Meet the Amazing Photographer Behind The Weeknd’s “Starboy” Album Cover

The Weeknd cares about his album art. This consideration dates back to his Trilogy mixtapes, even back then you could see he cared about capturing a certain look; illustrating a peculiar aesthetic. Just a few hours ago, The Weeknd revealed the cover for his upcoming album, Starboy. The colors instantly popped―the blue hue that layers over his body, the deep red-velvet background and the bold yellow font. The image looks more like a comic book cover for a new Marvel hero than an album cover, and even the name Starboy is hero-esque, but that’s the very reason the cover stands out. It’s worth noting that this is the first album to have The Weeknd without his signature hairstyle―the singer has finally chopped off his Basquiat-esque trademark. There’s also the cross dangling from his neck, which makes me wonder whether religion has played a big role in his life since revealing the beauty behind his madness.

The Weeknd credits Nabil as the photographer who shot his stunning album cover. I believe this is the first time that Nabil has ever shot the album cover for an artist. I revere Nabil Elderkin as one of the most talented photographers and video directors in all of modern contemporary music. From behind the lens, he has cemented himself in hip-hop and history. Nabil went from shooting surfers in Australia to shooting bands in Chicago, his hometown.

Being an avid lover of music he came across Jeanius Level Musik, Vol. 1, the Kanye West mixtape that predates The College Dropout. His love for the album and the little information surrounding the artist at the time lead Nabil to purchase the domain name for kanyewest.com. Before Roc-A-Fella, before Kanye West, it was Nabil who owned Kanye’s website domain name for a measly $20. When Kanye finally signed to the Roc, the label reached out to Nabil to buy the domain from him, but instead of money, he insisted on shooting Kanye. The pictures he took that day would become the first press photos for The College Dropout.

Instead of taking money, he took an opportunity and has turned that opportunity into a career. Since those press photos, Nabil has shot Kanye numerous times. All the infamous pictures from the Glow In The Dark Tour were shot by Nabil. He has directed the videos for “Welcome To Heartbreak,” “Coldest Winter,” “Paranoid,” and “Mercy.” He also shot Travis Scott’s “Piss On Your Grave” video, which features both Kanye and Mos Def. It’s also worth noting that he shot Kanye’s G.O.O.D Music Complex cover back in 2012. I know Kanye’s trust notoriety isn’t on-par with Metro Boomin, but it speaks volumes that Kanye has continued to work with Nabil since the very beginning of his career. Both creative minds got their big break around the same time and have gone on to do astounding work in the music industry.

When Frank Ocean was just starting to make a name for himself, it was Nabil who was handling all his photography. They went from shooting “Novacane” without a budget in Frank’s room to having a visual like “Pyramid”―far more feature film than music video. Compare the shoot from The FADER’s cover to the Oyster Mag spread they did a few years ago―you can see the progression between two collaborators. Nabil can go from shooting a video with a fairly unknown artist, to shooting someone sitting at the top of Fame mountain. The visual he directed for Nicki Minaj’s “Lookin Ass” is one of her most simple, yet captivating videos. Simple but captivating, with a touch of strange surrealism is how I would describe Nabil’s approach to his art.

Nabil isn’t restricted to just hip-hop, or just music, he has made strides into crossing completely over into filmmaking. Captureland, the short film he released last year, was done in conjunction with Nelson Mandela’s Foundation and the Tribeca Films Institute. The acclaimed film showed that his talent for creating short, cinematic visuals could extend beyond the confines of music videos.

He’s on his way to join the ranks of Spike Jonze, F. Gary Gray, and Michel Gondry, who went from MTV to movie theaters worldwide. His transition doesn’t mean he’s leaving music behind; he recently shot the short film for Vince Staples’ Prima Donna―a must-watch for anyone who hasn’t yet.

Nabil and The Weeknd hinted on Instagram that they were shooting a music video for “Acquainted,” one of the highlights from Beauty Behind The Madness. Sadly, the video has yet to be released. If it’s anything like the album cover for Starboy then we are in for a treat. It’s important to highlight all the talented individuals who are behind the cameras for great moments featuring our favorite artists. Nabil has been behind the camera for J. Cole and Kendrick, Lil Wayne and Nelson Mandela, FKA Twigs and John Legend―the names go on and on.

Great work deserves to be honored, and Nabil has spent over a decade creating great art with great artists. Honor him.

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By Yoh, aka Yohtographer, aka @Yoh31.

Photo Credit: Instagram


Originally published at DJBooth.net on September 21, 2016.

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