For Solomon "Grimnasty" Perry, art is life. Creating things gets him charged up. For nearly 20 years the artist/rapper/producer has turned his love for design into a prolific career, putting together a staggering number of hip-hop album covers as a graphic designer.
Under his own ever-expanding Grimnasty brand he has produced content for entertainers like Nick Cannon, Mariah Carey, Spike Lee, Tech N9ne’s Strange Music imprint, and companies like Regal Cinemas and MoneyGram. His next big endeavor is a personal one that involves earning a spot in the record books for his work.
We caught up with Perry, who recently taught a design course to teens at The Sprite Corner pop-up shop in NYC, and chopped it up about his album-cover origins, his most difficult pieces, and his plans to flood the world with his art. Catch the wave.
How did you get your start doing album covers?
I was always naturally into the arts. I like to find different ways to market it to make it something that people wanted. Once I did that it was just a matter of catering to what people’s needs were. And that was one of the things; logos and CD covers. A lot more people are becoming musicians these days. It just kind of fell into place.
When did you start doing album covers in particular?
I probably didn’t start doing those until right around the beginning of college [when] I was getting into Photoshop more. I really kind of got into it then, during my freshman year in college, around ’96.
How does your design process work? Do you sit down with artists or just freestyle using the LP title and artists info?
Sometimes the client will have a specific idea. Sometimes they don’t know and I have to get creative. Usually what helps is their name and the album title. From that you can spark ideas and spin off whatever the title is.
Do you have any memorable stories about coming up with cover ideas?
I did the cover for Nick Cannon’s The Great Adventures of Slick Nick. That was one of my favorite covers I’ve ever done. It gave me the opportunity to redo the iconic Slick Rick cover when he is on top of the buildingscape. It was probably one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done because I had to literally take Slick Rick out of the scene and replace the buildings, and then put the grain back on it so it looked like it was still from the ’80s without Rick on it. It was extremely complicated and difficult, but the result was perfect. People couldn’t even tell the difference. They were like, “How did you get him back in that scene, it’s impossible.”
There’s one I did for an indie group. Remember that [Timex Social Club] “Rumors” cover where the two women are whispering in each other’s ear? I did a remake of that. I made it more modern. It was called “A and B Conversation.” That was one of the covers I did that had people tripping out. They were just blown away. People still respond to that one to this day because the original was so memorable. It was very fun to do because I felt like I was going back to my childhood.
Who are some of the artists you’ve worked with recently?
Stevie Stone of Strange Music.
How was it linking up with Sprite for The Corner workshop? What did you love the most?
I had a great time. I usually don’t get the chance to teach very often, but when I do I like to school them on how to better themselves and give them practical ways of how to use things so they can know how to use it, instead of just teaching them a lesson. It was a really great time to put some positive energy in some impressionable minds and send them in the right direction.
All the stuff around it made for a real, exciting environment. Everybody had a great time. Looking around you see all this eye candy and it was such a wonderful, visual spectacle. Celebrities showing up and all that stuff, that was awesome.
How many album covers have you created all together?
Maybe a couple thousand in my lifetime. In this last year, I’ve probably done like 200 covers. Most of them are up-and-coming artists. On the art side alone, I paint murals and a lot of big conglomerates have me do that stuff too. It varies from CD covers. There are some graphics I’m working on for PlayStation controllers and Xbox controllers for my own brand. Those things aren’t covers, but it’s a way for me to be creative and express myself on different platforms and merchandise.
Anything I can get my hands on. I try to keep it like that because I don’t want to limit my growth. I want to keep it all just flowing.
What’s next for Grimnasty?
I’m looking to expand my prolificacy. I want to raise my value up to make my work more exclusive, so not necessarily everyone can get it. But you do less work to get more out of life, financially and everything else. I’m trying to explore all my publicity. I do hip-hop music, I make beats, I edit videos, I create cartoons, and a bunch of other stuff like that as well. I paint these 3-D illusion murals, which are starting to catch on. I want to get a Guinness world record for being the most prolific artist of our generation. That’s the next big step I’m going to do. We are looking into some investors to get my art in more places like gallery spaces. I don’t necessarily do paintings, but I do graphic work as well. Kind of like Andy Warhol. Expand it ‘til the wheels fall off, do as much as I possibly can with my talent.