Our artwork has always had a backstory from our very first day printing up designs on hemp t-shirts. There's always context, and the material history (pun intended) behind our famous slogans and artwork matters - at least to us! Comedy and culture are things that often age quickly in a society with rapidly evolving social relations. Yet over 23 years on, we've managed to amass a bunch of designs that have stood the test of time - well, at least you lot seem to think so.
Here are six of THTC's most iconic t-shirt designs - but honestly, picking these is like picking your favourite child. We've had so many we've loved over the years that it's been difficult to rank them.
Chant Down Babylon
Chant Down Babylon was the second design we printed from Mau Mau, the radical graffiti artist and muralist. This design has become synonymous with THTC - but also emblematic of our relationship with the artist behind it.
Gav was first introduced to Mau Mau through mutual friends, Skitz and Rodney P, back in the early 2000s. On a visit to the old Lowlife Records offices, Gav loved the artwork on Rodney's recent releases - The Future and Big Tings We Inna. Hailing from the North Devon coast - now in Bristol - Mau Mau has always been a street graffiti artist of the old-school ways. Breaking onto roofs, trespassing, and doing walls that few else could reach, his early days brought him into the circles of King Robbo, Banksy and others. His artwork has appeared on everything from shipwrecks to surfboards to billboards to city walls, in locations as far-flung as Jamaica, Australia, Egypt and Thailand.
His moniker - Mau Mau - was adopted after his time in Ghana in the early nineties. A three-week visit became a four-month stay with Rastafarians from the Twelve Tribes temple who couldn't pronounce his name. They called him 'Mau Mau' - and the name stuck. 'Mau Mau' itself, however, refers to the people of Kenya who rose up against British Imperialism in the late 1950s. While the Mau Mau rebellion was brutally crushed, it was another nail in the coffin of the British colonial rule in the African continent - and a symbol to others of the spirit of resistance.
We did a small run of Mau Mau's 'Dat's All Folks', his Disney Satire piece. 'Chant Down Babylon', which featured Mau Mau's personal lion motif, was the second piece we commissioned from him. For those who aren't in the know, it's a big deal when a famous graffiti artist lends you his iconography - his very own logo which he and his son, the infamous rapper Joe Burn, have tattooed on themselves. We're sincerely grateful for the ongoing 'loan'.
Get Rich or Try Sharing
It might be seen as unfair that we have two Mau Mau pieces in our top 5, but in all fairness, he has done the artwork for over two-thirds of our collection! 'Get Rich or Try Sharing' is one of our all-time best-selling designs. We'd argue this slogan has outlasted and overtaken the memory of the 50 Cent album this is named after - Get Rich or Die Tryin'.
Initially, this piece was an illegal graffiti bomb - which THTC was a part of. In 2013, Mau Mau got in touch with Gav to let him know he wanted to do a piece in London. Using Gav's house as a base, Mau Mau spotted the empty wall on the side of a former HSBC bank on Camden High Street. Under cover of darkness, Mau Mau set about making the now-viral artwork, gaining access to a roof with his stencils.
Despite mostly completing the work, he got chased off by the police. He made it back safely to Gav's after evading the rozzers. Soon after, we decided we wanted to make some t-shirts with the slogan. We swapped out the foxes for a more class-identifiable 'Tiny Tim' character, and that was that.
Over the years, we've realised that many folks don't quite understand the slogan. 'Getting rich' and 'sharing' are mutually exclusive. It's a comment on the nature of our hyper-individualised society, where kids are taught to think it's ok to exploit the housing market for profit; where the idea of a billionaire is venerated; where most economies are pyramid schemes. As we've said in this blog, making a lot of money is pretty impossible. If you're paying your workers correctly, you're not cutting corners and actually being a moral, ethical person. Vast concentrated wealth in the hands of the few is one of the reasons our planet is in the predicament it's in.
Here's a song that gets it - by one of our brethren. Joe Publik's 'Get Rich or Try Sharing.
Printed back in 2004, Herb'n'Warrior is Gav's favourite design and a favourite of quite a few artists and the THTC family. This one-colour print was designed by long-time collaborator, Fybe:One and Herse.
This commission was based on Gav's dream - one of a World War One soldier climbing over the parapet under enemy fire to plant a hemp seedling. The abstract shadows, negative space and simplicity make this design stand out from many of our other prints.
Over the years, this artwork has been the backdrop of many of our fliers and print ads. It was also the header design of our first-ever website. It's also been the t-shirt of choice for many rap artists - including our late friend, Metropolis aka Ebow Graham, Method Man and many others,
Desolation is one of our more recent designs, inked by the genius that is Fybe:One. On an excursion to Brighton to visit the DJ/Producer turned graphic design legend, Gav and Fybe spent a day chatting ideas and sketching up ideas. Gav had wanted to do a global warming design and didn't really know where he wanted to go with it. I asked Fybe to start by drawing a turtle, and the design evolved over the course of a few hours.
At the time, Fybe was creating a lot of 'animal explosion' artwork - some of which, like 'Circus', had already made it onto THTC prints. The turtle with the world on its back, drowning in the waste of our excess. On the surface, it seems a depressing design - but like many of our prints, it's a cautionary tale.
This is another design that became synonymous with THTC and one that harkens back to our proper drum'n'bass roots. Back in the day, when we had money to spend on things like PR, we worked with a fantastic woman - Joe Maclean.
Joe was label manager at TruPlayaz, the record label run by Hype, Pascal and Zinc. As most THTC stories go, it all started after a trip to Fabric. Gav had won tickets for a TruPlayaz night and ended up chatting to Joe, who'd run the competition. As is often the case with THTC encounters, Joe resonated with what we were doing, became good friends, and did a bunch of incredible PR hookups for us.
Joe came to us with the idea for the t-shirt, something for the Junglist crew. Apparently, we learned that Hype and Pascal may have also contributed to the concept. We handed it over to TruPlayaz graphic collaborator Owen Tozer who worked up the design.
It's pretty easy to see why this became one of our most popular designs.
George Bush & Sons - Family Butchers
This t-shirt is what got us on the map. At the height of the Iraq war, around 2003/2004, our two most popular designs were - 'Burn Bush Burn' and 'Smoke Bush Not Afghan'. George W. Bush, following in his father's murderous footsteps, had taken us to war (of course, with the tacit support of the UK and European allies). On an evening of getting stoned and setting the world to rights, Gav's close friend, Saif, came up with the slogan - George Bush & Sons, Family Butchers, a pun on the old shop signage. Gav found a suitably old-timey font - and that was that.
In the days before Facebook and Twitter were really a thing, going 'viral' was a very different beast - but we still managed to. Our design was worn on the front line of protests and anti-war demonstrations. People started noticing us being worn by folks on TV - like the comedian Rob Newman, Mark Thomas - and even Goldie. More and more people managed to find us and our t-shirts.
If you would like to know the exact scale of the Bush Family and America’s legacy in Iraq and elsewhere, we’d recommend listening to Season One of the very awesome podcast, ‘Blow Back’ which is available on Spotify.