Known as "The Flyer King" of the '70s and '80s Bronx hip-hop scene, Buddy Esquire died at age 55 this week.
While there have been no official reports about Esquire's death, artist and Vice contributor Nick Gazin wrote on his Instagram that The Flyer King passed away Thursday night from a heart attack. Fans of Buddy's work have expressed their grievances on social media
Before the Internet age, hip-hop artists trying to make a name for themselves looked to flyer designers to spread the word about their shows. And without a dope flyer, there was no party. Buddy Esquire was the man who ruled the medium, helping legends like Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, The Cold Crush Brothers, Spoonie Gee, and the Treacherous Three rise to fame with his Neo-Deco flyers.
Mixing Japanese anime influences with hand lettering and Art Deco themes, Buddy Esquire designed over 300 flyers between 1978 and 1984. Esquire and other flyer kings made their art entirely by hand, combining magazine cutouts, photographs, dry transfer letters, and drawings. Although Esquire came from a graffiti background, tagging walls and trains with "ESQ" before he even heard a hip-hop beat, his flyers were a different breed of artistry. He denied his hip-hop roots in order to stand out.
In an interview with Old School Hip-Hop, Esquire claims he found a typography book in a New York library and began copying the letters. He liked the result: "So I was like, figuring, 'Let me do it this way, and that will make my stuff noticeable.' And my way was doing it with the letters straight out drawn like on this Maxell box you have here. You know letters like that—nice, straight, even letters. So I started doing it like that. People seen what I was doing and started wanting me to paint for them."
After creating a flyer for a block party a year earlier, Esquire's first work for a hip-hop artist was his flyer for Break Out in 1978. From that design, he kept working until he earned his nickname. Under an atmosphere of friendly competition, Esquire rose to the top ahead of other flyer legends like Phase 2 and his brother Eddie Ed. Many of the flyers from this era are held in the Cornell Hip Hop Collection, preserving the style and feel of early hip-hop culture. On June 30, ARTBOOK D.A.P. is publishing a monograph called Buddy Esquire: King of the Hip Hop Flyer.
Buddy Esquire paved the way for the whole visual culture of hip-hop. In both the art and music communities, he will be deeply missed.
RELATED: 30 Classic Hip-Hop Party Flyers