Hey, You’re Cool! Tony Whlgn
The artist behind your favorite Bada$$
Besides the killer music, if there’s one thing that Joey BadA$$ is known for, it’s his amazing cover art. Most of that is done by Detroit-native and California resident Tony Whlgn (pronounced hooligan). He’s done design work for dozens of artists, brands and projects, but his work with Joey and Pro Era goes back to the beginning of the Beast Coast movement and even gained him a plaque. From the airport, Tony talks to us about working with Joey, designing, and his least favorite clients.
What’s your main focus as an artist?
Foremost I’m an artist with a focus in painting & design, but I’m currently freelancing and collaborating with other individuals that love what they do and my team of talented and entrepreneurial friends, the Whlgn.
When did you actually start designing?
I actually steppedd into the design world in 2007 while in high school. One semester they threw a bunch of us visual arts kids into a computer class with a bunch of Adobe programs where me and my childhood friend Streety basically learned the in’s and out’s. I used the skills I learned and got into the album art hustle early. Then I started to make music art, merchandise, and promotional material for artists around my city. And the rest is history.
Who are some of the artists and brands that you’ve worked with?
Almost ALL of my relationships are built from word of mouth, and I’ve been introduced and blessed to work with a lot of very Talented Individuals. I’ve Worked with Artist and Brands such as Joey Bada$$, Big K.R.I.T., Def Loaf, D.R.A.M., Mick Jenkins, Vashtie, Ronnie Fieg, KITH NYC….and bunch of other amazing people and brands.
What was it like working with Joey BadA$$?
I’ve been working with Joey and Pro Era for the last 5 years doing like art direction and merchandising. So at this point we’re kind of a family (laughs). We’ve learned to conceptualize ideas and push social boundaries until we find a balance in between our vision and the message we want to spread to the people. It’s not always the easiest working with someone with a vision as strong as yours, but a lot of times we’re on the same page and find that Balance we seek in a project.
How did you come up with the cover for All Amerikkkan Bada$$?
It was a nostalgic nod to Dead Prez’s: Revolutionary But Gangsta album from 2001. We wanted to go back to the history of Amerikkka and the gang culture in which the people, the police, and our public officials have involvement. It’s some shit that will make people uncomfortable in this world when they see it, but we weren’t going for comfort. The photo of Joey hanging from the Mustang was shot by photographer Gary Askew, which was Joey’s “fuck you” to the cold shoulder Amerikkka has given to our people on a day to day basis. I took the Unity flag and the All American Muscle and I had no choice but to weave the story and album into a solid visually uncomfortable body of work.
Where does a lot of the inspiration come from working with artists?
I source a lot of things from the past, it’s important to know where you come from in order to know where you’re going. A lot of my inspiration comes from my experiences as a black man in America or my friends, sometimes I work with individuals and they bring something new to my attention.
Do they give you complete creative control?
Usually people give me entire creative control, and a lot of those times I inquire about their interest in or concerns to find a good mix to a chemistry between creatives.
Worst client experience you’ve had?
No shade to anyone, but in the mixtape art game you can get some VERY unusual request. My worst experience had to be working with a client that requested if I could add bags and piles of money plus images of cars and G5 jets to their cover work. Something I can do but I try to steer away from that graphic style and focus more on a direction with less materialistic perceptions and more about substance. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes its fun adding shit that’s not there but sometimes it can be a headache. I got all of that with this client and on top of that, they paid late, note I haven’t revisited that contact since.
Before we go I gotta know what’s your favorite thing you’ve created?
This is a fucking hard, because I’ve made SO MANY things that I love. It’s never about what I did, but more about what I’m doing.
Okay, but you gotta pick ONE! What is it?
If I had to pick I’d have to go with, the single artwork for Devastated, John Mannion shot the photo & it was the first time Joey got a gold plaque for sales & streaming. I wasn’t even told visual artist and designers got recognition for that accomplishment as well. So like. I got my first gold plaque meaning over 500,000 people owned something I created.
You got a plaque?!
Yeah, I hung my plaque up at my mom’s house, but I don’t think it’s my last. If anything it added another goal to my list.
So if that’s not your last, what’s the future looking like for you?
The future is bright and focused. Surrounded by the goals of my crew & my development into being a full-time painter and living off of my art, while still making strides our my communities. Painting is something I’ve always had a passion for but never gave myself the time to focus more on personal works. So I have a few shows this year I’m aligned alongside some more musical projects with great individuals. Also developing clothing from my TONEY® brand and our Whlgn® brand something my friends and I have been urging to do.