Illustrator Black Power Barbie on Creating Apple's Hip-Hop 50 Animations

Complex Canada caught up with Toronto/Brooklyn artist Black Power Barbie to talk about the animations she did for Apple Music's Hip-Hop 50 packaging.

Black power barbie hip hop 50 animations
Apple Music

Black power barbie hip hop 50 animations

Black power barbie hip hop 50 animations

When it comes to the apps we use every day, it can be easy to miss the art that’s hiding in plain sight.

Toronto/New York artist Black Power Barbie, also known as Amika Cooper, has created a number of illustrations and animations for Apple, which you might’ve seen and even enjoyed without thinking twice about them.

During Black History Month, the artist created the packaging around their playlists with three illustrations. For Hip-Hop’s 50 Anniversary, she drew inspiration from her Brooklyn surroundings for an animated scene rooted in rap nostalgia.

“It’s trippy thinking about my work ending up on these devices everyone has,” Cooper says. “Maybe people will see it and realize it’s not generated by an algorithm. It’s a good chance to tell a story and forge a connection, and that’s what I like to do.”

Born in New York, raised in Toronto, and back in New York again, Cooper has kept her Canadian ties strong even after moving away. Artwork from the Toronto Metropolitan University grad can still be found around her other hometown, from the album artwork to Haviah Mighty’s Juno Award-winning Stock Exchange to Maple Leafs apparel that benefits the Seaside Hockey Club, an association that provides assistance to visible minority youths in the Greater Toronto Area to play hockey.

Complex Canada caught up with Black Power Barbie to talk about the Apple collaboration.

So far, 2023 looks like it’s been incredibly busy for you. How has it been?
It’s wild because the work that’s just coming out now is what I was working on from late October until about January. So now, for the first time, I’m actually chilling. But I didn’t sleep for about three months trying to get it all done, so now I can actually do stuff outside of work. When you’re on deadline, it’s radio silence from me.

You get to finally enjoy all your hard work.
I’m trying to do that more, especially this year. I’m trying to make a point to chill more often.

You’re living in New York now, but I’m interested in your formative years in Toronto. What was it about Toronto that inspired you creatively?
I initially wanted to go to New York for theatre, which is originally what I wanted to do, but it’s just so expensive that I ended up going to school in Toronto because we get those three free applications, so I did that instead. I got into radio and television, which now it’s called media production. I wanted to learn how to be on-air talent and when I was there, they also had a stream where you would learn digital media. At that point I wasn’t even really big on Photoshop. At the time, I wasn’t even drawing or making illustrated work. I really didn’t think that was my skill set, but I had a teacher who was really awesome and ended up being a mentor to me. We had an animation project, and I did claymation, so that’s how I started: doing claymation shorts. I got to be creative and do world building, in a sense.

When I graduated, that’s when I started illustrating on my computer and doing 2D animations. For me, when I wanted to be an actor, the appeal was getting to live in these different worlds. And then creating visual art and creating like my own animated shorts ended up being my way to express my need for storytelling.

Black power barbie hip hop 50 animations

How long did it take for you to find your visual style?
Honestly, I would say that it’s one of those things where I think the first 5 years of me going down this journey was about learning and building up my skills. I had to teach myself, so I think in the beginning it wasn’t even so much about finding my style, it was about building that skill set so I could create things that met my taste level. And then when I got my first iPad, I think that’s when things started to kind of coalesce in a more recognizable way. Over time I got exposed to other artists, and the more I study other work and art in general, l found the things that I really gravitate towards, like colour and character. My work is mainly based around characters.

For something like your Hip-Hop 50 or Black History Month artwork, is there a backstory to these characters that you created?
It all depends. They’re representative of a feeling or a story. When I’m working on my personal projects, during that process you start to think about the person, the world they live in, and I think that’s what helps you understand what they’re about. That’s another part of my style that became important to me, trying to create a nostalgic feel so that when people see something, they can recognize the time and place surrounding that character.

Are your Hip-Hop 50 animations rooted in nostalgia?
The cool thing with every team that I’ve worked with at Apple, is that they do a lot of research before while they’re creating the brief. Before they even have the conversation with me, they’re really clear on what the values are for that project. When this one came around, the benchmarks we wanted to hit were about celebrating 50 years of a genre, and there are so many different eras that’s passed through even though it’s such a young genre. So how do we take people through 50 years of history in a very short span of time? It was fun getting to do the research, diving into hip-hop history, and the different elements of the culture. Just living in Brooklyn, I knew New York had to be a big part of it. I walk past history every day. Then you get the fashion, like wearing Adidas shell toes and bamboo earrings. The first person we see is the DJ with the 70s afro. A lot of people forget that it didn’t really start with Biggie, it was our parents’ music in the 70s.

Obviously New York plays a huge role in Hip-Hop 50, but is there a little Toronto in your Hip-Hop 50 work, as well?
It could be. I feel like both Toronto and Brooklyn have the most synergy there, with how it feels and what the communities are like. That’s part of what inspired my animation, I think just growing up as a city kid growing up in downtown Toronto before moving to the suburbs.

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