top of page
  • Staff

More Street: Interview with Asya Blue, Creative Director of The Hip Hop Museum in The Bronx

Save The Date Design for Hip Hop's 50th Birthday Jam Block Party Hosted by The Hip Hop Museum
Save The Date Design for Hip Hop's 50th Birthday Jam Block Party Hosted by The Hip Hop Museum

Founded in 2015 and scheduled to open in the spring of 2025, The Hip Hop Museum is positioned to be a space that "celebrates and preserves the history of local and global Hip Hop music and culture to inspire, empower, and promote understanding.” And though hip hop music is the most recognizable element of said culture, it actually envelops so much more!

The 52,000-square-foot museum, which is currently in construction, is located on Exterior Street. The official groundbreaking was held on May 20, 2021, and attended by a number of hip hop culture’s luminaries, including Nas, LL Cool J, and Fat Joe. It’s a part of the South Bronx multi-use development project called Bronx Point, which is fairly close to the so-called birthplace of hip hop on Sedgwick Avenue.

Design for the museum's first public exhibition, [R]Evolution of Hip Hop (now closed), at the Bronx Terminal Market
Design for the museum's first public exhibition, [R]Evolution of Hip Hop (now closed), at the Bronx Terminal Market

At this time, you may be wondering how an institution that isn’t yet open has been operating since 2015. The museum's first public exhibition, [R]Evolution of Hip Hop (now closed), premiered at the Bronx Terminal Market on December 6, 2019, which serves as the museum’s temporary home until the end of construction on the main site. But the museum also relies on social media and live events to attract global as well as local visitors, provide educational experiences, and to fund raise.

And those funds are being put to good use. Plans for the museum include a 300-seat theater, a gallery, and community space. Plus, some rebranding is happening before the museum officially opens. Initially known as the Universal Hip Hop Museum, the institution changed its name to The Hip Hop Museum in September 2023. This, of course, required a logo update and an expansion of the museum’s branding around it.

That’s where Asya Blue comes in. The graphic designer has been instrumental in developing and streamlining the art direction for the museum since she joined the organization in 2018. So, when the time came to renew and reimagine relevant assets, Blue got to work, often being guided by the THHM team — which includes a collective of hip hop pioneers led by executive director and founder, Rocky Bucano.

She started her 30+ year career with a BFA in Communication Design from Parsons in NYC. Since then she’s worked as a graphic designer and art director at various in-house creative and marketing departments, moonlighted as a teacher, and continued her own education with a MH from Tiffin University in Art and Visual Media. She currently runs her own multidisciplinary design studio and is an adjunct instructor at the New York Institute of Technology.

Asya Blue, Creative Director of The Hip Hop Museum
Asya Blue, Creative Director of The Hip Hop Museum

ARTpublika Magazine had the chance to catch up with Asya Blue and learn about her career as well as the exciting work she’s doing for The Hip Hop Museum and the culture it represents.

So, you were born in the Soviet Union and your family immigrated to the United States when you were eight years old. Did your parents encourage you to study the arts or was it something that you came to on your own?

No matter what you do — you could be an engineer, a writer, or a scientist — the arts are very important to Russian families. So, [even though] neither one of my parents is an artist, I was always into art (mostly drawing) and grew up going to museums. So art was never discouraged.

When I was in high school, one of my art teachers told me about a weekend pre-college program for students at FIT called Saturday Live. So when I went there, I tried different things — like fashion illustration, etc. — and they were eye-opening experiences! But when I took a graphic design class, I was like: “Oh, this is what I want to do. This is the one.”

What clicked?

[Fusing] creativity with an organizational aspect. I can draw, and if I take drawing classes I can get better, as a lot of people can. But design is not reliant on drawing. It’s more about bringing concepts together and aligning things, which are totally up my alley. Also, the idea that I could now apply to art school for college just felt right. [Plus] my parents were fine with me going to art school because it was associated with a job. So, I applied to art schools, and Parsons was my number one choice.

When did you first start paying attention to the design and artistic elements around you? Perhaps in your youth?

We were taught calligraphy in middle school, and I really liked it. And then another teacher taught us how to make candles, and I really liked that. It never clicked that this could, eventually, be called design — all of these things were categorized as: Oh, she likes art.

So, when you started to study design, what elements did you first begin to notice around you?

Oh, it really opened up a whole world for me! I had great teachers who taught me about type, and it just felt right! I was like: “This is amazing!” I also started to learn about other designers, who were making all of this amazing work.

I went to Parsons before design was [digital]. We were relying on old fashioned mechanicals — cutting and pasting — so it had that practical sense, where you did things by hand. It felt like art. I don’t know how I would feel about it if I were studying it now and it was all computer based, because I like working with my hands.

You’re a teacher. Do you encourage your students to sketch first?

Impossible. They won’t sketch. I used to try to get them to sketch out ideas first, but they go straight to the computer. And if they do sketch, they do it in very broad strokes.

So when graphic design started to become digital, how did you adapt?

This was really early on in my professional career. At school, everything was done by hand, and digital was just starting. I remember that in my senior year, I was drawing some very basic things on an old version of a Mac computer, but I didn’t yet see that as graphic design, because at that point I was already familiar with design and how to create my portfolio.

My first job was at Penguin Books. When the industry started to change, they brought in computers and trained us; I had one-on-one training with a professional who taught me the application. That was so great, because I started there when they were still doing things the old fashioned way and then they were like: This is happening!

Was it a difficult transition?

I was still young, [in my early 20s] and I was like: Let me learn this new thing, this is great! So, I loved it, it made sense to me and was very logical and intuitive. Everything we do on the computer has origins in how we used to do things by hand, in terms of mechanicals. It was an exciting but fairly easy progression for me.

Did you stay there a while?

I didn’t stay there very long because, as it turns out, I like variety, which is what I have now with my own agency. We still do a ton of book covers. But what I loved about Penguin Books was working with other designers in a hierarchy, under an art director.

So often now a company will need to hire a designer but they’ll hire a student and tell them to design this or design that. But the students are not learning from other designers, instead they’re learning from business people or marketing people. So, I loved that I was working under an art director. And I really loved working with other people in production and editing and marketing — seeing how I fit into the bigger picture.

Given your history with books, what do you like to read?

Fiction. I don’t really read nonfiction stuff. I love books about people and lives. A lot of it is about New York families.

What kinds of music do you like?

My husband and I were watching the VMAs and were like: Who is this? I actually listen to a lot of my old stuff. I grew up in Queens during [the height] of Run DMC, so I love my old-school hip hop, which is great with The Hip Hop Museum. De La Soul were at our recent gala and it was amazing to see them! We did a tribute hip hop cruise to Missy Elliot. But I also love disco, 70s soul, and jazz. So, my music tastes are varied but a lot of the new stuff I just kind of don’t know.

After Penguin Books, where did you go next?

I worked for a very small company that did fashion trade shows, where I got my first introduction to business to business, rather than business to consumer. Then I worked for a magazine in educational publishing. That was great! Going from Penguin Books where I was doing covers but wasn’t working with any text type, I was excited to be back at it. That and we did layouts and photoshoots — just working in children’s publishing was fun. After that I went back to working full time again for a few years. But, about five years ago, I started my own business and began work for The Hip Hop Museum.

It's Time For Hip Hop in NYC merch
It's Time For Hip Hop in NYC merch

How did you get involved with The Hip Hop Museum?

When I left my last job, I didn’t have clients lined up. But I posted something about leaving my job on Facebook; I think I took a photo of my ID and me leaving the office and said something about starting my own thing. Robert Reid, who is [involved with THHM], is my friend from high school who I’ve known since the ninth grade. He saw my Facebook post and got in touch. He [explained that there was no building yet, but if I was interested in getting involved, he’d make the initial introductions.] And I said: “Yes, that’s amazing! That sounds so cool!” He put me in touch with Rocky and then I started working for them.

Hip hop has evolved into a huge culture, so what are the challenges of conveying it and its messages visually?

Because I'm not from the culture, sometimes I don’t get parts of it and I’ll create things that Rocky, who is our executive director, will say to me: “I need this to be more street.” And it’s funny because much of what I design is not for my world. And that’s normal. I designed book covers for books about topics I am not necessarily familiar with, so I just have to be mindful of that and do the research. But I try to keep “the street” in my mind when I work.

How do you create the right headspace to do that?

There’s branding in place, so I don't try to reinvent the wheel every time. But if something is not coming to me naturally, I’ll go to my Pandora stations and listen to some old school hip hop.

It's Time For Hip Hop in NYC 2021 | Photo of Concert
It's Time For Hip Hop in NYC 2021 | Photo of Concert

Is there a particular project that you got to work on for the museum that was your favorite?

That would have to be when we did a series of borough concerts in collaboration with New York City! We were just coming out of the pandemic and the city was doing a “New York is Back” style promotion. [Part of that] was putting on a big concert in Central Park, but they collaborated with The Hip Hop Museum for free borough concerts: we did one in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.

It was called It’s Time for Hip Hop in NYC and I got to design the look for it, which was then applied to everything: social media, web banner posts for the city, and huge directional signage at the concerts. So I love that! I love that about design — taking one thing and applying it to other things. The fact that it was seen by so many people and was on the news was just so great!

Given your background and where you work now, how does race fit into the equation?

Race is definitely part of the equation, but not in a bad way. It’s understandable that I’m not going to be like: Oh, we’re all coming from the same experience. And I’m always looking at the positives of this, being very open to the idea that I'm kind of privileged to be working with this group of people in this setting. We are very diverse, we have a lot of women on the staff, we have a lot of people of color, obviously. I didn’t have this kind of diversity at other companies, so this was really great! And because we’re close and have all been working together for so long, we’re open about race and don’t ignore it. I will gladly take a backseat when needed, I will listen, and I will let other people lead, because I want to be part of this team. And I don’t think they care that I’m white, we just have a great time together.

Five years is not a huge amount of time, but within this timeframe, what are the biggest changes at the museum?

Well, we have a building. I was at the groundbreaking in 2021. That was the first huge exciting thing. Like: It’s actually happening now.

Design for the museum's first public exhibition, [R]Evolution of Hip Hop (now closed), at the Bronx Terminal Market
Design for the museum's first public exhibition, [R]Evolution of Hip Hop (now closed), at the Bronx Terminal Market

Given how many female artists have been making a name for themselves in hip hop and the female creatives and leaders at the museum, has being a woman immersed in hip hop culture been more exciting in recent years?

You know, it’s definitely part of the conversation. Whenever we try to get artists to come to events or feature them in our social media posts, even with more women in the industry, it’s still not equal and we’re always searching for more. When we do a promotion or campaign, everyone on the team is like: We need to have more women included. The team itself is pretty balanced and always had a lot of women, but the industry, I think, is still a very male dominated one.

We don’t ignore the negative aspects of this industry; we acknowledge them because we have to. There have been instances when the museum wanted to work with some person but we were like: Oh, this person may be problematic. So we do have these discussions, we can’t ignore that.

When you design, how do you communicate visually to different genders, age groups, backgrounds?

We pull from the culture. We have done graphics for panels about women in hip hop. So, when I was designing the assets, I didn't make them very girly, but I did use a crown — playing around with the term “Queen.” You use words related to the subject matter. We do often talk about attracting younger audiences, because hip hop is huge now. But it’s tricky, because we don’t have a museum that you go to, so we have to make things that are media friendly, like livestreaming virtual panels.

We teamed up with Deutsche Bank and did a Hip Hop Pride Float at the Pride Parade. That, to me, was huge. Being part of the Pride Parade while being in an industry that is not necessarily associated with that was very exciting. And this financial institution joining forces with the museum for Pride was such an incredible experience.

Who is your favorite visual artist?

I’m going to say David Hockney. He has a variety of work, he does photography, he does drawings, and he’s still working. The scale is great.

Who is your favorite musician?

Bill Withers, because he’s so good and 70s soul is still great!

Who is the best musical performer?

Rod Stewart. I’ve loved him since I was a kid.

Who are your favorite authors at the moment?

Ann Patchett and Cathleen Schine. I used to love Philip Roth, but that’s when I was young and I’m not sure how I would feel about his work now. And I love John Irving.

And finally, who is your favorite rapper?

Ohhhh! Snoop Dogg. He has such a distinctive sound, and he’s a character and a fun person.

Note* All of the images were supplied by The Hip Hop Museum and used with permission.


bottom of page