Buddy Esquire was a self-taught American graphic designer, famous for his contributions to flyers for early hip-hop concerts.
Esquire was born in the Bronx, New York, and lived in the James Monroe Houses. In 1972, he began creating graffiti, tagging under the names, “ESQ” and “Phantom 1.” Graffiti was an early practice in artistic development. He said, “I kept practicing and eventually I got better at handling letter form.” His graffiti career ended in the early 1980s.
Esquire’s first flyer in 1977 was created for a neighborhood block party. He taught himself how to draft posters by following books from the public library.
He named his style, “Neo-deco.” Esquire used Art Deco-inspired borders and deco dry-transfer typefaces from Letraset. Though graffiti was often associated with hip-hop at this time, Esquire wanted to create an identity for the shows that were not only legible, but professional and stylish. This visual style was in contrast to the settings of most live hip-hop events in the Bronx from the late 1970s and early 1980s: local high schools and community centers. “That’s what I tried for, you know: give it a level of class even though it was just a ghetto jam,” he said
Death and legacy
Esquire died in 2014 at the age of 55. Though he made great contributions to design, he never made a living wage from his work. He worked for UPS most of his life.
His funeral was attended by big names in early hip-hop: Afrika Bambaataa, Charlie Ahearn, and Theodore Livingston. Buddy Esquire’s work is archived for Cornell University.
A book of his handbills was published by Sinecure Books in 2015, titled “Buddy Esquire: King of the Hip Hop Flyer.”