On Wednesday night, a newly-freed 6ix9ine continued his trolling ways by changing his Instagram profile picture to an illustration of himself resting in a rat trap, eating a piece of cheese. His bio now reads, “Why everybody callin me a snitch? I'm missing something ...?”

Eagle-eyed fans will notice that the depiction of 6ix9ine is similar to the way he appears in the cover art for his albums and singles. That’s because it was done by the same guy. Alex Solis is a Wisconsin-based artist who was commissioned for the covers for both of 6ix9ine’s albums, Day 69 and Dummy Boy, as well as the cover art for most of the rapper’s singles. His big-eyed, cartoonish animations have become a big part of 6ix9ine’s visual aesthetic.

Earlier this year, while 6ix9ine was in prison, the rapper commissioned Solis for another piece, which became the rat trap image.

“The idea is that everyone’s calling him a rat or whatever,” Solis tells Complex. “Everyone was trying to trap him. But in reality, he’s ended up getting the cheese. People think it’s a diss, but it really isn’t. It’s him taking this and embracing these people calling him names. He’s the one that’s going to end up eating the cheese without being trapped. That’s the overall message I feel like he was trying to push.” 

Solis says he isn’t certain what the image might be used for, besides 6ix9ine’s Instagram profile, but he thinks it might be tied to a future music rollout plan. “I think he might use part of this to promote his new album coming out,” he says. “I'm not sure if it’ll end up being the final cover or not. That was the intention of me working on this project, was for the album art.”

Complex caught up with Solis over the phone on Thursday to get the inside scoop about his history with 6ix9ine, and how this most recent picture came to be.

Solis, it should be said, also has a successful career as an artist outside of his work with 6ix9ine. You can find out more here. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Take me back to the very first Tekashi 6ix9ine piece you did, before you connected with him.
I do a lot of pop culture art, and this series called Icons Unmasked was heavily focused on pop culture. My wife was actually the one that was like, “Hey, you should draw Tekashi.” I listened to him when he came out. And at first I was kind of like, “Ah, I don't know if I want to touch that. I don't know if I want to mix it with pop culture and iconic.” But it was just too good to not do. And I unmasked Tekashi [to show] a My Little Pony underneath. 

From there, he saw it, and he posted a Story or something saying, “I don’t know why people are making fun of me, drawing me all fat.” I think he was just playing around. But a few days later they contacted me, because the original art for the Day 69 album, another artist did it, and it was a rip-off. They were already in the midst of producing the album. Since I did that Icons Unmasked piece, they contacted me to see if I was interested in doing the album. But it needed to be done in a day, because of the drama. They had no idea this art was stolen, and they needed to replace it. There were already pre-orders happening. I just jumped on it.

It was never a thing where I was like, “All right, I'm the official artist.” I did one, then they needed another one, and they contacted me again. It pretty much just started from me making a joke, he contacted me, and it went from there.

How did this new rat trap image come together?
We were already in talks about creating new work for him, because they were thinking he was supposed to be out a few months back. So we actually started working on a piece that was something completely different. I got it done, and then all of a sudden the court date came and he had to do more time. So that got thrown back and we didn't finish the project. But they asked me if I was willing to still do it, because they wanted to keep the same look and everything. I was like, yeah, of course. We thought this was going to drop in July or August or whenever he was going to be released. But because of the situation and him being released earlier, they just hit me up and I gave them a ton of sketches. He had an idea of the message he wanted to put across. I drew a bunch of different sketches and he really liked this one. So we went with it.

“The idea is that everyone’s calling him a rat or whatever. Everyone was trying to trap him. But in reality, he’s ended up getting the cheese.”

What was the message that they wanted to get across? Tell me how it was described to you.
From what I gathered, the idea is that everyone’s calling him a rat or whatever. Everyone was trying to trap him. But in reality, he’s ended up getting the cheese. People think it’s a diss, but it really isn’t. It’s him taking this and embracing these people calling him names. He’s the one that's going to end up eating the cheese without being trapped. That’s the overall message I feel like he was trying to push. 

A lot of people think that I’m dissing him. But in reality, I don’t think they're understanding the concept of the piece in full. I think that’s something that he wanted to push because it works. I feel like he’s very in tune to what works on social media still. Obviously with this piece, it kind of gives the viewer what they want. But at the same time, it has that message where he ended up getting the cheese.

What did you think when he approached you and said, “Hey I want to do something like this”?
At first, he didn’t really have that idea. I gave him so many. There were a lot of sketches of him riding a pony, him licking a gun. We brainstormed. Then at the end, he thought of this, embraced it, and thought this is what his plan was going to be. 

For the most part, for all the other art, he gave me quick concepts and ideas, and then let me do whatever I want. Then I give him a bunch of sketches. But with this one, he was a little more specific as to what he wanted.

What did you think the piece with him in the rat trap would be used for? Did they tell you it's for Instagram, specifically, or for an album? 
Initially I was working [on] album covers. I am not 100% sure now what the plan is. But I think he might use part of this to promote his new album coming out. I’m not sure if it’ll end up being the final cover or not. That was the intention of me working on this project, was for the album art. 

I’ve never done promotional pieces for him. It’s usually cover art. So I’m guessing yes, it would be used, but I’m not 100% sure.

Who was your main point of contact? Was it 6ix9ine?
Initially, I don’t even remember. Someone from his team contacted me and said I was super funny and asked if I was interested in doing some art for him. Obviously, I said yes. Then I started talking to him here and there. He’s one of my favorite clients because he gives me some ideas and then I just go with it. I do a bunch of sketches, give it to him and then we go from there.

“Initially I was working [on] album covers. I am not 100% sure now what the plan is. But I think he might use part of this to promote his new album coming out.”

Tell me a bit more about that working relationship.
After the first few ones, I worked directly with the label, 10K Projects. But he’s very hands-on. He’s always trying to push a message, even with his visuals. Step by step, he makes little changes to the art. He’s pretty hands-on with everything we do for him. For the art, he’s very specific when it comes to what he’s wearing or just the overall concept he's trying to get across.

How did 6ix9ine seem when you talked to him?
I mean, honestly, he’s like a different person [than his image]. He’s very professional, down to earth, and he was pretty easy to work with. That’s one of the main reasons I do keep working with him. He knows what he’s doing. It’s not just a kid that's getting famous by luck. He knows how to work social media. In a way, it is similar to my art and what I do already. So I felt like it’s a really great connection.

What's your favorite thing you've done for him?
[There’s the] stuff I do for him, and then there’s also the stuff that I do on my own. I feel like, as artists, its our job to push out what's going on in the world, whether it’s positive or negative, or just entertainment. I do a lot of stuff on my own. For example, the one of him running with the water gun. That one I did on my own. And then it usually ends up being an official thing later on. Like, the Icons Unmasked was a joke and then eventually became an official cover for “Tati.”

Personally, I enjoy doing the ones where I just do whatever and there’s no direction and it's not an official project, because it’s 100% me. I enjoy doing the ones I do with him, but it’s not as free as the ones I make on my own.

Tell me about the drawing you did just after he was released, which was a new version of the one you did with the water gun.
First, it was him running with a water gun. Then he started talking about soccer, so I made him running and kicking a soccer ball in his underwear, which he re-posted. I actually worked with him here and there while he was in jail. I did the one for him and DJ Akademiks (“Lanes”). But that one, I directly worked with his label. For this one, I just figured I had to do something, and I already had the animation set up so I had to do a few small changes. I thought it worked. The fans, they’re curious. They want to know what's going on. At the same time, I thought it’d be funny to share, since everyone was kind of like, where is he? What’s going on?

It’s funny that you have the roots of his hair growing back, and the ankle monitor.
I was actually trying to push to get an ankle monitor on the newest art, but it didn’t go through.

What happened after you did the new running one?
They hit me up and asked if I wanted to do more work and stuff. I was just like, is this for real? I don’t know. I thought it was funny since [the drawing] wasn’t meant to push to get more work, because I’m in a way making fun of him. But I guess it’s how I got the gig in the first place, you know?

Have you gotten any pushback from working with 6ix9ine? 
I have received a lot of bad messages. His haters come on my social media. But he’s not my only client or the only thing I do. I already had a name with art before Tekashi came in, so I have a big following of people that will support me and talk back if someone’s talking crazy about me. At the same time, I feel like haters help you grow up. 

At first, it did bother me a lot. I was like, “Wait, should I be working with him?” I asked a few of my friends who are in music. It was like a wave of people who started talking crap to me, calling me a rat. Now, I just feel like I need to take it not that serious. Obviously I’m not affiliated with his personal life or anything.

At the same time, I see that people are angry, but they’re more angry on the internet than in person. I do a lot of conventions and stuff where I see a lot of those people that talk crap. Not once has anyone said anything negative to me. It’s more online, when you’re behind the screen, that there tends to be more people that talk crap. 

I started seeing a connection where people talk shit because they’re trying to grab attention for themselves and their work. It’s just to gather attention for themselves to get more followers or something.

Can you tell me more about your history as an artist?
I’ve been drawing all my life. When I was young, I thought I would never make a living from just doing art, because my art’s a little more shocking. It could be a little silly, or whatever. So I took a career in web development and graphic design, which I was in for 15 years, and I never stopped doing my art. It slowly evolved to the point where I had more of a following than the company I was working at, so it only made sense to start my own thing and focus more on my work.

I still do a lot of design work for my own products and stuff—it’s not like I just threw it all out the window. It definitely helped a lot with the type of work I do now: to promote it, market stuff, pretty much everything. But now I just do it for myself.

Can you tell me about your aesthetic? There's a lot of pop culture, a lot of parody, a lot of humor. 
To me, art should make people feel something. When someone can see art, and they can relate to it, or feel something, that’s when I did my job. It only made sense that I eventually drifted into doing stuff for Tekashi, because a lot of the stuff I do is pop culture. I grew up on it. I feel like pop culture is the best way to connect with people right away. I do a lot of original art, not just pop culture, but that's one of the main reasons I do use pop culture: it’s a way to connect with an audience. 

Pop culture and vegetables.
Yeah.

Any final words?
I feel like my job is to—whether it's positive or negative—create art that keeps us entertained. And you’re seeing the world through my eyes. I feel like that’s what the job of artists is. 

What do you have coming up now?
I’m working on a pop culture project. I do a lot of designer toys. These last few years I’ve done a lot of big murals for Hilton Hotels. I’m pretty busy with a lot of stuff. Music covers wasn't really my thing. But with Tekashi, I just work with what the mission for my art is, and it was on the same path. I feel like it made sense to work with him. 

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