Though he doesn’t self-define as one, Bnard is as true an artist as they come. Born Bernard Rollins in Frederick, Maryland, Bnard had no formal training in the arts—only the desire to bridge his love of visuals and hip-hop.
As it turns out, that’s all he needed.
In place of studio workshops, Bnard spent hours falling in love with GZA’s Liquid Swords andrecreating his own fighting scenes on the back of scraps of homework. Just recently, Bnard’s special sauce turned into the two covers for the WESTSIDEDOOM EP, which was predicated on his successful tour posters for Westside Gunn's Griselda Records and Action Bronson.
“I'm heavy into art and Bnard got it,” said Westside, explaining why more formal training wasn't a requirement for Bnard.
Despite going viral, Bnard remains as humble as ever. His “just happy to be here attitude” is what makes his artwork so successful—there’s an organic love for hip-hop that bleeds from his bright hues. “I’m literally just listening to music and drawing,” he explains. “Whatever I’m into at the moment usually reflects in the illustrations. Everything else falls into place.”
You know what is worth more than the standard 10,000 hours of formal training? Certainty.
I reached out to Bnard to discuss his illustrating origin story, how the WESTSIDEDOOM art came together (with additional commentary from Westside himself), and what advice he would give to aspiring graphic artists.
How did you get started in the visual arts?
I’ve been drawing since elementary school. I have no real formal training. I’ve taken some community college courses but never finished out a degree. I’ve always been a big fan of hip-hop and always wanted to create a way to bridge the gap between the lyrics and visual art.
Was there one defining moment when you began to refer to yourself as an artist?
Mentally, I never liked calling myself an artist or giving myself any title because I don’t do it for a living. I feel like it’s disrespectful to those who did go to school for it and put in that work to make it their way of living. I have a full-time job. Art allows me to do what I like, meet artists I admire, and help pay for frivolous things like video games, sneakers, and camera lenses. If I had to pick one event to be considered the “defining moment,” I think it would be when Action Bronson reposted my drawing of him on Instagram. Everything changed after that. Everyone wanted work and I was trying to deal with going viral and having a flooded inbox all the time.
How did you both approach the WESTSIDEDOOM artwork?
Westside Gunn: Once I talked to Bnard and told him my idea, I knew he would get it right off jump. He was the only person I wanted to do it. I knew he already did DOOM art before, and we was already on fire because of the tour art he did for the Griselda on Steroids Tour. I wanted to keep the special shit going and now you have some of the illest art in the game. It's definitely in my top. I'm heavy into art and Bnard got it.
Bnard: West asking me to do these covers and be a part of this was one of the most exciting moments of my life! It was also the hardest because I couldn’t tell anyone. Imagine being a fan of both and getting the opportunity to be part of history. All you want to do is tell everybody and you can’t!
How did you land on the concepts?
West gave me the idea for both “Gorilla Monsoon” and “2STINGS” and let me run with it. He trusted my vision and I did both with little to no revisions. I think overall we were able to produce some eye-catching, colorful, and impactful art. I would have liked to do another scene with the two of them. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for another record! [Editor's Note: Our fingers are also crossed.]
The “2STINGS” art is really dynamic, it gives me a Wu-Tang vibe. What was the original pitch for the cover?
The original idea was only to have both West and DOOM fighting. I remember spending hours staring at the album art for GZA’s Liquid Swords when I first got it, and trying to recreate my own fighting scenes on the back of homework in school. So there is definitely some Wu inspiration there! Since it was a joint project and I love both artists, my main task was to portray the fight as if neither had the upper hand and the viewer had to make the decision of the winner. I think the art is a metaphor for the project as a whole: DOOM and Westside Gunn verbally sparring on two tracks, both legends in their own craft and ultimately the listener decides who came with the heat. Is it a draw? Does anyone win, or does hip-hop win?
As a hip-hop fan, how does it feel to have your rendition of DOOM’s mask put on wax, so to speak?
As an avid listener of hip-hop music and a tremendous fan of both DOOM and West, it is the absolute pinnacle of my career thus far. WESTSIDEDOOM created so much hype and talk among true hip-hop heads and with such a thriving gritty rap scene with artists like West, Conway, Meyhem Lauren, and Roc Marciano, the project is an exclamation point on a year that saw all these artists flourish. Its is like the ‘90s reborn and I’m loving every second.
Were Westside Gunn and DOOM hands-on, or did they let you do your thing?
Unfortunately, I never got to communicate with DOOM, which adds more to his mystique. West and I were the creatives on this. Artistically, I just did my thing and looked to Westside for approval.
You’ve also done some artwork for Action Bronson. How did those collaborations come about?
I’ve done other Bronson “fan art” that got a lot of attention online. I was also fortunate to meet him and the crew during the Blue Chips Tour awhile ago. He loved the art! I gave him some prints, he signed some for me, and we took pics. It was amazing. For the most recent work, his team reached out, expressed his vision, and believed I could make it happen. That resulted in a flyer for a show in Japan and another flyer for a show in Coney Island. Both paid gigs so thank you to Action Bronson for looking out!
I’m a huge fan of this wonky Sesame Street-inspired piece. What’s the story behind this one?
Thank you! I had a lot of fun with that. There is a version of DOOM’s song “Kookies” that samples the closing theme to Sesame Street. The song is a double entendre with DOOM cleverly rapping about masturbation and actual snacks. I put it all together in the drawing. I knew some people wouldn’t get it or get grossed out, but true DOOM heads would definitely understand.
Where do you go from here?
I want to get into doing more original work and T-shirts. I am grateful for everyone that follows and keeps up with my art, and also grateful for this piece, so thanks!
As a final note, what would you tell someone else operating in this same space? What’s the golden rule to getting placements and cover art opportunities?
I would say do not get discouraged, know your worth, and create art that makes you happy. If you’re not enjoying it it shows through the art. Don’t follow the art trends online. Make your own lane. Did I forget any more cliché lines?
I don't believe there is a golden rule. At least, I don’t know of any. I’m literally just listening to music and drawing. Whatever I’m into at the moment usually reflects in the illustrations. Everything else falls into place. I don’t have an agent. I’ve made some great connections within the last four years and I’m sure that helps. Overall, it’s just being consistent and passionate about what you do, and putting yourself out there whether it be online or in your city. It’s like Pharrell said, “You can do it too.” Placements will come. Opportunities will arise. You have to be ready.