The album artwork for J. Cole’s surprise album KOD was released to eager fans on Wednesday (Apr. 18). The design is appropriately drug-inspired, as the North Carolina rapper’s fifth opus is slated to drop on Friday (Apr. 20).
On the front cover, a glassy-eyed Cole is featured wearing a crown. Children smoking, drinking lean, snorting coke and dropping acid are seen beneath his elegant robe, and two eerie skulls are pictured above them. On the back cover, more drug-addled kiddos are floating among the clouds, as colorful images of drug paraphernalia (and of course, the 12-song track listing) catch your eye. Despite the obvious references, a disclaimer on the front cover says “This album is in no way intended to glorify addiction.”
The eye-popping artwork was created by artist sixmau, who is a cult favorite among many. The Detroit-based artist’s mind is “constantly stimulated by [his] surroundings,” which is likely why his work fits best for this era of the MC’s career. Per his website, his art displays and explores “social paradigms, vices, and vulnerability,” and he has goals to become a “creative powerhouse” through the avenues of illustration, photography, and music. Much like Cole’s fans, sixmau is very excited about what’s to come from the Dreamville musician.
VIBE was fortunate enough to speak to the young artist about his inspirations, working with Cole and what he’s hoping to hear on KOD.
VIBE: Is art a full-time gig for you, or is art more of a side hustle?
sixmau: It’s my full-time thing. I never cared to do anything else and could never keep a conventional job for long so I just focused on art.
How did you gain an interest in art? Was it from a young age, or did it develop over time?
I’ve always made art for as long as I can remember with whatever I could get my hands on.
Did you go to school to do art, or it’s something that was always innate?
I got better with time and eventually went to art school but dropped out. I dropped out of art school after two-and-a-half years, it was burning a hole in my pocket.
What techniques do you usually use, and what materials or art utensils do you frequent?
I use a mixture of things. I’m a photographer too, so sometimes I cut up photos and collage them, and then use that collage as a background to paint over. Then scan that painting into a computer and edit it in Photoshop. It’s just a constantly evolving process, mixed media.
How did you gain your fanbase? Was it via social media, was it word of mouth, was it art shows and displays?
I had been posting my art on Instagram basically since its inception. So most of my following watched me grow from a kid who drew anime. But I made a lot of my connections in person. My social media following isn’t super strong yet.
How did you get the call from J. Cole? How did he discover your work?
Cole discovered my work through Childish Major, who is another rapper I was doing art for.
What was Cole’s vision, and was he collaborative with that vision?
I can’t talk much about his vision. You’re going to have to listen to the album. It all ties in together. It was definitely a collaboration, a marriage of art and music. He told me what direction he was going in and then he gave me the freedom to portray it how I wanted.
The artwork involves “kids on drugs,” and there’s also a crown on Cole’s head. Is there another underlying meaning behind KOD that he wanted you to incorporate, that we may not know about?
KOD has multiple meanings, yes.
You just tweeted that your phone has been blowing up. What does it feel like to have all this notoriety in such a short amount of time?
It’s cool but what was cooler was actually working one-on-one with Cole. All the clout is extra. It was good money and a fun experience.
Do you know anything else about the album?
From what I’ve heard on the album it’s really raw. It’s gonna touch on a lot of topics from new perspectives that people aren’t willing to speak on typically.