAMI KAOS: I've learned to trust my relationship with God.  While I may listen to different pastors, I've learned not to take it all in as law in my life, but as their interpretation of the Word.  It has to be known just because a man is Christian, at the end of the day, he's just a man. So like any man there can be views that differ from other men, even while believing the same principles.  It's how we interpret the Principles of God that causes all the confusion.

The Bible says that you shouldn't have tattoos, yet there will be people who may have a tattoo but think that the Christian who drinks wine is wrong.   It may be older Christians who were so judgmental on the non saved people that they can't wait for a chance to throw it back in their faces when they fall short.

SFCB: Before I let you go, please tell those who are reading this about your site you have with Dub Floyd called "Get Em 2 The Geek".

MIAMI KAOS: Dub Floyd and I are certified geeks.  We know comic book history just as well as American History (Maybe more since we've both been reading comics since childhood) and to be honest, the whole Hustler mentality of hip hop is pushing us away.

So we decided to embrace a genre that thrives on intelligence and fantasy.  The site features different genres outside of hip hop such as Vinyl figures, movies, etc.  We have to add more people to run it as with our schedules it is hard to constantly update it as we'd like to.

SFCB: I want to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. It's always good to hear what you have to say.

MIAMI KAOS:  Thanks for taking time asking.  Peace and God Bless, my old friend.

1 comment:

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