Pen & Pixel once was to graphic design what McDonald’s is to gastronomy : a mass-production company, instantly recognizable, not really focused on finesse but highly effective. And culturally relevant, too : during the 90’s, the agency immortalized the underground movements of southern rap and pushed to the extreme every glittering codes of modern hip-hop. Let’s go back to the Pen & Pixel legend with its founder, Shawn Brauch.
A: How did the company start ?
S: My brother and I were working for Rap-A-Lot Records in Houston, Texas. My brother was general manager of the label from the start, he had worked there for a number of years. Other than 2 Live Crew, Rap-A-Lot was was the first exposure that America had basically seen to gangsta style southern rap. I came to Rap-A-Lot in about 1991 to assist him directing music videos. My main purpose was story-boarding. My brother was more into business, I was more into graphics. Before that, I went to the Chicago Art Institute, I have one degree there and another one in Parsons School of Design in graphic communication.
A: What albums did you work on, over at Rap-A-Lot ?
S: Quite a few. One of the first albums was Prince Johnny C, and most of the Geto Boys albums.
A: Why did you choose to leave Rap-A-Lot and run your own business?
S: We had started using computer special effects on some of the album covers of that time. Willie D’s “I’m Going out like a soldier” was actually the first CD cover to use a high amount of photorealistic special effects. When that album came out, people started saying that they wanted that for their covers. So they would come to Rap-A-Lot, thinking that they would just get the artwork and nothing else, but Rap-A-Lot obviously said that was impossible. The demands for the work went up to the point where my brother and I said “Listen, that sounds like a good business venture, so let’s start and do our own thing“.