Joe Perez spends a lot of time at the Fleet Library at Rhode Island School of Design. The Italian Renaissance-style renovated bank building in Providence has marble columns, a barrel-vaulted ceiling, and the largest collection of art books on the East Coast. At 37, the creative director and former art director at Kanye West’s creative company Donda wouldn’t be mistaken for a student. But this library is where he finds many of the references and inspirations for his memorable album and single covers, merch, logos, and other design works for West, Nicki Minaj, Pusha T, Lil Wayne, Big Sean, Desiigner, and more. For various projects for West, he scanned roughly 50,000 pages from various hardcovers from the library over the course of a year and a half.

“[Kanye] would send me crazy assignments, and I’d send back shit that nobody else could find on the Internet because it was in books from the 1800s,” Perez, sitting at a restaurant a few blocks from Fleet Library on a fall afternoon, says in his first extensive interview. He also found old logos used by book companies in the 1700s for the artwork for Tyga’s single “Gucci Snakes.” “Fleet is an artist’s dream,” adds Perez. “Researching different mediums and forms of expression is important.”

Perez is dressed in a black-on-black-on-black Pusha T hoodie, jeans, and Adidas Ultra Boost sneakers. He stands at over six feet tall and has thick black hair combed over to the left side of his head. Born and raised in Providence, he spent the last few years living in L.A. near West’s studio in Calabasas, California. But this past summer, he needed a change in environment and left California.