Atlanta's most recent episode, the instant-classic "Teddy Perkins," elicited a wide range of emotions from those who watched, including genuine fear about our perpetually-chill homeboy Darius possibly getting smoked and awe at Donald Glover's audaciousness as an auteur. No reaction will be quite like Justin Richburg's, though. The 29-year-old Philadelphian got a quick thrill when his artwork popped up in one of the episode's minor moments: On the background of Darius' phone when his friend Paper Boi jokingly texts him, "U dead yet?"—completely unaware of the deep shit he's in.
Black Twitter fans who were paying close attention recognized this as the star-studded Dice Game painting that Richburg published back in Black History Month. While it was mainly an aha moment when it popped up in Atlanta, the reactions back in February ranged from This is dope to a fed-up Who's responsible for this? To summarize, the drawing is a Ghetto Heaven caricature: Allen Iverson, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X are super excited to play dice in an alley; Barack Obama (and Michelle?!) preside over Hennessy; crooked cop Alonzo Harris somehow gets an invite; and Black Panther is chilling in the back, taking a break from his superheroic duties. This isn't even a fraction of what's going on here. It's the type of joyously surreal thing Darius would love.
Dice Game is Richburg's most popular work, but it isn't a really an anomaly in his catalog. His Instagram is filled with these sorts of mish-mashes, including Dragon Ball Z meeting Paid in Full and the NBA's best shooters posing with oversized guns (plus some pessimistic relationship commentary). But the attention for this particular piece comes at just the right time for him: He'd quit his job as a dietary aid a few months ago to pursue art full-time. He spoke to Complex about the once-controversial drawing, how it ended up on Atlanta, and allegedly getting some inspiration from Jay Z.
How did the reaction to when you first posted the picture compare to when it ended up in Atlanta?
I got a lot of love this time around. People congratulated me when they saw it in Atlanta, but when I first posted it, I had a lot of feminist and pro-black people coming down on me. What really [escalated things] was when Charlamagne [reposted it] and wrote what he wrote [he's featured in the piece: "I appreciate art but why y’all got me in this foolishness???"]. He wrote something sarcastic about it, but you can’t read sarcasm well in text form. Everybody ran with it thinking he had said something bad about it when he wasn’t. People misconstruing it fueled more hate coming my way.
What was the inspiration behind the drawing?
Nothing really. Just my favorite people doing hood shit. When I found out that I had some ability to make stuff that triggers people, I started making more stuff.
I know people be looking because I was on the phone one time with Brian [B. Dot] Miller of Rap Radar a couple of years ago. He told me this one thing that kept me going. He said, “I showed Jay Z some of your stuff, and it put a smirk on his face.” The last thing he said to me before we lost communication was, “Keep doing what you’re doing because you never know who’s watching."
Was dropping it during Black History Month intentional?
It was on purpose because timing is everything. But this is what actually happened: I had posted a drawing I did of a school shooter, and I had just changed the skin color [from black] to white. The thing that pissed me off about it that made me do that dice game was people looking at everything else but the school shooter. They were [mad] because I had a whole bunch of black kids around him and making fun of him to the point where he just came back to the school and did the shooting [rather than focus on the bullying].
I was like, “No, I’m going to make something that’ll get someone actually mad on purpose.” And that’s where I came up with the Dice Game drawing.
How did the painting end up in Atlanta?
They reached out to me.
When did they they reach out to you?
The middle or end of last month.
Who was it that reached out to?
I guess one of the producers. I don’t remember his name off the bat.
Did they tell you why?
They ain’t really give me much info other than it’s gonna be on Darius’ phone.
How’d you react to being Darius’ phone background? Seems out of nowhere mid-season.
It’s cool. I appreciate it, but my personality is nonchalant: I don’t get excited about a lot of things. Of course, I was appreciative because that’s the hottest show at the moment. So with them reaching out to me to use my artwork, it shows that I’m doing the right thing. I’d just quit my job about two months ago to take [artwork] seriously. If I’d kept my job, I wouldn’t have made that picture.