Music may require physical action to reach our ears, but the experience of music is an immaterial phenomenon. It’s fun to obsess over the way instruments, plug-ins and vocal manipulation affect the vibes and timbres of a song, but you can do that for hours and never grasp what the artist intended. I can’t imagine being tasked with physically manifesting the ineffable core of an artist’s music, but I’m learning to appreciate the nuance it takes to accomplish.
I hadn’t heard about graphic designer farris until a few weeks ago, but if you’re tuned into the pulse of new school rap, you’ve seen his work. He’s cultivating a reputation as the “go-to” man for esoteric album artwork, just last year having done the covers for Lil Uzi Vert Vs. The World, The Perfect LUV Tape, Savage Mode and 1017 vs. The World. Originally based in St. Louis, the 21-year-old graphic design student is setting himself up for a career providing rappers with a visual expression of their thematic elements. While his path in album design has been short, it’s a testament to the power of social media and an inspiration for others to get paid doing what they love.
farris began messing around with Photoshop late in his high school career. “I would do single covers for local rappers, nothing major," he explained over the phone. "It wasn’t paying the bills, so I focused more on school.” That’s a story familiar to any creative. There’s a perpetual tension between dedicating your energy to the art and making sure you have the income to survive and see that effort come to fruition.
“I started to get back into it right before I got in contact with Uzi. I DM’d him in December of 2015, after I heard Luv is Rage,” he said, adding, “I was feeling the project, so I sent him some fan art I’d made. He responded, said that he liked it, and I kept sending him stuff.”
He tells me all of this lackadaisically like he doesn’t grasp the weight of how cool it is for a DM to lead to a paycheck. Sure, established rappers and other artists use social media platforms to stay connected, but an unknown visual artist reaching out to a budding rap star? Good luck.
farris' unlikely success not only speaks to the way he represents dualities in his artwork but also showcases his ability to resonate creatively with people like Uzi and 21 Savage. He’s able to balance playful and profane, solemn and sanguine, to highlight the polarities in these rappers’ records. Uzi will be the first to tell you his feelings on this “rap shit” exists on a moving spectrum.
For Lil Uzi Vert Vs. The World, we get a whimsical picture of Uzi staying focused on his beloved Brittany amidst turmoil from “haters,” paparazzi and the pressures of fame.
Savage Mode shows us the other side of farris’ creative potential. It’s full of warm tones, almost completely red, with a sinister edge. It plays into the horror themes 21 Savage employs in his music and the psychedelic rose petals interspersed with white lines make the cover look like it’s been crumpled from fifteen years of sitting at the bottom of a CD rack. The blurring of old and new mirrors Metro Boomin’s continuing innovation, bringing together classic and contemporary production styles.
It’s worth noting that farris linked up with Metro almost the same way he did with Uzi, via Twitter. After the release of Lil Uzi Vert Vs. The World, Metro began following farris and the two bonded virtually over their shared St. Louis history, leading Metro to reach out to him a few weeks later when they needed a cover for Savage Mode.
Many creatives believe being in a specific location will give them more success through some type of spatial osmosis, but talent and timing can transcend geographical limitations. farris has still not been in a room with any of his most successful clients.
That didn’t stop him from getting to work with Uzi right away. “The first thing I did for Uzi was the cover art for 'He Did It,' a track he dropped on Christmas day in 2015,” farris recounts. “After that, I did the artwork for 'Money Longer,' when it was released as a single, and he liked all my pieces so much that he wanted me to do the cover for Lil Uzi Vert Vs. The World.”
From the beginning, the two have had a collaborative work relationship, with Uzi playing creative director and farris executing his vision and adding to it when necessary. “We have the same vision for album art,” he continues, “so it’s easy for us to sync up. I think that’s why he likes working with me.”
I asked him to go into more detail on the creative process behind their first full-length collaboration: “He said he wanted a Scott Pilgrim vibe. I’d never seen the movie so I watched it and tried to see what he was going for. When I was looking at pictures online, I saw the one of Ramona on Scott’s head and knew that was the base of the cover. I did a quick sketch of it and changed the characters. He loved it and we started building off of that idea. I worked on the colors in the background because I thought it would unify the main piece. We kept tweaking the other elements until it was perfect.”
Uzi and farris kept building on the Scott Pilgrim theme for The Perfect Luv Tape, which was released three months later.
The cover features Uzi and his companions jumping through a door in a hallucinogenic cloud, heading God knows where. It's lighter than his Savage Mode cover—odd to say about a piece dominated by black space—but it still has the ethereal nature of his other work.
farris is continuing this trend on his most recent projects with Epic-signed group Divine Council. He’s already given Council member ICYTWAT the cover for his soon to be released MILK project and plans to keep working with the group in the future.
In his short career, farris has shown promise aiding artists in giving their music a visual reality. He’s gearing up to finish school, join Uzi’s creative team full-time, and keep striving to grow his artistic ability. Towards the end of our talk, he expressed interest in being a creative director for artists, or maybe even exploring the advertising world. He recognizes the importance of graphic design and the value he brings to artists’ music.
“Album artwork is the face of the music,” he said just before we hung up. “If something stands out, you’re going to click on it. We all judge books by their cover, right or wrong.” If that’s true, be prepared to continue judging a lot more artists’ books by their farris-designed covers.