The summer may be about blurred lines, but with fall approaching, Bun B and Shea Serrano want you to start thinking solidly. And in color. Serrano, a Houston-based teacher, journalist, and illustrator has teamed up with the UGK legend to put together first a Tumblr page, and later a Rap Coloring and Activity Book; stencils, puzzles, and crafts based around 43 hip hop artists, both current and historic. Serrano got on the phone with us to talk about the book’s genesis, how he put it all together, and some of his favorite rap illustrations. “Bun B’s Rap Coloring and Activity Book” hits shelves on Sept. 17, but you can catch some printed images from the blog in our Issue 52, and even an exclusive page from the book’s cutting room floor below.
Mass Appeal: I know you’ve spoken about this before, but how did the book come about? I had read that Bun just called you one day after you did a piece on him.
Shea Serrano: That’s right. We spoke the night before. I was writing for the Houston Press at the time, and I was asking him his opinion on a song that had a Pimp C verse on it, so I was curious to know how he felt about it and their process. I wrote this thing and then I didn’t think anything of it.
But then the next day, I was at work; I teach at a middle school in Houston, so I don’t answer my phone during the day. I got a voicemail from him saying he had an interest in doing a book and he wanted to know if I wanted to work on him. I live in Texas, I’m a big UGK guy, so I was sort of blown away at the opportunity. I called him the next day and we set up a meeting to go sit down and talk about what he wants to do. At the time I thought he was going to want to do some sort of UGK-type of thing, but he didn’t want to do a serious book. He might do something like that later, but he wanted to do something that was sort of fun or funny, and that’s why he asked me, versus a bigger writer, perhaps. He just knew that he liked the way I wrote, and made him laugh. We pitched ideas, and eventually the rap coloring thing came up and he was all for it.
I downloaded Adobe Illustrator and watched a bunch of YouTube videos and talked to some people, and took about a month trying to figure out that program. Once I got the pictures to look like I wanted them to look, I sent one or two of them to him and he said “Yeah, go for it.” So we put them online and about a week later, it popped, and went all over the place.
MA: How did the collaborative process with you and Bun go? Did you guys bounce ideas off, did you show him things, did he just kind of trust in you?
SS: When we first started the Tumblr, I was trying to get a feel for how he wanted it to play out, because when we knew we wanted it to be a book, and that was basically it. So if I did a page that I thought was kind of jokey — this is Bun B we’re talking about, this is his name on the book — I would send it to him. Like, we did the Drake page with the no eyebrows and you draw Drake’s eyebrows on. And I said, “This is the kind of thing I need to know. Can I get to this point? Can I go past this point?” So I sent it to him and he just responded back laughing. He thought it was super funny.
So once we got there, I slowly stopped sending him the pages because he basically said, “You’re the guy who’s making the book, that’s why I picked you, so stop asking for my approval for everything.”
MA: Bun has said some artists declined to be in the book, but he didn’t want to put anyone on blast like that, which is understandable. But I’ve looked through the book, so could it be inferred from the people who aren’t in there but maybe would make sense to be?
SS: I guess so. Well, we didn’t ask everybody. He had guys he wanted to ask and I had guys I wanted to ask. Like, we didn’t hit up Diddy. There were two people that were like, “Nah, I’m cool, I don’t want to be in that.” It’s because they wanted money. Everybody else did it for free. Even the photographers that we worked with. We had to get permission from everybody, basically.
MA: There are people who have been on the blog. Like, I’ve seen some Wayne drawings and Nicki, and Kendrick and stuff like that.
SS: Yeah, you know some of them… like I could never get in contact with Wayne’s manager, for example, or Nicki’s manager, so, in those instances, that’s what that was. But basically everybody we were able to show a picture to, they were for it. That’s usually how it worked. I would message, let’s say, Wiz Khalifa. I would get in touch with his label, and try to talk the idea, and didn’t hear too much back and then so I just drew a picture and went, “Hey, here’s the idea I had in mind, check it out.” So most of those pictures I drew before we had permission, and I just did them on spec basically, and sent them over and crossed my fingers. I knew that if I could get a picture in front of somebody that we had a much better chance of getting them in there.
MA: You said you got permission from everyone whose face is in it, but there are some people who are faceless; those too? Did that require permission, too, or is that kind of a grayer area?
SS: That’s a grayer area. Abrams is a really big publishing house. We had offers from smaller places to do the book, and if we had gone with them it was sort of no rules, you do whatever you want to do, but if there’s any blowback, that’s on you. But Abrams, they’re too big, they don’t play like that. So they have a legal department and we have to run everything by them. We knew we wanted to put, like, a Tupac in there or a Biggie in there, but it’s kind of impossible to get their permission. So I came up with some ideas, of ways we might be able to do that, and it grew into what you have now — the faceless pictures. Because those are guys whose images are iconic enough that you don’t have to see their face to know who they are. You have the bandana, the sweater.
MA: Yeah, you’ve got, like, the tilted Jay Z Yankee hat, you know exactly who it is.
SS: What’s crazy is, for all those other pictures, the label would send us a picture. “Ok, Big K.R.I.T. wants to be in the book, here’s the picture we want you to use, we get final approval of the artwork,” whatever. With those ones, I couldn’t just grab a picture off the internet, so what we had to do was, my wife is a photographer, so I posed for those pictures and then I just drew them off of those. So, there’s no Tupac back there, that’s me. There’s no Biggie, it’s like me in a big Spurs sweater with a blanket tucked underneath, and then I’d draw that. If you sort of squint, you can tell, I can tell, that it’s me.