Brandon Breaux is everywhere.
The Chicago native invaded millions of iPods in recent years, and this past week alone has seen him wheat-pasted onto building walls across the country. Chance The Rapper’s go-to designer quietly created some of the best cover art in recent memory, and with the newly unveiled artwork for Chance 3, he’s done it again. The man behind the imagery for 2012’s 10 Day and 2013’s Acid Rap has become a storyteller in his own right.
Together, the three pieces chronicle Chance The Rapper’s rise, functioning like subsequent panels in a comic strip. For the first time, hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of people are seeing his work on billboards and in bus stops thanks to a nationwide guerrilla campaign that puts his work in the spotlight. No copy, no slogans, no logos.
Breaux began to dabble in the arts at an early age. Fascinated by multiple mediums of expression, he immersed himself in Chicago’s hip-hop culture. Time not spent doodling, drawing, and illustrating was spent breakdancing.
We talked to the Windy City artist about working with Chance over the years, the importance of comic books, Acid Rap, and the art that’s now popping up in public places across the country.
When you were younger, you used to draw comic book characters. How did that influence the 10 Day cover?
I was really, really into comics as a kid. Comics helped me find what I wanted to do. I used to draw myself as a comic book character, years ago. All the things little kids who were into comics wanted to do, I wanted to do. That’s when I was a shorty. It was just a common thread, I put a lot of my cousins onto comics, a lot of people.
It was the first different thing I could find to sort of distinguish myself as an individual. I was always interested in going a different route. I see great things in the world, but I wasn’t necessarily seeing that all the time where I was from. Like comic book artists, I didn’t know anybody that was doing this cool stuff around me. I just knew there were some people in my family who liked to draw.
A lot of the work that went into 10 Day kind of came from that. Actually, as early as 2007, 2008, I did this painting that was sort of like the prototype for what the 10 Day cover would go on to be. It was just myself as this character, and it’s kind of weird how it landed and ended up. But that’s why you see the comic book caption on the 10 Day cover.
It’s a part of my DNA as an artist, a merger between that fine art and low art look, that background. Those ideas were there from the beginning in creating a character out of something. I was talking to someone who worked with Chance, and he was talking about being this coming-of-age character in the story. I didn’t have those conversations with Chance in the beginning. Someone saw some art I did and reached out to me, he was Chance’s manager at the time. He reached out to me because of a cover I had done for Christian Rich.
Coincidentally I had seen this video Chance did with [Chicago streetwear store] LDRS, a snippet of “Hey Ma,” which was dope. So when he hit me up, I said yes immediately. Part of it was that I regretted not doing work for Rockie Fresh. He had something that came out a year or so before and I didn’t do it because I was really busy, then Rockie started gaining his traction. I felt really bad because it was like, I underestimated a fellow artist. I didn’t mean to do that, but, you know, you’ll get requests for cover art all the time and it’s not something I really like to do. For me, it’s difficult. I put a lot of effort and a lot of myself into that work so it’s tough.
I really wanted to be a sequential artist. But my family, the people around me they knew I should have a backup plan. They saw technology coming into play. They thought I needed to be doing something digital. That’s how I got into graphic design. I knew I could get a degree in that.
Your family knew what was up with tech.
Yeah! They definitely tried to get me on board with it right away. They didn’t want me to be a starving artist. And I’m glad they did that. Design and fashion taught me a lot about how to get art across. Like, that low-brow aesthetic, working in that low art area lets you get acclimated with the response of the people. When you’re designing something for a number of people who have this crazy range of taste and sensibility, it needs to have mass appeal but still be dope as shit.
The reason I think I was able to approach Acid Rap the way I did mainly had a lot to do with fashion. At the time, or right before that time, from 2011 to 2012 or so, I was selling vintage jewelry. Those Versace frames and shit, chains. Selling them to rappers and shit. [Laughs] It was crazy man. I was doing cover art, but nobody knew me for that at the time. That transition and seeing what people were gravitating toward, as opposed to just streetwear stuff, that high-end trend actually gave me a whole different perspective on approach things. It’s hard to see, but that influenced how I approached it.
How would you describe Chance’s involvement with the Acid Rap cover, compared to 10 Day?
It had already begun to happen for him, when we were working on Acid Rap. With 10 Day, he came over to my place one time to discuss the concept behind it. He knew what he wanted to do but I don’t know if he knew how to say it, or how to make it stand out, so I think that’s what they had really come to me for. I was actually late when I turned the cover in. I turned the cover in at 7 a.m. the morning they were going to drop it—that was 10 Day.
With Acid Rap, that picture came from SXSW. He was busy as hell, so he couldn’t work with another artist. By him being busy and other artists being busy, things just kind of came together to where I was doing the second cover. The conversation had pretty much ended at 10 Day. I had seen him at SXSW and he was doing great stuff. Being around those performances gave me more inspiration. It made me really want to do the cover. I had to, because we had to continue from the first one and I knew exactly how it should look.
OJ Hays [“Good Ass Intro” animated visual] did a good job serving up the visual vibes. Chance did a good job serving up that energy that was behind it. So when it got to me, I was able to get that one out a little faster. I had a little more experience. 10 Day was really the first cover I did like that. Acid Rap was finished ahead of time, this time, but then it leaked. I was just happy people loved it.
Back around that time, there seemed to be this teenage infatuation with stars, the universe. The background of Acid Rap really captured something surreal. What guided you, stylistically?
I’ve always been interested in astrology and physics, quantum physics. Being interested in that means being interested in the questions of the universe, and how that looks. And nature’s palette is also the illest palette ever. I intentionally incorporated stars into that cover and in Chance 3 because I think they bring to mind a picture that’s just greater than us. We’re a microcosm of the wider universe.
I intentionally incorporated stars into that cover and in Chance 3 because I think they bring to mind a picture that’s just greater than us. We’re a microcosm of the wider universe.
A lot of those ideas just sit with me when I walk around all day, and I’m constantly trying to be aware of the fact that life is a lot grander than just me. Behind him is the rest of the world. I do think a lot of people were interested in stars, it was sort of the way trends were going at the time and it worked out really well, that timing. The cosmic vibe. Nike was even doing that stuff, the cosmic foamposites, around that time. But man, that’s what really inspired it, just these great things like stars and mountains. They’re reminders that it isn’t just us, there’s some greater order or direction.
It was the intentional development of that character. Like, his name is in the stars. His course is aligned, ya know? Really bringing fate into it. Astrology too, I’m really into that. I think it was a culmination of all of those things. You can’t help but relate to that.
As the man behind the artwork, what do the three covers say to you? What story do they tell?
The first one is, you know, discovery. Seeing his name in the stars. His destiny is before him, looking up to this greatness he’s about to inherit. The second was a play off the title, I just really love the title, Acid Rap. I knew it was the right pairing, this idea of new-age hippie—TDE was kind of doing that too. But it was like this mix of anxiousness, excitement, and fear where you enter the world. You step into this greatness. The third is being in a place of maturity, a place where there’s a certain amount of control. He’s not a newbie anymore, having accomplished all of these things.
When we took the photo, he was holding his daughter. He was looking down at his daughter. And that was his concept, his idea. Chance wanted to capture the expression on his face when he looked at his daughter. It’s this picture of the future being bigger than himself. It’s not just about him, it’s about family. He’s looking down at the future in a way.
Chance wanted to capture the expression on his face when he looked at his daughter. It’s this picture of the future being bigger than himself.
The great thing about this is that we laid a foundation that we can be true to. Because the artwork is so strong, we don’t have to push so far to try and outdo the last piece. This time, it comes down to our development. I’m a more mature and developed artist than I was in 2013, or 2012, so it’s a natural progression. I didn’t even worry about topping it. It was just about taking Acid Rap to another place.
We didn’t want to use the same colorway as we did for that. It was very vibrant, catchy. It’s kind of pervasive, it infiltrated the world. You see the colors more in peoples’ profiles. Knowing we made that, we were then wondering how do we step beyond it without repeating it. It was Chance’s idea to change the colors.
In 10 Day, Chance is wearing red with blue behind him. His idea was, “Okay, maybe we should flip it. I’ll wear these cooler tones and the back will be warm.” And it’s funny he said that, because before he even reached out to me for Chance 3, I saw his Saturday Night Live performances. And I was like, “That’s an amazing colorway.” They were lit with blue light, and in the background they had this pink. You saw the clouds, you saw the sky. So that SNL performance almost dictated the cover.
I’m not sure if Chance told me he 100 percent realized it, but the moment I saw footage, it just seemed perfect. The work is doing itself at this point. It’s really a cool thing.
Did you have any idea how far the promotional campaign this week would take your work?
Hell no! I had an idea, but you can’t anticipate a response. A lot of this stuff, it’s not finalized until it’s happening. To me, it’s just like, first, let’s live up to what we’ve done before. Then we’ll worry about the rest. I don’t have any expectations, but people are interested. And that means something. It’s important.
I didn’t know though. I was riding down the road in Englewood, [Chicago] and I saw the cover at a bus stop. My mom was like, “Oh shit!” [Laughs] I’m just glad there’s this much visibility on the project, and the credit is being shared as it is. I’m glad people want to know who made the cover, who did it. I think often people forget about the visual artists. It’s cool that you guys and [Chicago website] These Days want to talk about it.
What does Acid Rap mean to you, musically?
Man, I was such a fan. I was so f*cking proud, bro. It was a reality I couldn’t even imagine, to see that come from Chicago. Until that moment, you had a lot of artists who were trying to exceed what it was to be Chicagoan and move from Chicago.
Acid Rap, to me, meant a grander vision. It really meant that the days of the artist being controlled by the industry are short. The independent aspect of it was great. He didn’t have to make the moves that [Kanye West] did to blow up. He didn’t have to sign a 360 deal or any of that shit. It was very gratifying. And the concepts on it were very relatable, especially to a generation, the youth. I love that album. I won’t dare say anything about Chance 3. All I’ll say is it’s big, and it’s true to itself.
Breaux and artist Dougan Khim will have an art show at the Chicago Art Department in the Pilsen neighborhood on June 10. The exhibit is titled “Over 9000.”