Stephen Crooks -


By Stephen Crooks

Chuck and I go back a long way; it would embarrass him all to hell to say how far. But somehow, through the decades, I managed to be just about the only designer/illustrator he knew. And he was CERTAINLY the only hip-hop producer I knew!


Now the world of commercial art and design that I was flourishing in at the time, was full of rules: this size, that color, this branding, that style. So 1.) I was in no way prepared for Chuck to come to me with the proposition of creating something BRAND NEW, and 2.) I said a big ol’ YES immediately!


I’m white, but I had the opportunity to come up in the kind of diverse, integrated community that social scientists and politicians were first dreaming up back in the day. I love music, all kinds. Always have. And I love imagery, all kinds. But when Chuck came to me with a retro-future-urban-whatever compilation concept, I could tell this was something that, to my perception of the hip-hop market, hadn’t been touched yet in America circa 1996.


And even then I could see the limits of hip-hop iconography: babes and Escalades and high-gloss, big money visuals. Pick one from each category, throw it on ‘Yo MTV’ and you’ve got all the eyeballs. It was Chuck’s ground-breaking musical imagery that inspired me to seek out something completely different visually. Dark, gritty, noir… more ‘gangster’ than ‘gangsta.'


And here’s the thing that amazed me the most: Chuck trusted me; every word out of my mouth and every idea out of my head. In a line of work where everyone’s got a damned opinion about everything just to keep their seat at the table, that kind of faith doesn’t happen much, y’know? So over twenty years later, and it still gives me a thrill to think about how unique our working relationship was.


Now I can easily go on and on about the process of developing the Crime Scene visual world, simply because every moment of it: getting to know the music and the artists and Chuck’s unique mindset, setting up scenes, shooting video everywhere in the Five Boroughs, holing up in my art-and-tech studio to distill the images and create a world that nobody knew but us… every aspect of it is unforgettable to me. Even now.


But that’s like revealing a magic trick, y’know? Let me just say that… I’d do it all again. And will. Because like my friend and mastermind Chuck Malone says, ‘Got to be undeniable.’