Design Diaries 02: One of Akon’s first demos
In 2002, I was living in Minneapolis working with Prince for the past 2 years and just finished up as the opening act on his USA tour with the Fonky Bald Heads. He became like a big brother/mentor to me. It was a dream to make music and perform with him. P wasn’t feeling well and 3 shows into the second leg of the tour, he cancelled the remaining dates. At the time I only had a little money but was pretty much broke and had no idea what I was going to do. I visited ATL for a week and designed a few album covers for a contact who had a deal with Epic Records. I made more money in a week then what 2 months worth of work got me in MPLS. The following week I left all my shit, packed one bag and moved to Atlanta to start a business designing album covers. There was an explosion of independent record companies at that time. I was handling design and printing for dozens of those labels. For the next 7 years, I designed somewhere between 800–1000 album covers for a variety of artists including singles, vinyls and mix cds. At the time some of these artists were unknown but later became huge. I only knew a few people but there was one person in particular who had great connections, so I offered to design all of his album needs for free in return for introductions. Boom. Money fountain.
One of my first clients was Devyne Stephens (famous choreographer and imaging expert for Laface, TLC, Boyz II Men, Pink and many other artists). He wanted to start a label that had 3 artists who needed album covers so he could shop their demos and potentially get them signed. One of those artists happened to be a talented writer and producer, named Akon. They wanted something minimal with Akon standing in front of an old Lincoln with a Herb Ritts feel. I am in no way Herb Ritts, lol. Also I didn’t have an image of a Lincoln, so how was I supposed to get one? This was before the internet was a thing. At the time I didn’t even have an email address and never used the internet other than to check the weather. I went to Barnes & Noble on Peachtree to look for old classic car books and found an image of the old Lincoln at the exact angle I needed. I had to buy the book because I needed to scan the image at home (which makes for ugly halftones that you have to try to curve out and hide in Photoshop.) Afterwards I returned the book and got my money back. These days we have stock photo websites.
I went on to design many things for Akon and Devyne over the years including the logo for Dreamland which was the mansion featured on MTV cribs. Yes, his house had a logo :-) When I look back at the first album cover art I can see all my amateur design mistakes; like part of his ear and shoulder missing, pixellation, halftones, washing out of the whites and blacks, lack of skin retouching. Anyway, I was hungry and determined to become a great designer. My hustle and eye carried me a long way and eventually I would become much better.
I’ve been in Los Angeles since 2010 as a Creative/Art Director working on digital campaigns and sites for brands, films and TV shows. I’ve worked on Key Art concepts for Netflix including Marvel’s the Defenders recently. I’ve designed covers or art for Prince, Gucci Mane’s first 4 albums, 2 Chainz, Paris Hilton, KRS One, Monica, Chad Smith from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Killer Mike, Stankonia Studios, T.I., Mint Condition, Evander Holyfield, Jagged Edge, Q from 112, Kalenna from Diddy’s Dirty Money, Rocko, Rasheeda, Kandi, Shawty Redd, Khia, Diamond, Dem Franchize Boyz, J Kwon, Gangsta Boo and many more. I still do album covers sometimes since it’s where I started and I still enjoy it.