Last night, Drake took the stage at NYU's Skirball Center to talk with Elliott Wilson about his new album Nothing Was The Same. Afterward, one fan asked Drake what it was like to work with Kadir Nelson, the painter who created both the regular and deluxe versions of the cover (we interviewed him about it), and part of the response revealed the painting that inspired his cover. The piece is titled Cleaned Cotton, and it's from 2011.

I was working at the studio Marvin's Room. There was all this incredible art up on the wall, and one piece was of Michael Jackson. It’s one of the best pieces I have ever seen. It’s humongous, and you can see the detail. I fell in love with this piece, so I asked someone who did it, and he told me it was this guy Kadir Nelson.

Then there was this other painting of Marvin Gaye...I was like, man, who did this one? And he said Kadir Nelson. So I asked him, is this guy still alive? I eased my way into asking him if he felt like Kadir would do my album cover. I didn’t know how it would go, you know? I didn’t even know if he would be interested. He and Kehinde Wiley, and a couple other people, are extremely established artists that do—for lack of a better term—that sort of black art. They’re black painters that paint black people.

I just loved it, because as amazing as it is, it's almost like that painting you see at your grandma’s house down in the South or something. It just had that feeling to it, that soul. Kadir has this piece called Cleaned Cotton, which is an image of a slave sitting in a field cleaning cotton. It's just so painful. It has a blue sky behind it, and I was like, I love this. I love this image so much.

So I called him, and he said he was willing to come and meet me. We hung out for like three days. We went to the NBA finals together, which was really cool. He sent me back these album covers, and it was the most incredible thing in the world—to have a real piece of art. When you go buy that album, that’s a real painting, you know? That painting will exist, and I hope that I’ll do enough in my career for the value of that original painting to be worth millions and billions, even if it’s not. It’s at my house.

Cleaned Cotton by Kadir Nelson, 2011

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