NCVRD: Lanre Williams On The Making of Rema’s ‘Rave & Roses’
"Sometimes, I feel like it's actually Rema drawing. Everything he wants, he has it in his mind."
"Sometimes, I feel like it's actually Rema drawing. Everything he wants, he has it in his mind."
“NCVRD” – read as uNcovered – is an interview series that takes a closer look at the cover art of our favourite albums or projects. We aim to uncover daring and bold visual artists across the continent while illuminating the creativity behind a project’s visual world.
Since he was a child, Lanre Williams, professionally known as Willy’s Art, knew he was born to paint or illustrate or sketch. “I actually knew I was good,” the 24-year-old artist says half-laughing when we have a chat one Monday afternoon in March. Driven by a propulsive sense of urgency, Willy has become one of Nigeria’s most in-demand illustrators and cover art creators over the last three year, with his work even attracting the attention of American artists, Lil Nas X, and wizened rapper, Snoop Dogg.
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According to Willy, comic remains one of the biggest sources of his inspiration. “When you look at my drawings, there’s seriousness there, but I’m trying to make it look as childish as possible so it can be attractive,” he says. So it makes sense that for his debut album, self-confessed comic aficionado, Rema, would turn to Willy to create a visual representation of his music.
From the start of his career, Rema has never shied away from using other creative mediums to pass his message with his cover arts doubling as time stamps of his current fascinations whether they be baby-faced teddy bears, spaceships, or love. As it stands, ‘Rave and Roses,’ is set to be a codification of Rema’s universal interpretation of his pop music inspired by distinctly Nigerian experiences and, in typical Rema fashion, the cover art offers a portal into Rema’s mind. “That cover speaks a lot about Rema, it has Rema’s story in it,” Willy explains. “As simple as it is, it’s talking about Rema, what he has been through. Everything is on that cover. I feel like, for his first album, it’s a killer piece.”
Going further, Willy explains: “The skeleton on the cover is Rema. The house burning is the house where Rema wrote those songs. The songs are so hard that they can make a house explode. Rema is running out of the house but the fire from the house is so intense that it catches up with him.”
Our conversation which follows below has been lightly edited for clarity.
NATIVE: Let’s just start with the much simpler questions about yourself, where you grew up, why you got into art and the things you do?
LANRE: My name is Williams Lanre. I’m from Lagos State. I grew up around Surulere, but there were a few movements. We moved to Ibadan, we moved back to Lagos, but I’m currently back in Lagos. I’ve actually been drawing for a while. I started in primary school. I just had teachers telling me that I was good and I should tell my mom that I should take my drawing more seriously. I actually knew I was good, and I started very early.
NATIVE: How early did you start?
LANRE: I’ve been drawing since I was 6 or 7, but when I started trying to put my work out there; running comics, comics on paper, trying to go into competitions like PEFTI, just making submissions to different places like Mr. Biggs, ‘SupaStrikas’, that was around 11 or 12. When I was 13 or 14, I was already doing things on my own, trying to create my personal comics, because I’m actually a comic artist. I just kind of switched in the past couple of years. I think I officially switched in 2019. It just happened all of a sudden, because I think I was feeling bringing people’s ideas to life. That’s actually what comics are about; bringing ideas to life. So, I did that with my brother for a while. We still do it, though. We still have comics we’ll publish in the future, but for now, we are doing what we are seeing.
NATIVE: Speaking about comics, what comic books did you get into as a child? What comics do you look at now as a grown artist? What are your thoughts on comics, generally?
LANRE: I think everybody would say ‘SupaStrikas.’ From drawing every page on SupaStrikas to just trying to create your own. Then, the thing is I watch a lot of cartoons. I’m a cartoon guy. Not 3D, 2D. I watch a lot of them, and I watch manga cartoons. That’s actually what influenced my style. When you look at my drawings, there’s seriousness there, but I’m trying to make it look as childish as possible so it can be attractive. I don’t want something so serious. I just make it tell a story, everything I’m doing must tell a story. Even with that sense of me telling a story, I try to play around with it using simple expressions.
NATIVE: You don’t make it overcomplicated.
LANRE: Yeah, I don’t want to bring that realistic feel because it’s kind of boring to me. I just like cartoons. If you look at the covers that I have done, you’d see that everything from the gestures of their hands to the colour palettes I use, I make everything colourful. Sometimes, I make it look like it’s a kid that made it.
NATIVE: So, that’s your signature style?
LANRE: Yeah, that’s it. Make it as childish as possible. Even though it’s childish, I want to make sure people that are grown can actually relate to it. They can say, “Oh, this thing is cool.” I just give that feel. I actually paint realistic styles too, but I just stopped. I deleted them from my page. It’s not my style anymore. This is what I’m going with currently.
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NATIVE: You mentioned doing a bunch of covers in the past. I’m curious about life as a comic artist operating in Nigeria. Where’s sustainability in that? How do you ensure that you are not just doing it as a passion project? Sustainability is important as a creative, what is the pathway to sustainability for you? How has that journey been?
LANRE: I wouldn’t say that I’ve been into the comics deeply. For companies, I’ve created three comic books. Yedi Naija, their magazine and everything, and some other books. As an artist that’s starting in Nigeria, I don’t know. I think I didn’t really know my worth then. When you’ve worked in Nigeria and you look back at some jobs you’ve done, you’d just feel like, “I gave them this quality at that price.” The thing is it kind of helps out with experience, that’s what I’d say. It only helped me out with my experience.
I didn’t look at the money too much, I just wanted to get my work out there during that period. Like my first comic book, I just wanted to get my work out there. From the second to the third to the fourth, it just paid off. The first comic I made was a proposal. That proposal made them see and understand that they could actually work with me for their brand. That’s how I started working with them. I started working with their branch in South Africa. That was how everything started. I didn’t push it much further because it takes a lot of time.
NATIVE: What else have you designed within the Nigerian music industry?
LANRE: I’ve worked for Dr. Dolor, Rema, Alpha P, and DJ Spinall. I’ve worked for L.A.X and Wizkid, but the work is not out there right now. I’ve worked for a lot of them, and some Nigerian commissions. Some of my clients are also outside the country. I’ve worked for Snoop Dogg. I’ve worked for Lil Nas X, multiple times. He’s one of the people that motivated me because he actually got to me when I was at 2k followers. I was trying to put my work out there. He reached out and didn’t care if I was a big artist or something, he kept me on a huge project. He gave me a lot of boost because I hadn’t started working with Nigerian artists then. I barely even worked with a lot of people that time, so he was kind of the first person. Him, then Rema.
NATIVE: My next question is about you working with Rema. How did that come about? Did you reach out? Was there an introduction? How did that happen?
LANRE: The funny thing about Rema is, like I’d say, this cover art, my first post on Instagram, I didn’t come through anybody. I just came online and made my first post. No connections, I didn’t know anybody, no celebrities, no influencers, nobody. It was just my art. The thing is there is a drawing on my page that I made. I drew three Rema’s; Rema EP, Dumebi Rema, and I think Rema won an award during that period, so I drew that Rema. I drew three of them together. I was even feeling like, “I shouldn’t post this stuff,” but I got ginger from my friends: “Post it up, this shit is dope.”
As I posted it, that post blew up. Everybody was reposting. I had made a few posts before then, though. It wasn’t like it was my first post. If you check my page, you’ll see that. So, the post went viral and all. I think Don Jazzy commented. A lot of people engaged in the post. I just felt like it went viral, so I didn’t even keep it in mind, but some months after, Rema texted me on IG and told me he liked my work and would like to put me on a project with Samzy. There was a song that time. It was a featured project. So, that was the first work he hit me up for. That was how it started. From there, I did “Ginger Me”, I did highlight drawings on his stories, “Bounce”, “Soundgasm”, and some of his pictures. But that was how it started.
NATIVE: So, how has the experience been working with Rema on these kinds of projects? Is he involved in the process? Does he want certain details to come to life? What is that process like?
LANRE: Rema is a funny guy. Sometimes, I feel like it’s actually Rema drawing. Everything he wants, he has it in his mind. Even if I send him a sketch, even if I trigger the idea by sending him pictures, it just sparks something in his mind. Then, we just start and we keep going on and on till we get the job done. At first, I wasn’t able to actually adapt to it because the workload was looking much, but I kind of made a way to work with him with ease. It’s really good because Rema is a really creative person. He’s like the most creative person I’ve met, and I always tell him, “Just turn artist too nau,” because he really has the insight. Like, “Bounce.” “Bounce” was a crazy idea he just created. Most things come from him and some of them come directly from me. If Rema tells me that, “Yo, I don’t have an idea for this, come up with something,” then the lion in me comes out. “Soundgasm” was something I played around with. We did something crazy there.
NATIVE: When did you start making the concept for the album? Was there a conversation like, “Now, we are making something for the album,” or was it just a spur-of-the-moment thing?
LANRE: That was last year. I think we started making the album last year. It was June or August. The thing is, Rema called me for a meeting and said we needed to speak. When we had the meeting for the album cover, immediately after, Rema announced that the name of the album was ‘Rave & Roses.’ I didn’t know. It was during the meeting he told me that it was ‘Rave & Roses.’ During the meeting, he explained what we were going to do. And the funny thing is, it was an entire idea. What is on the album cover right now isn’t what we did throughout last year.
All we did last year was create a cover but we were going back and forth, but a piece in the cover art last year made it into the current album cover, and that is the grave. The grave where the sword is. We finished the first album cover around October. Then, Rema went on tour and when he came back, he said we needed to change the album cover because it didn’t flow with the way he arranged the songs, the mood of the songs. He had made adjustments to the body of work. I was like, “Okay. Let me come over and we’ll talk about it.” Then, I went over and Rema just made a very simple sketch. The sketch is on my page, it’s a rough drawing. Rema made a drawing of a house burning and a skeleton coming through the house. He just gave me the pen to bring out the idea, then I worked on it there. That same day, we created the album cover.
NATIVE: That same day?
LANRE: Yeah. We created the whole idea. After four to five days, we were done.
NATIVE: So, it was really fast and it was settled on?
LANRE: Yes, it was really fast. The first one we did took a lot of months, this one just got done very fast. It was so crazy. Everybody flowed and we just did it. I’m really happy about this cover.
NATIVE: That’s what I was going to ask. What are your feelings about the cover? Do you feel like it actually represents the soundscape of the album?
LANRE: Yeah. The thing is this cover represents everything as Rema’s first album. Everybody was thinking we were going to draw spaceships and the world coming to an end or something. There were a lot of expectations. But we listened to ourselves and thought about what would actually work. We paid attention to what that album was talking about. The songs there are love songs. We tried to follow the vibe and still produce that banger vibe. That cover speaks a lot about Rema, it has Rema’s story in it. As simple as it is, it’s talking about Rema, what he has been through. Everything is on that cover. I feel like, for his first album, it’s a killer piece for it, so I’m actually glad we made that change.
NATIVE: Personally for you, as a creative in your own right, how does it feel to be involved in the debut project of a major pop star like Rema?
LANRE: I’m not going to lie, it feels good. I had plans in 2019. I just sat down and prayed. I wasn’t really professional then, I wasn’t as good as this, but I said, “I know one day, I’ll do Rema’s cover, and some other big artists,” but Rema was the first person I mentioned because he understands what art means. He flows with it. So, Rema was the first name I called, then some other big artists too. I didn’t know this would happen, trust me. It wasn’t my plan. It was just something I said and it manifested. I didn’t picture it happening. I just thought I’d do a cover for Rema and that’d be it.
NATIVE: Can you run me through what the cover means from your own perspective?
LANRE: The skeleton on the cover is Rema. The house burning is the house where Rema wrote those songs. The songs are so hard that they can make a house explode. Rema is running out of the house but the fire from the house is so intense that it catches up with him. He’s running with a rose, towards the sun. The sun is the light. The grave below is what Rema has passed through. If you know Rema’s past, he has lost a couple of people; his dad and his brother. That’s what the grave means. Then, the swing is showing where Rema came from, his first EP. That journey. It’s just a crazy idea. So, the back cover will be coming soon, so you guys will understand what we are trying to say. Everything is detailed on the back cover.
Featured image credits/NATIVE