For the last few years, Ali Graham has been creating a series of "Lil Ye" illustrations that depict Kanye West as a childlike, oversized bobble head version of himself. Over time, the Lil Ye world has grown to include side characters like Chance The Rapper and the static drawings have evolved to incorporate full-blown animations.
Now, Graham is taking things to a new level by creating an entire Mario-style 2D platform game based on the Lil Ye universe. Inspired by the music, fashion, and antics of Kanye West, Lil Ye Land is a fully fleshed out video game that lets players navigate "a series of magical worlds full of music, money, friends, foes, fans, and unicorns."
There is currently a full demo, which you can play for free right here. Graham is also working on adding several more worlds and bosses to make it a full game—and it'll be available completely free. You can help support the project on his Kickstarter here.
"It's just a taste of what we want to do," says Graham of the currently playable demo. "We've actually got a few more levels of the Kids See Ghosts demo to release, including an epic boss level! Hopefully in the next couple of days, which will also be available to download on mobile devices. Depending on how much we can raise with the Kickstarter, the more levels and features we can add."
Sticking close to the Kanye theme, Graham adds, "All the levels will be packed with references to songs, lyrics, and a few familiar-faced friends to help Lil Ye along the way."
Planned worlds include The Heartbreak Hotel (inspired by "Robocop," "Blame Game," "Heartless," and "Stronger") and The Ballet ("Runaway" and "Famous"). Watch the Kickstarter video below, play the demo here, and continue for our full Q&A with Ali Graham.
I've been following your Lil Ye drawings for a while. What made you focus in on Kanye West?
My first hip-hop illustration project was 99 Problems, so I was listening to a lot of Watch The Throne at the time to dig out fun lyrics to play with, and people really responded well to pieces that involved the Kanye character.
Since then I really wanted to develop a project dedicated to him—in a similar style, but with a slightly different spin.
He's got a lyric, "But my head's so big you can't sit behind me" from "Barry Bonds," which inspired Lil Ye's oversized bobble head, and I always loved the idea of creating a "muppet babies" style universe where all my favorite hip-hop artists could exist—playing out their songs, lyrics, and beefs in the context of little kids. It's really fun trying to take predominantly adult themed lyrics and behavior, and twisting it into something adorable and cute.
Can you describe what sparked the original idea for the Lil Ye Land game?
I've wanted to make my own video game since playing them as a kid (Sonic, Super Mario, Word Of Illusion, Aladdin, etc) and I'd been experimenting with video game crossovers in my work for a while. I drew Chance the Rapper in the style of Mario after he wore his matching beige overalls to the VMAs.
I also did some work with Complex and Green Label creating little video game inspired images:
I collaborated with my partner Nina Cosford on the music to really give it that authentic retro feel and they're also doing all the music for the game.
I was away traveling in North America earlier this year, and I didn't have anything other than an iPad to draw on. I discovered this excellent pixel art program, and on a long train journey between Chicago and Portland drew and animated my Lil Ye character.
Coincidentally enough, a few days later Kids See Ghosts was announced—which sounded like a perfect video-game concept! Only problem is I have no idea how to turn the pixel art into a playable game, so I put a shout out on my Instagram for coders, and the amazing Liam McInroy answered, and we've been working on the demo in every bit of spare time we've had since.
I played the demo and it's awesome! What can we expect from the full game? What kind of additions will there be?
Thanks! It's just a taste of what we want to do. We've actually got a few more levels of the Kids See Ghosts demo to release, including an epic boss level! Hopefully in the next couple of days, which will also be available to download on mobile devices. Depending on how much we can raise with the Kickstarter, the more levels and features we can add.
All the levels will be packed with references to songs, lyrics, and a few familiar-faced friends to help Lil Ye along the way.
Some of the worlds we've got planned include The Clouds ("Get Much Higher," "Ultralight Beam," "Touch The Sky") The Gym ("Workout Plan," "Fade") The Ballet ("Runaway," "Famous") The Haunted House ("Monster," "Kids See Ghosts") The Mine ("Goldigger," "Diamonds From Sierra Leone") and The Heartbreak Hotel ("Robocop," "Blame Game," "Heartless," "Stronger").
Anything else you'd like to add?
I wanted something for people who wanted to support the project, but weren't necessarily into video games. So as part of the rewards for the Kickstarter, I'm particularly excited about our exclusive Lil Ye Figurines. I've wanted to make a toy almost as long as I've wanted to make a game.
I'm also doing super limited (X/100) variants based on iconic outfits: College Dropout, 808s, Stronger (which will glow in the dark), Runaway, and Power.