The dream: your favorite artist appears in your inbox, saying they love your work. For the ever-talented visual artist pvtso (pronounced pat-so), this dream became a reality two years ago when someone from Jamla Records reached out, asking him to craft the cover for Rapsody’s upcoming album, Laila's Wisdom. While pvtso admits that Rap had a solid idea in her mind before they began working together, their creative relationship flourished into something truly transformative.
“I can’t express how much I’ve learned from her in the past two years; how to be patient with my work, how to try and learn to let the universe take care of what it has to take care of, how to always strive to perfect my craft,” pvtso details.
Working so closely together, Rapsody also gave pvtso an immense amount of creative freedom. Their relationship was a wellspring of inspiration, which left pvtso with over 20GB of ideas and a handful of unused CD booklets. Rap’s constant encouragement, pushing him to never settle for less than one-hundred percent, resulted in an innovative and touching set of visuals.
The album’s main artwork captures the central tenet of Laila’s Wisdom, a quote from Rapsody’s grandmother: “Give me my flowers while I can still smell them.” Specifically, pvtso points to the finer details: the innocence of the young girl pictured on the cover, the ring of flowers, and the ring of jewels.
Since the record is meant to empower young girls and women of color, pvtso decided to connect the cover art with love. “Obviously, the message to give flowers is the main one, but when you think about it, who do we most often give flowers to? The people we love, the people we want to know we appreciate and cherish them,” he says.
“Laila’s Wisdom is a journey as an album,” pvtso added, ever grateful to have been a part of Rapsody’s journey for the past two years. For what seemed like hours, he and I spoke about his working relationship with Rapsody, the process and meaning behind the covers, and how the music reflects the art and vice versa.
How did you and Rapsody connect?
I think it was around two years ago when someone from Jamla Records reached out to me over email and let me know about Rap’s upcoming album and that she’s seen some of my work on social media, and she would like for me to be the artist who makes the cover.
How many drafts did you go through before settling on an artistic direction?
In all honesty, Rap had an idea about what she wanted the album’s artwork to represent from the get-go. Before she gave me the keys to start working on it, I exchanged a few emails with her team—we still hadn’t talked to each other at that point—and they gave me the quote her grandmother used to tell her all the time: “Give me my flowers while I can still smell them.” The album’s message will be an inspiration to young girls.
I would say we settled on a direction a few times, but it always kept evolving and changing, because we were always thinking about the whole booklet and how everything should connect and make sense altogether. I have over 20GB of files, photos, ideas, and concepts we worked on, as well as at least four to five different booklet variations and probably around fifteen different album covers. It was definitely a lengthy process, but what you see in the actual physical/digital booklet… I think we both said, “This is it!” around January 2017.
How hands-on was Rap during the process?
Man… Rap knows what she wants! I mean that in the most flattering way possible. Right after I had sent the first drafts, she wanted to get my phone number so we could exchange ideas regularly and talk about everything in more detail. She was incredibly open to hearing all of my ideas and my vision for how the album’s visuals should look. She would always ask things like “What do you think about this?” or “Can we try that?” She would always encourage me to try something new and to not settle for what we have until we both love it one-hundred percent, while also giving me the ultimate freedom artistically.
The more conversations we had—the more in sync we became with how we approached everything. Personally, I really loved that the most about the whole process, getting to know her as a person and building a real friendship with her! The more I got to know Rapsody, the person, the more confident I became of my own abilities and ideas and I just kept sending her everything that ever came to mind. It started coming together organically and naturally, to the point where it is now.
How did you reconcile both of your styles to make this really innovative art?
Connecting with each other and getting comfortable with our working relationship to the point where it grew into a real friendship. I can’t express how much I’ve learned from her in the past two years: how to be patient with my work, how to try and learn to let the universe take care of what it has to take care of, how to always strive to perfect my craft.
We started on this way before she was signed to Roc Nation, so just her taking me on the journey of creating the album was huge. Obviously, I wasn’t around her in person, but just her making me feel like I’m a part of the whole process of creating the album—not only the artwork connected to it—was a blessing. I think that’s what allowed us to combine all of our ideas in a beautiful and innovative way.
What was the inspiration behind the main cover?
I knew what the album is going to stand for: inspiring young girls to give flowers—not only physical ones—while they can, to believe in themselves, to love who they are, how they look, to appreciate their culture. These are all really beautiful and sincere intentions for an artist to have as the main values and overall message of their album. Keeping that in mind, I wanted the artwork and booklet to be able to capture all of these things, but at the same time I didn’t want it to be too “dreamy” and “soft.” We live in a very dark and tough world, especially for women of color; therefore, I thought about what could represent the purity and innocence of a child the most and when I got this batch of photos and saw that particular photo, it hit me instantly. She’s just a kid on the playground, playing with crayons, enjoying life without the burden of having to worry about anything and not knowing how fucked up the world can be.
We did a cover that’s kinda different than what you see now and for a few different reasons, we had to change it. So me and Rap decided to throw it over to Manzel and see what he could do with it. And he definitely did his thing! He added the gold bracelet and the moment I saw it, I knew I have to add the flower wreath because it finally looked complete and it represented all of the values the album has instilled in it.
How does the cover capture the sonic direction of the album?
Laila’s Wisdom is a journey as an album. It touches on a lot of different topics, issues, and personal thoughts we all have and go through as humans. It also offers a plethora of “colors,” sonically and lyrically. Terrace [Martin], in an Instagram post not so long ago, wrote in the caption underneath the photo: “There’s so much love on this album.” I believe that’s what connects the cover and the album the most: love. And a kid can love in the most unconditional way possible without having any back thoughts about it.
There’s something different for everybody to interpret, whether it’s Lola’s confident look, which connects to Rapsody’s infectious confidence on the album. Or whether it’s the beauty of the flowers, all the colors and seasons, or whether it’s the attention-grabbing golden bracelet, which stands for pride—it’s all connected through love.
You employed a collage aesthetic for several of the album's promotional images, what was the inspiration there?
That whole thing happened very organically. I was literally having a conversation with Rap about life in general, and I was on a bit of a break from the album’s booklet and packaging since that had already been turned in. I was just letting everything breathe and anticipating the album’s release just like everybody else. But that conversation we had, not necessarily through what we were actually talking about, but just her point of view on the matter, was what made me think, “Hey, this might be a cool promo artwork for the album!”
I ended up doing that piece, where Rap is sitting on her throne, surrounded by the same wreath used on the album cover. Rap and 9th Wonder really loved it, which made me think, “Alright, how can we expand on this?” The next day I shared my ideas with Rap, and we all agreed it would be really cool to have a different piece, depicting a different atmosphere for all the contributors on the album.
What’s the significance of the biplane in all of the supplemental images?
I’m glad you guys noticed that! We always wanted everything to be cohesive and build continuity within the whole album, and the whole campaign before the album’s release. The plane stands for the journey around the world. All the images are set up in a different atmosphere—outer space, the mountains, pyramids—and they have a different vibe to them. I wanted to have that plane consistently on there to show how you can go anywhere in the world and fly high and make your presence known. We also had a yellow Mustang on each and every one of them, too! That’s based on the line “Poppa just copped a Mustang.”
The image of Rapsody sitting on the throne shows her either on top of the world or on another planet, conquering it in her name and in the name of the Roc. Was that the overall idea?
Yes, I would say that’s a good description of the idea behind it. She’s just in her world and she’s in control of everything. She’s confident with everything. Also, I think the way Busta Rhymes keeps calling her “Queen” is something that played a big part while I was working on that piece. Another thing I wanted to make sure was present was her love for Snow Hill. To underline that, I decided to put the yellow Mustang on the road that leads to Snow Hill, showing that even though she’s the queen of rap—to me, at least—she will always stay true to her roots.