On the last day of January Lemoin Thompson III, better known as Buddy Esquire, died in a tragic fire at his home in the Bronx. Esquire, often referred to as the “king of the hip-hop flyer,” was an innovator in designing handbills for the block parties that were responsible for the growth of hip-hop in its earliest days.
At his funeral, the importance of his work as an illustrator and graphic designer was echoed by scene pioneers like Afrika Bambaataa and Theodore Livingston (aka Grandwizzard Theodore): “’A flier either made you want to tell everyone about the party, or not go at all,’ said Mr. Livingston, 50, who huddled with former graffiti artists in the back of the funeral home, swapping stories about Mr. Thompson. In the spirit of hip-hop braggadocio, he shut down debate over whether Phase 2, Mr. Thompson’s competitor, may have been better. ‘Buddy. No question,’ Mr. Livingston insisted.”
As a kid coming of age in Pittsburgh in the late 1980s and early 1990s, fliers were a crucial part of my introduction to music, whether it was metal, punk, hardcore, or hip-hop. Like so many of my friends, I used to collect fliers for all the shows I attended, hanging them on my bedroom walls as inspiration. Looking at Esquire’s work, it reminds me of Buda, the Pittsburgh-based graffiti artist and DJ who gained fame after being featured in Henry Chalfant’s Spraycan Art. Buda came to prominence several years after Buddy Esquire, of course. But their stylistic influences — science fiction, comic books, and the omnipresence of Vaughn Bode — are markedly near the surface in their work.
In a remembrance over at Vice, Johan Kugelberg, who’s compiling a book on Buddy Esquire’s work, makes some fitting final comments on the legacy of the “king of the hip-hop flyer”: “Buddy Esquire designed hundreds of flyers from 1978 on, but he never made a living from his art—instead working at UPS for several decades. Sometimes fame and fortune doesn’t come to the people who were there first. Buddy truly knew the value and influence of his work. He never showed bitterness over his level of fame and recognition. He told me that he was proud of his art, and that he felt that its influence would continue on for a long time.”
(Photograph: Boo-Hooray Gallery. Caption: From 1977 to 1982, Lemoin Thompson III handcrafted some 300 hip-hop party handbills in his scruffy one-bedroom apartment.)