Takashi Murakami and Kanye West
Takashi Murakami and Kanye West

Ten Years Ago Takashi Murakami Shot Kanye West’s Dropout Bear Into Space

September 11 is a really big day in hip hop history. Not only is today the sixteen-year anniversary of Jay-Z’s classic The Blueprint it’s the ten-year anniversary of Kanye West’s game-changing album Graduation. And one of the ways Yeezy’s third studio album altered the landscape of hip hop was by ushering in a new awareness of visual arts. A big part of that was the album’s cutting-edge cover design created by the renowned Japanese artist Takashi Murakami.

In a recent interview with Complex, Murakami described how their collab came about. It seems that Mr. West was interested in viewing the artist’s big-breasted sculpture Hiropon up close and personal. The piece,  a life-sized rendering of an anime character with gigantic lactating breasts whose milk stream forms a jump rope, sold for $427,500 at Christie’s auction house in May 2002. Erotic body fluids appear to be something of a theme with Murakami. His anime-inspired sculpture My Lonesome Cowboy depicts a masturbating boy whose jizz forms a lasso. (That one sold for $15.2 million at Sotheby’s.)

“He want to see my big-breast sculpture,” Murakami recalls in the video interview, adding that Kanye’s assistant gave him only one day notice. “I want to say no, and I also never know who is Kanye West.” For some reason he agreed to the meeting anyway and Yeezy showed up with his late mother to see the big-boobed artwork. He took tons of photos before leaving. Three months later Murakami heard from West’s assistant again, speaking of a possible collab.

“He created 70 percent of the design,” Murakami says of the album cover, which shows Kanye’s famous Dropout Bear being blasted off into Universe-City with his mortar board cap flying away. “That is our making process.” The cover’s vivid colors and manga-influenced graphics set a new standard for

The cover’s vivid colors and manga-influenced graphics set a new standard for visual artist in hip hop.

“Kanye West is the greatest artist because he is exactly a psycho and he can make a big hit. And mostly everybody’s surprised that he changed the rule in the sneaker industry. You can’t just do that. That’s why we can say he’s a genius creator.” It’s worth noting that the Graduation cover found its way onto a very rare adidas x Yeezy design.

Asked whether he would work with West again, the artist replied unequivocally: yes. Indeed, last month Hypebeast reported that Kanye and Kid Cudi paid a visit to Murakami’s Tokyo studio in July, so anything is possible.

Appropriately enough “The Octopus Eats its own Leg,” a retrospective of Murakami’s work is now on view at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art until September 24. Catch it while you can!

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