Joe Perez might not first name that springs to mind when you think of rap influencers, but he’s been instrumental in shaping hip hop’s modern aesthetic.
The graphic designer and art director worked behind the scenes for Kanye West for 8 years, from Yeezy’s KanyeUniverseCity blog all the way up to the globe-trotting the Life of Pablo pop-up tour, and has designed merch and record covers for the likes of A$AP Rocky, Pusha T and Vic Mensa.
Having designed for other artists for years, Perez is now launching his own line. His brand, Mason, takes influences from classic metal iconography, and gratuitously dials them up to 11 with a bucketload of macabre motifs — unreadable black metal lettering, skulls, snakes, more skulls.
“The brand’s aesthetic is inspired by a derelict masonic temple that stood unfinished for 75 years in downtown Providence” Mason’s press release explains. “Abandoned since the 1920s, it became a right of passage for local skaters and graffiti artists to break in and leave their mark, making it a temporary sanctuary.”
Mason is launching on August 10 at a special pop-up space in West Hollywood’s Mrkt Deux. The pop-up will run until August 13.
We caught up with Joe to find out about his work at DONDA, his thoughts on the metal tee trend, and the recent artist merch revival.
Tell us about the collection. What’s the story, and why now?
The Mason collection stems from the experiences of my youth. I was heavily influenced by metal, grunge and skate culture of the early ’90s. Works from artists Pushead and Vernon Courtlandt littered my bedroom walls and had a huge impact on my aesthetic. I really connected to these cultures through the personality of the artwork.
Why now? I reached a point where I had designed various merch pieces for a number of artists, but a part of me was still unfulfilled. I want to share what inspired me and got me involved in the arts.
Tell us about your work at DONDA.
Working at DONDA was a once in a lifetime experience and I enjoyed every minute of it. There aren’t a lot of artists like Kanye. He’s a visionary and a creative force of nature. No two days at DONDA were ever alike, every day had it’s own unique set of goals and challenges.
I am no longer involved in DONDA — I’m currently building my own design studio on the east coast.
What do you think of the ongoing use of metal iconography in streetwear and rap?
Overall I think it’s positive as long as it conceptually makes sense. The rock tee aesthetic made sense for the Yeezus tour as Yeezus was Kanye’s rock / punk album. A year after Yeezus I remember going into a Best Buy and seeing Metallica’s Master of Puppets on the “What’s Hot” shelf.
A part of me, my 17-year-old self, still cringes when I see imagery or logo designs from metal culture being appropriated completely out of context and devoid of any conceptual thought. My personal goal with Mason is to create a brand that pays tribute to metal and old school skate culture.
A lot of DONDA members have gone on to design their own brands — what do you think of them?
I think highly of every member of DONDA, past and present. It was an honor to work along side such talented people.
Yes, a lot of us have started our own brands, but the most important take away for me is that we all have our own unique creative visions. Through our individual voices we have established our own language of aesthetics that permeate our work.
You’ve spent a lot of your career designing artwork for records. Do you think the medium is still an effective way of communicating an artist’s vision?
Yes of course. I think it’s still equally important as people relate the music to the visuals of the album cover.
Is this the reason artist merch has experienced such a strong revival?
Artist merch has experienced a strong revival because physical album packaging has disappeared. Fans want something tangible so they feel a direct connection to their favorite music artist.
Be sure to visit the Mason pop-up at Mrkt Deux should you be in the LA area.
8649 Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, Ca 90069