Mike Frost Will Share His Vast Houston Hip-Hop Visual Knowledge at Rice

Brandon Holley, who helped Mike Frost create his catalog of hip-hop album-covers, goes through stacks of hard drives looking for gold.
Brandon Holley, who helped Mike Frost create his catalog of hip-hop album-covers, goes through stacks of hard drives looking for gold. Photo by Mike Frost
It's a good thing Houston's Michael Moore spent so much time learning enough graphic design and web development that he could get a job working in oil and gas. Even though that industry is going through its ups and downs, it's still faring way better than his original job designing CD covers for rappers.

But Moore, better known in the local music community as Mike Frost, grew a catalog over the past two decades that warrants inclusion into Rice University's archives. From here on out, we'll refer to him by his hip-hop pseudonym, because it's best the search engines don't get him confused with the documentarian who can't stand our president.

Frost has been working hard for much of the year getting ready to showcase his past exploits in the H-town rap realm, going through old hard drives, camera data cards and CDs.

click to enlarge An early example of Frost's design work, from 2001. - SWISHAHOUSE RECORDS
An early example of Frost's design work, from 2001.
Swishahouse Records
Along with his business partner Brandon Holley, he's culled some 600 photos and 250 album covers, along with some art from Houston's rave days from some 2 terabytes of data. He's also prepped a couple of unreleased Paul Wall videos with music produced by Happy Perez that's about ten years old.

This weekend Frost will give a presentation of his latest contribution to Rice's Woodson Research Center that's part of the hip-hop collection at the Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning.
His previous submission included memorabilia and designs from 1999 to 2009, and included
work he did for Microsoft's Zune media player (remember that?).

But Frost won't stop there; he's coming with stories. He'll bring tales about his family, especially his dad, who Frost says had a nervous breakdown and bought a lion. Frost's career as the go-to album cover guy for Houston
rappers includes stories about Slim Thug and South Park Mexican. He's made photos with Bun B and Pimp C. He's signed contracts with big agencies and probably worked for the grace of just a handshake.

Frost was an outsider working with outsider rappers. "I used to jump around cultures," he said about his days working with punks and ravers and lean sipping rhymers. "That's what I brought to rap. I knew how other cultures looked at rap."

It's the simplicity of some of the covers that he shot and designed. He says his aesthetic came from wanting to avoid the flash and glitz of cover artwork at the time. All the fake shine he tried to avoid.

A post shared by Mike Frost (@slfemp) on

But he didn't have anything against diamonds or jewelry. "Like Paul with the grill; that was him, that's what made him stand out, and it was a business he had with Johnny," Frost says about designs he did for the rapper.

"I got picked on a lot when I was a kid, and I started to do things to boost my own security and my dad would call it an 'image carrier,' he adds. "And that's what I saw when I first started to do rap covers."

It was his aim to eschew the standard Master P pixel covers that a rival design shop in town seemed to have a monopoly on. And for a while Frost was able to get a lot of work. Every major rapper on the come-up did a project with him.

And now, all that work will be available to the academy.

But collecting it all has been a huge problem. Frost started out young and didn't develop a professional workflow until later.

"The deal back then was that storage was expensive. For a young kid doing graphic design making four grand a month, I burnt a lot of stuff to CDs, and some of the early ones are corrupted," he says. "Early Rap-a-Lot, early Boss Hogg Outlaws, there's a lot of stuff I'm missing. I'm trying to find a data-recovery place that knows what they're doing."

With Frost's body of work, it's easy to see he knew what he was doing.

See a gallery of Frost's cover designs on his Instagram page. He will present his collection at the Dimensions Variable event at the Moody Center for the Arts, which kicks off at 12 p.m. Saturday, October 14. Frost will discuss his collection from 4 to 5 p.m. Rice University 6100 Main, For information, call 713-348-2787 or visit Free.

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Camilo Hannibal Smith started writing for the Houston Press in 2014. A former copy editor, he was inspired to focus on writing about pop culture and entertainment after a colleague wrote a story about Paul Wall's grills. His work has been published in the Los Angeles Times and the Source magazine.