For a debut album, the cover of Lil Uzi Vert's Luv Is Rage 2 doesn't show that much of its star. The FADER cover star is smack in the center of a black and white collage but he's peaking out from under two thick stripes of tape courtesy of designer Virgil Abloh. The OFF-WHITE designer's industrial touch also dominates a second cover where Uzi sits in the middle of a duct tape pile as a winged devil.
Over the phone on Thursday night, about an hour before the albums's release, Abloh explained the creative choices behind the cover. He told The FADER that he was the creative director of the project in its final hours and that he also directed a video for the hit single "XO TOUR Llif3" that's coming soon. Above all, Abloh seemed excited that, as he said, there's a new “A-list rapper for this generation.”
Below, the designer, DJ, and creative director explains how the pair met, what else is coming from them, and why Uzi is so special.
How did you first meet Uzi?
It's super organic and we met in sort of an ironic way. I met Lil Uzi in 2013, it might have been. Me and my friends in New York were DJing a ton, finding ourselves, and getting booked in random cities. We went to Philly and were DJing this party, we didn't know what it was, it was called like “Hamster Dance,” some weed festival in a nearly abandoned artist loft or warehouse. We were waiting to play and this kid gets on and he's really energetic and short. All of the sudden this music comes on and we were like, What the fuck? This kid is next level. It turned out to be Lil Uzi.
You know how you go to cities and you hear a local rapper? Definitively this is the first time I found some kid and thought he's going to be huge. At the time we were playing trap music, we were DJing and I was like, I don't even want to go on after this kid. Instantly we were friends. He respected what we had done and we went out with them all night and his crew of kids, and I've known him ever since.
How did you get to working on his album cover?
Uzi is unique. He is what every generation hopes for. There's always a new genre, and we've seen obviously rap evolve to what it is now, and we've seen different influences have their evolution on artists. He's completely a creative. He’s devoid of too many references, he's in his own world. Rapping in his style comes naturally to him, and he's just been a genuine dude. He's been cool since that moment and he's had an appreciation for how we met. Whether we were in conversation or not, we just kept reconnecting and it's literally like effortless. Now I've made a conscious effort to get back into doing music projects. Obviously I've done a bunch in the past and I've recently been focusing on developing things outside of music, but I've always been feeling about getting back into it. Uzi hit me up and was like, I need you to creative direct my project in the final hours.
Unbeknownst to anyone, I directed the video for “XO Tour Llif3” over the last three months. It's a video that will come out soon, but it's shot over three countries, over three months. It's my return to directing videos again. That's dropping very soon. These covers are a prequel to in-depth creative back-and-forth using all of our different assets. He believes in me and I believe in him and it's us doing this crash of things that are in our own head. That OFF-WHITE tape is an additive to the content and it's emblematic of just how we think without practical terms. That cover it just comes up as an expression.
The cover reminds me of your work with brands — making OFF-WHITE exist right next to the thing we know already. What was the thinking behind that here?
I'm at a point in my career where I'm interested in seeing the consistency across different projects. One of the pillars of my design aesthetic is showing the process. That way a whole generation of kids will see themselves in the work, and do the work themselves too. That cover is pretty much a readymade example. You feel like you can peel it off, and that was important to me. The collaboration reads itself. The same way the Nike shoes — you look at them and you can almost feel like you can do it yourself or you can see the handmade feel in it.
I haven't done an album cover in what feels like six years. It was his idea to wrap his album package in a physical way. I think that in a digital age, album covers are becoming a lost art. His cover sort of embodies our short careers, and it's two people coming together from a long time ago.
Was there any hesitation from him about putting the OFF-WHITE tape so front-and-center on the cover?
It's always back and forth. Imagine the hours of anticipation for this album. You can only visualize it in the very last second and usually the label is like, “It's due.” You can look at Lil Uzi and know he has a strong opinion about his aesthetic. He comes to creative from a whole different place. I pride myself in collaborating and being a creative director, and creative direction isn't putting my opinion first. It's supporting an artist so they get the most out of the project. I think it's a lost art in a way. Many people sort of want to be a creative director, but it's an awesome position to be able to support any artist's vision to get that out. I've been working on OFF-WHITE pretty productively, and I've decided to get back in that position of supporting an artist's ideas. A lot will come through in the video.
Could you tell me any more details about the “XO Tour Llif3” video?
It's sort of the situation of the album cover — we have an organic way of working together. It's magnetic I would say, because it's not one where it takes a whole lot of text messages to wake up or a whole bunch of planning. It literally comes out. The day that song came out, he was literally on tour with The Weeknd in Paris. He uploaded three songs on his Soundcloud and was like, “What city are you in?” I was in Paris, I was styling my collection for women, for OFF WHITE the Nothing New collection. I was like, “Come through,” and he was like, “I want you to shoot these three songs for these videos today.” My style is to never say no.
He came through and put on some clothes and said, “Let's shoot.” Since I already had the infrastructure to do this photo shoot and I already have a camera team on deck, we came up with some directorial concepts. It was the second music video I ever shot. The first one being “Fashion Killer” with Rihanna and Rocky.