If you tried to explain to the curators at the MoMA or The Louvre why a 21-year-old from Tulsa, Oklahoma making digital drawings of some of Chief Keef’s funniest moments deserved his own exhibition, they wouldn’t be able to wrap their heads around it. No sociologist could describe the circumstances that led to a doodled version of the legendary Instagram live video of Future planking on $200,000 getting 40k likes. On his Instagram, Kodone puts a charming spin on recent rap history with his colorful and vibrant doodles. He’s recreating moments of virality with a style reminiscent of the elementary school drawings your parents stuck on the refrigerator.
Kodone, real name Jesse Diaz, is what happens when both internet culture and the art world collide. The 21-year-old illustrator turned his hobby into something bigger than he ever imagined. He’s created cover art for Soundcloud’s largest exports: Divine Council, Thouxanbanfauni, and Lucki. His work isn’t just limited to those artists though. He’s also done covers for Los Angeles rap titans 03 Greedo and Drakeo the Ruler too. All of these collaborations have led him to develop a brand that’s spread across Rap Twitter. This year, he’s released two capsules of his collected material, with purchasable items ranging from miniature prints and posters to t-shirts.
When I talked to Kodone over the phone, it was a week after his second capsule, which sold out entirely in 5 minutes, dropped. He called in from his home in Tulsa, and we talked about literally everything. He told me how he hadn’t worked a real job since high school, his thoughts on the future of digital art, and what the future of the Kodonism brand looks like.
How’d you get into digital illustrations?
I've been drawing my whole life, but it was really back in high school when I got this iPad Mini that came out at the time, and I would take pictures of like what I was drawing and I'd scan it to my iPad and just go from there. But it wasn't until 2018 and I got the iPad Pro and you know, it comes with the Apple Pencil. Cause I was using like, some like knockoff stylus for the iPad at the time since high school. So with the Apple Pencil, I just spent a lot of time on the iPad and ended up finessing it.
Before I started doing the digital illustrations, back in like middle school and early high school days, I was really into editing videos, kinda like music videos and little short skits and shit. So I already had knowledge with computers and Photoshop and all kinds of programs. It wasn't until either my junior year or senior year, I was getting more into fine art, the more traditional paints and shit. So senior year was when I was really like, Well, I fuck with both of these things. Can I put it together?
Can you talk about drawing on an iPad?
Yeah, I did everything on the iPad. That's a thing that everyone would always ask me. When I first started it was mostly I'd draw physical and then I'd scan it and people would be like, "Whoa, do you have a tablet?" Eventually, you know, I got the iPad and then people would be like, "Did you do this on a tablet?" And I'd be like, "Yeah, sorta." It was kinda funny because it was almost like people would tell me that I skipped a step.
I'm an acrylic painter too. I paint clothes and I still do traditional shit. But the reason I think the iPad is so revolutionary, and I really feel like it's gonna be the future and more accepted in the art community, is that I feel like it really speeds up the process. I can throw everything down immediately, you know? When I get an idea I can go to my iPad and I have all the tools ready to go. I have all the colors, multiple types of brushes. It's so portable.
You worked at a comic book shop for a while too. How'd that influence you?
That's another thing that really inspired me with illustrations and my style now, just the little figures and characters. My first job ever was at this comic book slash video game slash music store we'd always be buying new stuff from people selling, so we'd get rare comics and shit. Just me working there, seeing a bunch of comic culture. We sold like manga and shit too.
I feel like just being around all those characters and all these movies and shit always kept me inspired, just seeing a bunch of colorful shit. I feel like that's another thing that keeps my art so colorful. That was my first and last job so it was a really colorful job and I was surrounded by that shit all the time.
Wait, so you haven't had any other jobs?
No, that's also what made me take this art shit more seriously because I started working all the time at my job, so I ended up failing my junior year of high school. My parents were pissed about that so I had to, you know, quit my job. I obviously had no money. So, shit, I had to make something shake. And I was already kinda doing this art shit for a little bit and I was making cover art for a couple people here and there, so I was like, Well shit, I wonder if I can make a little bread off this shit. I went on Twitter and said, "If anyone wants cover art, 20 bucks." Literally 20. I had like two people give me $40. For me to get $40 during school was like mind-blowing for me and I was like, "Holy shit, I can really, like, do something with this."
Are you completely self-taught?
I've never really looked up videos on YouTube on how to shade. I've never picked up one of those little instruction books for drawing and shit either. I've never actually just picked one up and tried learning. I've never had the patience. It was always like, "I'm gonna do it and I'm gonna see and try it and do it and do it." It's all trial and error.
I feel like what also helps my personal style is that I've had inspiration which I feel is very important to have as an artist, but I've never actually looked up instructions. There's a difference between instruction and inspiration.
Out of all the covers you’ve drawn for people, which one is your favorite?
My favorite is definitely the Lucki one, just because it's one of my favorite projects. Also, it's one of my more different ones and it was one of my most interactive ones with the artist. Like, usually with other artists they'll just give me instructions or it won't even be from them. It'll be from their manager and they'll be like, "Yo, what's up. So and so wants this and that." It's usually middle man when it comes to people like that.
So with Lucki, it was actually really cool. He reached out to me himself. We were just chopping it up. We had a bunch of covers for Watch My Back — we were just sending them, going back to back. It felt like an actual collaboration. He gave me the idea and I was there to execute it. That's another reason why I respect Lucki so much and I know he's very serious about his craft and how he does shit. I guess you can say he's one of my big inspirations for my art. Just because when we were making the cover, I knew he cared about it. He was very precise about how he wanted it to go.
What did the process for the Watch My Back cover look like?
With that cover art, it's actually super different from anything else I've made and still is to this day. Usually, the process of any other cover art at the time was pen and pencils on paper or markers. Then I'd scan it, go in Photoshop, and render it. Give it all kinds of shit. But with this one, he showed me this idea he wanted it pretty much based off a silhouette contrast.
I printed out a picture of his face on paper and I made it negative, so it'd be like, the Rorschach Test-look. I printed it out and I cut it out with X-ACTO Knife, had like pink paint on paper and put the silhouette, the little cut-out, onto the paper and I hit it with black ink. That's what we left it at as the final cover.
I laid that cover I actually painted some words over that. That was supposed to be the final cover but I showed him and he was like, "Nah, it's fire without the words on it." But since it's acrylic paint I can't just go back. The final cover, fun fact, is actually just a picture from my phone and we made it look nice.
How did you first start working with Greedo?
My manager, Jake, from Lyrical Lemonade, he reached out to me last year and he asked if I wanted to do some cover art for this single Greedo has, "Floating." And I was like, "Yeah, let's do it. Let's go." That was the first one I made and Jake sent it through, Greedo fucked with it. After that, I was just doing a lot of his cover art from there and eventually it led to him being like, "Yo, let's get the God Level cover in.
That was one of my biggest motivations of 2018, the God Level cover. That era. After God Level, I did the one for him, Mustard and YG. Then I did the one for him and Shoreline Mafia.
You've been talking about how Kodonism is split into two brands, can you talk about that?
I've actually tried venturing into the streetwear world in 2015, 2016. I had a brand called DEATHAT5, but that was some high school shit, you know? I pulled the plug on that and I've been working on what I have now.
The first one is Gift Shop and the other is Glasshouse. Gift Shop is what I have currently. It's the prints, screen-printed T-shirts that I'm always going to try to keep 25 bucks, 35 bucks. I try to keep everything affordable, keeping it at this quantity of items. Glasshouse is going to be more of the high fashion, I want to go for more high-quality materials and really make ideas that are specifically for the clothes. Gift Shop is all just clothes based off of previous artworks that were really popular with the people. That's more of the stuff that's what the people want. Gift Shop is more what the people want and Glasshouse is 100 percent me.
How do you think social media is affecting the way we consume art? You put out a lot of stuff for free. How does that interact with you and making a living out of this?
That's what makes it wild. It's like a little doodle on my iPad and I just send it on the internet. It's not physical. I wasn't even going to sell the doodles until it started taking off and people were like, "Yo, you have to sell these. I want prints, I want prints, I want prints." The only times I'd sold physicals was, you know, stuff I made physically. Painted on clothes or shoes and stuff. The fact that there were hundreds of people asking me to buy a doodle that I made on my iPad — it kinda put a lot into perspective. That's why I feel like a lot of people can kinda hate on it because they can be like "Oh, it's just a doodle." But honestly, I'm just as shocked as they are. I'm finding out myself at the same time they are.
Do you feel pressured to focus on your doodles because of the reaction and demand online?
Nah, not at all. I wouldn't say it's an alter ego or anything, but I just see it as two different artists. I don't see it as "Damn I need to do this, Damn I need to do that." I always work at my own pace. So that's a reason I love the doodles so much. I honestly enjoy making them.
Like the Young Thug in the wheelchair doodle. I was laughing my ass off when I was making that shit. I never feel pressured. And if anything, it buys me way more time to work on my more serious projects. Before the doodles, if anything, I felt more pressure because I felt like I always had to put out new content. I can keep working on my other personal stuff and really take my time on it. I have a piece I've been working on for three months if that says anything. I'm really glad I have something now that I can keep in touch with people and still have fun with.
What inspires you to draw a certain moment?
I'll just be chilling in my day, just like anyone else, you know. I bet you'll sit down and think, Oh my god, you guys remember when Young Thug did that? It's like when you're seeing your friends and someone brings up some stuff. You remember when Chief Keef said he was 3hunna years old? It's all daily life shit I'll just be looking at like, "Damn, I like that," and if I naturally like something I'll knock it out. It doesn't feel like I'm doing work.
I try to keep them all in that style because I want them to feel like they're part of a little world, like a cartoon show. I want my Twitter account or my Instagram feed to feel like you're watching some show. You know what I mean? Kodone World. That's why I called the poster Kodone World, because you know, [it’s] all the little characters and all the shit that's in my head that I like.
I just feel like I'm a pop culture archivist. I'm capturing all these moments as they're coming in. I'm just putting it in a way you wouldn't expect it. You wouldn't expect to see Young Thug, or this serious moment, or a film — like Stanley Kubrick for example — that's something you wouldn't see in a children's cartoon doodle style. I feel like that's what makes people appeal to it. It's cute and it's funny. I try to carry them off as like collectible baseball cards, you know, my little doodles. If you were to look at my Instagram feed, they'd look like collectibles. You could put 'em on keychains and collect them.