Kanye’s creative agency with Virgil Abloh, Heron Preston & more (2012-2016)
As influential as Kanye & his collaborators are in the contemporary fashion / design scene, it’s unusual to imagine that there was a time where he was laughably dismissed by fashion’s elite as a cocky rapper. Perhaps in an attempt to unify his creative ensemble under one umbrella, or to prove naysayers wrong on a commercial scale, Kanye launched the DONDA creative agency via Twitter in 2012. The goal of the agency was always a broad one; to revolutionize practically every consumer sector through enhanced aesthetic experiences and ideas. Kanye & co were thinking way past music.
DONDA maintained a deceptive state of mystery throughout its years of operation, as no one really knows for sure who was 100% apart of it & where it was based. Members confirmed though include DONDA’s creative director Virgil Abloh, as well as art director Heron Preston and Matthew Williams to name a few. (All of whom would launch independent clothing brands following DONDA’s end in 2016). Though the collective’s initial plans spanned multiple industries, DONDA mainly operated within the music industry, designing a handful of concert sets and album artwork for artists like Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz. Perhaps their most impressive work, the firm designed & executed a special film for the Cannes film festival titled ‘𝘊𝘳𝘶𝘦𝘭 𝘚𝘶𝘮𝘮𝘦𝘳’; a 35 mins fusion of art and cinema displayed on 7 surrounding screens.
Almost all DONDA projects boast a long list of design credits that featured multi-disciplinary collaborations with creatives abroad. Recently, DONDA designer Joe Perez has detailed the process of creating the ‘𝘠𝘦𝘦𝘻𝘶𝘴’ cover with the team, even noting that the original title was going to be ‘Thank God For Drugs’. We’ll look further at the design of the minimalist ‘𝘠𝘦𝘦𝘻𝘶𝘴’ cover next.
Behind Kanye’s ‘Yeezus’ album artwork
From Daft Punk production, to Justin Vernon of Bon Iver singing alongside Chief Keef on a track; ‘𝘠𝘦𝘦𝘻𝘶𝘴’ was paradigm-shifting for hip-hop. In typical Kanye/DONDA fashion, the album was a minimalistic masterpiece that featured unlikely collaborators thriving in unison. Legend has it that rock music guru Rick Rubin even swept in at the 11th hour to strip the record down to it’s core elements. This vision of minimalism is reflected on the plain yet sharp album cover for ‘𝘠𝘦𝘦𝘻𝘶𝘴’. For the firs time ever, Joe Perez, a former art director of DONDA, has taken to Instagram to detail the journey of creating the refined work.
Perez created the account @opt_archive at the top of 2020 to share over 100k unreleased projects he has stashed, many of them DONDA pieces. Throughout the past few months, Perez has released a variety of differing ‘𝘠𝘦𝘦𝘻𝘶𝘴’ concept works from 2013, detailing that there was at least 20 rounds of designs, with many variations within each round. Each design is served with the DONDA team’s credits; often Virgil as creative director, followed by Perez, Heron Preston, Justin Saunders & Nate Brown amongst others in art direction. Various unreleased edits feature artwork by New Hampshire’s contemporary genius George Condo, who designed the ‘𝘔𝘉𝘋𝘛𝘍’ covers. Perez also shares that an early concept of the album featured the title Thank God For Drugs instead.
Considering the final product turned out to us was a naked CD with transparent casing and a splash of red labelling, it’s almost counter-intuitive to imagine that the ‘𝘠𝘦𝘦𝘻𝘶𝘴’ album artwork project spanned many months & drafts. All artwork/images are property of Joe Perez.
Cover art designed by DONDA
Capping off the #WRPDwith DONDA set, we’re sifting through a few of the popular album covers designed by DONDA during their influential four-year reign. The creative agency was appointed by many of hiphop’s elites (from within Kanye’s GOOD music camp and elsewhere) to steer the aesthetic direction of their respective projects from 2012-2016. Many of the covers they designed incorporated their signature theme of minimalism, a design technique that is often conveyed in much of Kanye’s art.
Considering Kanye was both the head of the GOOD music label & DONDA agency, it only seems natural that his artists like BIG Sean, 2 Chainz & Pusha T would turn to the creative team for their cover design. The basic yet elegant designs of 2 Chainz’s ‘𝘉.𝘖.𝘈.𝘛.𝘚 𝘐𝘐’ and Pusha T’s ‘𝘔𝘕𝘐𝘔𝘕’ toyed with the conventions of mainstream rap album covers in the mid 2010’s. In a similarly simple yet text-focused style, DONDA also popularized the raw in-your-face imagery of ‘Mercy’ on Cruel Summer and BIG Sean’s ‘𝘎𝘜𝘈𝘗’ single.
Across the proverbial rap pond from GOOD Music, Lil Wayne’s YMCMB crew also used DONDA’s services. They created the dark, silence of the lambs-looking artwork for Lil Wayne’s ‘𝘐 𝘢𝘮 𝘕𝘰𝘵 𝘢 𝘏𝘶𝘮𝘢𝘯 𝘉𝘦𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝟸’, the Jay-Z inspired cover for Nicki Minaj’s ‘𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘗𝘪𝘯𝘬𝘱𝘳𝘪𝘯𝘵’ & the gold-plated ‘𝘎𝘰𝘭𝘥 𝘈𝘭𝘣𝘶𝘮’ cover for Tyga. The 2015 Tyga album was also executively produced by Kanye West.