Inspiration can be found anywhere; for Joe Perez, the Los Angeles-based graphic artist who also serves as art director for Kanye West's creative agency DONDA, the creative lightning bolt most recently struck in the cosmetics aisle. "Makeup is commercial—it's materialism," he stated during a phone conversation earlier this week, while discussing his work that adorns the deluxe edition of Nicki Minaj's heavily anticipated new album, The Pinkprint. "It's a product that has great texture and is great to play around with." After Minaj's team approached Perez's studio to draw up a few ideas for The Pinkprint's cover, he and his team hit the department store, gripped varying shades of lipstick and eye makeup, and forged the Sephora-fingerprinted dark pink smudge that impressionistically sits at the image's center. "Each brand gives off different textures, like they had magical little potions inside—you never know what you're gonna get."
When FADER spoke with Pusha T last year about the cover art for his solo LP My Name Is My Name, he spoke highly of Perez's collaborative nature: "You just articulate your ideas to him and he comes back with 12 different variations of how he envisions it." This time around, Perez didn't have time to meet specifically with Minaj—"she's shooting a bunch of videos right now"—but through her team she expressed input on such minutiae as where the placement and size of the cover's accompanying text. "This was one of those projects that had a magical side to it, where everything fell into place and worked out," Perez said with confidence. "This option was the strongest, most unique one, and it's the one she gravitated towards immediately."
Fueled by a "24/7" soundtrack of Minaj's music and Nicki-themed Pandora radio stations, Perez, art director/photographer Jenna Marsh, and title designer Bryan Rivera—whom he refers to as "a joy to work with"—hammered out the design over a few late-night marathon creative sessions. (He's remaining mum on whose fingerprint, exactly, is featured on the cover: "It could be Nicki's, but it couldn't be," he says suggestively, with a chuckle. "I'm sure there's fans out there who'll track down whose print it is through scanning police records.") The cover is the latest in Perez's growing portfolio of work for musicians such as Kanye, A$AP Rocky, Lil Wayne, and Travis $cott; although he's contributed his talented vision to projects in other artistic mediums—including poster and T-shirt art for actor/director Zach Braff's recent Kickstarter-funded film Wish I Was Here—he most often gravitates towards working with musicians purely for creative reasons. "They can express themselves," Perez marvels. "There's very few moments that I can remember where an artist wasn't representing clearly what they saw and envisioned—I've dabbled in other industries, and that isn't always the case. Working with musicians is an ultimate joy."
Correction: A previous headline indicated that DONDA was directly involved with the creation of the album cover, which is not the case. The headline has been amended.