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There is perhaps nothing more influential in pop culture today than hip hop, which means that its graphic design is at the forefront of the industry to promote tours, sell albums and spread the word online. Whether it’s Rihanna’s album cover or the font that is used on Yeezy’s latest clothing line, there are dozens of graphic designers behind some of hip hop’s biggest stars. Here are some of the most talented graphic designers in the industry.
1. Virgil Abloh
Chicago-based designer and DJ Virgil Abloh is the most famous man in the hip hop world’s graphic design; he is Kanye West’s long-time consultant and has designed the album covers for West’s albums My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Watch the Throne. But he is also the creative director of Yeezy’s creative agency Donda, which has created some of the most iconic merchandise and branding in pop music. The creative agency, which is named after West’s mother’s first name, has worked on famous hip hop album covers for artists like Tyga, Nicki Minaj and Pusha T. They’ve also worked alongside West for his fashion line Yeezy and designed Kim Kardashian’s Selfish book by Rizzoli. Most recently, Abloh has designed Lil Uzi Vert’s album cover—fitted with colored tape.
2. Roy Nachum
When Rihanna released her album artwork for Anti 2015, it has a set of braille artwork by Israeli-born, New York-based artist and designer Roy Nachum. The entire album has liner notes are in braille—there is not a word of print language on the inside. Nachum isn’t blind, but he did teach himself braille in 2009, just out of curiosity. Ever since, he has made paintings with braille writing on them, so the blind can touch them and experience his visual art tangibly. “I wanted to do something that opened people’s eyes and let people think,” he said. “On the other side, it’s an opportunity for people who cannot see to experience visual art as well. It’s one of the most important things I’ve ever done.”
3. Cali Thornhill Dewitt
You might have heard of Cali Thornill Dewitt, the Los Angeles–based artist and designer who is best known for designing Kanye West’s “Life of Pablo” tour merchandise. Known for using all-caps text written in iconic Gothic font—with phrases like “I feel like Pablo” and “We on an ultra-light beam, this is a God dream”—he says he created the work because simply, he loves words. “Clear use of words and language is the best way to communicate, and life is about communication more than anything,” Thornhill Dewitt says. “The cultural language is changing more rapidly now than ever, I need words to continue to learn that language.” Thornhill Dewitt continually uses the Gothic font for other projects, despite it being so closely tied to Yeezy’s trademark. “I have used it because I love it, it’s important in my work so far because it’s recognizable,” he said. “That said, I don’t feel precious or protective of it. I don’t have any intention of claiming ownership of it or using it forever.”
4. Vlad Sepetov
Sepetov has designed album covers for some of hip hop’s greatest artists, from Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly to ScHoolboy Q’s Oxymoron and Jay Rock’s 90059. On designing Lamar’s influential album cover, Sepetov said his approach is simple and fast. “Sometimes it starts with just a concept; the butterfly album with Kendrick was just a message that Kendrick’s manager sent me via text at like 11p.m. at night,” he said. “I had to make something that night using next to nothing; I had to just mock it up really fast. Sometimes that’s how it is: I am just given a bunch of photos and I have to turn them into something totally new. Each time it varies greatly.”
5. KD Designz
The young designer KD Designz has created album covers for Gucci Mane, Young Thug and Wiz Khalifa. The 21-year-old designer first got his start in eighth grade, doing work for Soulja Boy, who found him through MySpace. Then, Gucci Mane’s manager found him through Twitter. He has full artistic license to do what he wants. “The majority of the time I’m able to listen to the song or album first, so I can get an idea based off of that,” he said. “Sometimes, they have their own ideas, but usually they let me take it away, and they love what I send them. I always start my covers from scratch.”