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Covered: Capturing Big K.R.I.T.’s Aura With Designer Tony Whlgn

“I like to use imagery that captures the truest form of the music’s nature.”

Well known for his recent work with Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era, Detroit artist and designer Tony Whlgn (Pronounced: Hoo-li-gen) is helping to shape the art direction of the Beast Coast. 

Thanks to a referential aesthetic, leaning on historical influences, and a heightened attention to detail, Whlgn's work also caught the attention of Big K.R.I.T, who connected with the Mississippi rapper-producer in 2012, and made him the perfect artist to manifest K.R.I.T.’s vision for his forthcoming double-album, 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time.

When it came time for Whlgn to work on 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time, Whlgn says that K.R.I.T and his team already had a strong direction in mind, and it was up to him to capture that aura and manifest it throughout both covers. The color palette, Whlgn explains, is both an ode to K.R.I.T.’s consistent use of purple across his releases, and invokes the spiritual meanings of gold.

Communicating spirituality is actually one of the themes of the double album. “The Big K.R.I.T. side would be true to that Southern king of hip-hop we all know, and the Justin Scott side would represent that refined, spiritual soul that we’re accustomed to,” Whlgn revealed.

While fans can hear the dichotomy of Justin Scott and Big K.R.I.T. in the album’s singles, they are also apparent on the album covers. All at once, we have Big K.R.I.T. portrayed as surly, looking down on the game—assuming his place on the throne—and we have Justin Scott, eyes closed, deep in prayer.

To get a full sense of how the covers came together, DJBooth spoke with Tony Whlgn to discuss the art direction for 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time, Whlgn’s use of reference material, and how the art direction translates sonically on K.R.I.T.’s 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time (out Friday, October 27).

How did you connect with Big K.R.I.T.?

I connected with K.R.I.T. back in 2012, we met in the Ecko Offices through [Jonny] Shipes. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a couple of projects with him over the years. Later this year, in the second quarter, K.R.I.T., [his manager] Dutch, and Steve[n Brown], called me about the album. They gave me some insight, sent over a few of the tracks, and sent some amazing photos shot by Joshua [Kissi]. Seeing as I’m from the Motor City, I felt it was always right. This was a moment I’ve been waiting for.

How did you two settle on the art direction?

K.R.I.T. and Steve had a strong creative direction in mind. I came through and manifested that vision. A lot of it revolved around relating each side [of the album] to its respective sound. I used an analogy that my brother Najee gave me on an old box Chevy and a Tesla, K.R.I.T. loved the reference. We settled on the idea that the Big K.R.I.T. side would be true to that Southern king of hip-hop we all know, and the Justin Scott side would represent that refined spiritual soul that we’re accustomed to.

Were there any prior ideas or sketches you could share with us?

These are some of the references that I pulled, that I felt best captivated K.R.I.T.’s vision.



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Describe the process of blending your own art style with K.R.I.T’s vision.

Usually, when the vision is explained to me, he wants it to be clean and simple in the design aspect. My style tends to represent that, simultaneously holding heavy amounts of detail. I also love to include Easter eggs in my work for people to find. I do a lot of studying of the past and how things used to be in comparison to how things are now. Things in history tend to repeat themselves over time, and I like to represent that in my work when working with people who understand trying to get a message off in a subconscious sense.

Do you have a signature style and if so, how is that represented on these covers?

I think one of the the biggest features of my art style that comes through, is being able to amplify the persona of an artist by combining my digital and analog drawing techniques. I like to use imagery that captures the truest form of the music’s nature, to assist in a visually compelling story, placing visuals in my work that has a reason and a place. Integrating my artistic skills in painting, digital, and technical drawing techniques is like bringing different worlds together.

The color palettes across both covers include gold. What does gold represent in relation to the album?

In relation to the album, gold is usually associated with illumination, prosperity, and wisdom. It's known as a transitional metal that inspires spirituality and a deep understanding of self and the soul. If you’re a true K.R.I.T. fan you’d also know the purple is an ode to his other album releases.

The coloring is very important in your work. How do you go about picking which colors to highlight for a cover?

I typically go with colors that I intuitively feel represents the artist’s aura in a sense, or even simply by asking their favorite color. Usually, artists have an idea of what color they’d like the direction of their brand to go in. Sometimes they don’t, and then it's up to me to choose. For this direction, the pinks were selected by K.R.I.T. and Steve, after having pink to work with and the colors in the fabrics styled by [stylist] Kwasi Kessie.

For this double album cover, explain the symbolism behind the eyes closed versus the eyes open?

Seeing as Justin Scott is the more spiritually-evolved side of the album, the symbolism of the eyes closed is due to prayer, which within a majority of religions is considered a private matter. It’s a form of mediation to most between a person and their Higher power. Instead of using the eyes to communicate with the audience, you shut them and turn your thoughts inward to block out the distractions and focus on the conversation.

How do the covers represent what fans can expect to hear on this record?

The different covers are simply to represent K.R.I.T. in his true hip-hop nature, and his truest spiritual nature. We’re on some “If it don’t touch your soul” type shit.


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