Bulletproof founder Gush Mundae on the five books that have inspired his creative journey
Continuing our insightful series on the five books that inspire different creatives worldwide, we're now getting to see Gush Mundae's top picks. The founder of branding and design agency Bulletproof, these books reveal a little of what Gush has been through to build a business from nothing.
Moving to the UK from Delhi, aged five years old, Gush Mundae felt that as an immigrant, he was never "invited in", so it was a real hustle from the beginning. Hip-hop was just emerging in the UK, and he became obsessed with graffiti art ("getting him in trouble with the boys in blue and rival gangs"). But it was his art teacher who encouraged him to explore graphic design and consider a respectable career in the creative industry.
So, in 1998, Gush took the plunge and founded Bulletproof using £2,000 of personal savings. Today, Bulletproof works with the likes of Cadbury, Football Association Wales and Soapsmith from studios in London, Amsterdam, New York, Sydney, Singapore and – most recently – Shanghai.
Describing Bulletproof as his "life's work", we wanted to hear of the five books that Gush believes helped him in his creative journey. From street art to inspiring outliers, it's clear that Gush's life and career so far have been far from ordinary. Gush, it's over to you.
1. Subway Art by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant
No other book has affected and influenced my life as much as Subway Art. Just glancing at the front cover elicits a wry smile and fills me with wonder, transporting me back 35 years – when graffiti was the single most important thing in my world. What I once understood to be a photo journal of the best New York graffiti writers and their work, I now understand to be a love story between two passionate photographers and their gifted, impoverished graffiti writer upstarts.
I've owned four copies of this book, each one more dishevelled than the last, with my doodles adorning the pages alongside the great and good of NY writers. I'd stare at the letterforms for hours, mesmerised by the characters, and marvel at the sheer audacity of these artists. I'd also practice for hours on end to create a 'wildstyle' of my own. Little wonder then that this book formed the basis of a passion for typography, becoming a blueprint for my love of creativity, form, and colour – playing a key role in developing the global creative agency I went on to found.
2. Exercised: The Science of Physical Activity, Rest and Health by Daniel Lieberman
I've always had a deep fascination with the human form and the relationship our minds and bodies have when fully connected and the incredible output this can achieve. I'm also fascinated by 'nature versus nurture' debate and the extent to which culture, geography and our genetics play a part in our physical make-up and ability. And whether some people are just born naturally gifted in strength, speed, or stamina – or if this is something that mere mortals can achieve through practice and perseverance.
Enter Exercised, a brilliant book that feels like it has been written just for me. It's authored by Daniel Lieberman, a professor of biological sciences at Harvard University, in a way that my very basic 'right brain' can absorb. This deeply researched book interweaves the worlds of biology and physics with a deep anthropological foundation. It answers important questions and debunks myths on everything from biodynamics to disease, the need for sleep and motivation for exercise.
3. This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History by Chuck D
I can't remember what I had for lunch last week, but I can remember word for word an obscure rap lyric from 35 years ago – such is the power and influence of music in my life. And when I say music, I mean rap, which changed my life by giving me hope, joy, bravado, and courage. It helped me navigate a hostile UK before cultural understanding and acceptance were even a thing, and widespread racial prejudice was the norm. Today, rap music and hip-hop culture is undeniably the most creative force in shaping global futures across all media, cultures, and lifestyles.
This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History charts rap's meteoric rise from its humble and desolate origins in 1973 to the world stage as we know it today. Meticulously cataloguing the breakthrough artists who underpin and elevate this sonically super-charged genre, it's an inspiring story on the birth of hip-hop.
Written in part by Chuck D, a rap pioneer and activist, this book is expertly researched and a definite labour of love. Thumbing through the pages, I picture what I was doing in my life at these important intersections of time and reminisce fondly about dragging my then-girlfriend, now wife, around the record stores of Soho – searching for the latest 12-inch vinyl to play later that night at house parties across London. Those stores are long gone, giving way to boujee coffee shops and palaces of exotic foods, but rap and hip-hop culture is alive and well and bigger than ever – a gigantic Rebel Without a Pause!
4. Humans by Brandon Stanton
I love people. All people. All races, backgrounds, shapes, sizes, and colours. And what I love most about people are their stories. Humans by Brandon Stanton is a collection of ordinary people telling their ordinary stories – except they're anything but ordinary! Some are short, some are sweet, some are heartbreaking, some are uplifting – but the thing they all share is that they're heartfelt, intriguing, and emotional.
I grew up not wanting to read – the product of a terrible education and teen rebellion – and would turn to comic books for escapism and storytelling. The bite-sized paragraphs were perfect for me to understand. Humans are similar in this sense, but the superheroes are replaced by real-life characters who walk among us every day – and every one of them has a different superpower.
5. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
You may not know the name, but you know the brand. Named after the Greek goddess of victory, Phil Knight's Nike brand transcends the industry foundations on which it was built – a shoe and apparel phenomenon which manages to capture the zeitgeist of multiple generations, defining cultural codes and shaping future trends. If I had achieved in my life what Phil Knight has in his, I would have it tattooed on my chest and walk around naked! Thankfully, Mr Knight possesses far greater humility than me, and it's because of this that Shoe Dog is so engrossing, choosing to focus on the founding years of Nike – the mistakes and missteps, the soul rather than the success with candour and modesty rarely expressed today.
Ever since I heard rapper KRS-One's lyric on Word from Our Sponsor – "I represent my DJ Scott LaRock – D-Nice, the beatbox I only wear Nike's, not Adidas or Reeboks" – I was hooked, and Nike became my staple footwear brand of choice. Thirty-five years later, this book only serves to make me a bigger and more loyal fan. Great brands have a great story, which is an absolute belter.