Brandon Breaux: The Man Behind The Cover Art of Acid Rap, 10 Day & Chance 3
At this point, it's a sort of foregone conclusion that Chance The Rapper will only continue to assert his control over the music world at-large with the impending release of his #Chance3 project. That got a further teasing this week with the unveiling of the artwork for the project. Three years since Acid Rap and nearly five since 10 Day, Chance's new project will be the third installment in what he's calling his mixtape trilogy, As Chance has grown and evolved both as a musician and a person, the covers of his projects have seemed to reflect each; the music itself following suit. One prevailing aesthetic of each project though has been the cover art, which seems to be artistic takes on distinct points in young Chano's growth. The reason for that consistency is easy to figure as well, there has been a singular force behind the imagery that finds itself to the front page of Chance's work and that force is none other than Chicago artist Brandon Breaux.
A longtime visual artist in the city, Breaux first linked up with Chance to create the cover for 10 Day and had similarly been tapped for the ensuing full-lengths (a different artist was used for SURF). A prevailing consistency in Chance's work has always been his ability to blend the world he grew up in with the one he now occupies; pairing The O'My's with Busta Rhymes on SURF or inviting J. Cole to a neighborhood party in Logan Square. It's in that sense that Chance has once again looked to Breaux to largely underline the theme for the project at large. The evolution is palpable: on the first one Chance is hopeful and looking upwards, the second we find him lost and confused, clad in tie-dye and looking us in the eye and on the third we get a warm confident smile, peering lovingly downwards, a hat firmly on his head with "3" prominently displayed. The covers mimic life for someone who we've all seen grow right before our eyes almost literally. With a daughter, a family and an album on the way, Chance is certainly coming full circle. To get a more full sense of what the cover really meant and what went into the most recent edition, we caught up with Brandon to chat about the concepts for the covers, how they came to be and what's next now that the trilogy is coming to a perceived end.
• 2012 •
These Days: How did the 10 Day cover first come about, did Chance approach you?
Brandon Breaux: I was approached by Mathew Lyman, aka Contraband at the time. Mat was his manager at the time. He liked this one cover I did for Christian Rich some years back for an album/mixtape called The Decadence.
TD: You had mentioned you had played with this digital oil painting style before, can you talk to us about how you got into that sort of style & why you felt it was a good match for this project.
BB: Well at the time I had done a few other album covers and for a mixtape cover I did for Holt around then I was playing with this digital painting style but I could only do it in black and white. When I did the 10 Day cover it was the first time I did digital painting like that so it took longer than anticipated and I had to add the color later because I was really doing it like you would do an oil painting, doing an under painting then adding the color. Took long time and I barely finished it on time.
TD: During this time I remember Chance talking a lot about feeling like a character in a coming of age film - he even alludes to it in “Prom Night” with the Charlie Bartlett line - so I always found the comic book-esque themes fitting... was that why that was incorporated or did that idea come from somewhere else?
BB: Naw, the cover happened pretty independent of the inspiration of the brand ideas Chance had planned. We were just somehow on the same page and the art began to influence and drive the brand more because it worked well with what he was already going for.
TD: The artwork was really like nothing else at the time, what do you remember the initial feedback being for it?
BB: Pretty much people were like "damn, you snapped." The goal was just to make it stand out incredibly and try to use his face because I know that’s important with vocalists. People wanna see their faces. Most folks I’d talk to like radio personalities and I remember Childish Gambino specifically saying to me that the artwork is what made him listen to the album and that’s something you can only hope for but we hit the right nerve with folks and it really worked really fucking well.
TD: What other projects were on your plate around this time?
BB: Around this time I don’t even remember that well. Nothing mattered as much as this art and this project after it dropped. I didn’t anticipate that but that’s what life is so I didn’t resist it. I was working on Ends/Wealth Corp. at the time and we were doing Portage Chicago, but this was much more meaningful to the culture and I accepted that and was proud of the project. I still kept doing my thing but this project helped me realized the value of my artistic talent in a way that no other project had before.
• 2013 •
TD: With this project being as big as it was, this album cover really became larger than life & was really what a lot of people identified him by for the last few years - what was it like seeing it become as big as it did?
BB: It was pretty damn crazy. The impact was much greater than 10 Day it was really exponential growth. It was unbelievable to see something I did get so much larger than any work I had done especially since we managed to do it twice and it became more than twice as huge. This art work pretty much changed the landscape of how artists started to brand themselves. Everything was artwork after this, everybody was trying to do a painting on the cover of their albums. Drake even bit the 10Day cover with his NWTS cover and didn’t bat and eye but we knew. I saw Chance at Art Basel right after Drake dropped the art and the first thing he said was “It was so raw that they had to bite it man.”
TD: The background of this one was always something that I found myself in awe of, can you tell us where that came from?
BB: Well, man it was pretty crazy man. It was like stars aligning and the cover pretty much says that specifically with his face as a constellation in the sky. So this time around I had to play off of OJ’s work because it was introduced early in the build up for Acidrap. It kind of set the tone for the trippy vibe and at the time tie dye came back really hard so it seemed that having an album that really exemplified the climate and was pairing rap (which was really gaining even more wide spread popularity at the moment) with psychedelics at a time when it mattered the most was incredibly convenient. So the colors and the vibe came from the current time and inspired by tie dye and someone tripping on acid watching the sun set.
TD: The reference photo was taken at SXSW correct? What do you remember about that day?
BB: Well I had made these Tie Dye tank tops before we went to SXSW and I gave them to Chance and that wasn’t event the intention I was just like you’re gonna be down there and I have these so here you go, in the back of my mind I’m like I hope you wear this. I don’t remember if I gave it to him before we left for SX or after we got there, anyway the tie dye shit just really fit with the vibe and it literally was the perfect shit to wear out in Austin leading up to a release called Acidrap. So we went to the venue where chance was gonna perform and set up a booth to sell merch and Chance shows up and he’s wearing the tank top and a hat we gave him so I’m like that’s cool. He did the show lost the hat on stage and hopped off the stage and my business partner juan grabbed him to take a photo with him. It was crazy because they left the stage lighting on and it happened to match the tank top colors 100% and I didn’t know I’d be using this photo that I took of him and Juan for the cover I didn’t even know if he’d ask me to do the new cover the shit just all came together and when Pat couldn’t send me any photos of him to work on for the cover I said fuck it I’m just gonna used this photo I took of him and Juan, his face looks like he’s kinda tripping on some shit already and I’m gonna have to paint Juan out of the picture.
TD: The ‘Acid Rap’ text was done by OJ Hays, but fits in so perfectly. Was collaborating on that as seamless as it looks in the final product?
The best part about that is that OJ and I didn’t really have any conversations we were talking through one another through the art so I was going off the branding he had already put forward because I was moving in the moment. I mean it was good that some text was already done that I could incorporate but I pretty much grabbed the text from google dropped out all the color used a gradient overlay to match the color with the sunset background I put in and I arched the type to give it a fuller and taller look and that was it. Actually it was down at SXSW that same year when I saw OJ’s "Good Ass Intro" video one morning headed down to 6th street and I was so inspired do the cover. I decided in that moment that I had to do it. OJ killed it he animated the Chance head logo spinning and it was so Chicago sounding I was just like I have to be a part of this next project. So the momentum between these events, videos and appearances is what gives all of this culture stuff life in my opinion.
TD: What’s the best thing you’ve heard in regards to this album cover?
BB: Man everything from kids saying that it’s their favorite cover off all time to it being labeled the #1 album cover of the year on several websites.
TD: Tell us a bit about where you were as an artist in 2013...
BB: In 2013 I was really a designer. I hadn’t found what I wanted to share with people as my art yet and I’m just scratching the surface of that now even. At the time I was really disappointed with what I was seeing from the art world and fashion and in music. A lot of what felt very inauthentic to me and still does in many ways. I was disappointed with reality, disappointed at myself for not having pursuing a career in art because I didn’t truly believe in myself, I didn’t believe I could do it and be fulfilled.
• 2016 •
TD: Just as Chance had to follow up an amazing album, you also had to follow up in a big way… how did you feel when presented with the opportunity?
I was really honored. We had a tough time figuring out the compensation for the last two albums and it took a long time. I wasn’t feeling that part but it happens sometimes. Being an artist can be really frustrating at times especially when your clients blow up like he did and you can’t get them on the phone because they’re really that busy. My advice to artist that may be going through that is just weather the storm, don’t be afraid to negotiate price and be patient it will all come around.
So through all of that I was really happy that Pat & Chance reached out to me for this project especially since SNL and Kirk Franklin and Madonna and Kanye. So I’m just pleased to be apart of greatness that is meant to heal and help the world.
TD: It was a much larger gap of time between this project and Acid Rap than it was between the first two, with the growth you each have gone through since 2013, was this one approached any different from the first two covers?
BB: Yes it was this process was a lot more collaborative. Chance’s growth and maturity is evident this cover reflects that. His concept for the cover reflects that. The other covers I just did on my own and I think he’s in the place right now to collaborate and be clear with what he’s going for and that’s what the cover reflects, being grounded, being happy, being thankful and not being afraid to smile.
TD: There’s a huge promotional campaign rolling out behind this project, we’re seeing huge posters covering walls in different cities, billboards and bus stop ads in Chicago, how exciting is it for you to see you’re work out in the world on this scale?
BB: Man that shit is crazy. It’s really cool, you know I don’t know what it means tho. I won’t know until the next project or until the people come up to me and really tell me what it means for them. But I do understand that it means something that’s greater than all of us. This work touches a lot of people and the impact is impossible to quantify.
TD: When you look at all three of the pieces together, what comes to mind / what do you feel?
BB: I feel like I can never say I can’t out do my past works, can never say that I’m inconsistent or that I don’t constantly aim to grow my perspective and my skill. I feel accomplished and that I was a part of a pretty cool and meaningful trilogy.
TD: Outside of this cover, you have a lot of other things going on right now, can you fill us in?
BB: Yeah always a lot in the works I can talk about two things. I’m working on a youth program and mental wellness with my girlfriend in the Grand Crossing/Chatam neighborhood where I grew up on the South Side. Also I have an art show with Dougan Khim on June 10th at the Chicago Art Department. I have a feeling it’s going to be a very phenomenal experience if you are a fan of Fine Art and or Anime.