In 2013 Bryan Rivera, a 17-year-old aspiring graphic designer from New York, sent an email to Joe Perez. Rivera had seen the album cover for Pusha T’s My Name Is My Name album, which Perez, a creative director and then member of Kanye West’s creative agency Donda, designed. “I thought the album cover was amazing,” Rivera says. “It was minimal but I preferred that.”
Through some research, Rivera found Perez’s contact information and reached out to him. “I told him, ‘I was inspired by what you did on My Name Is My Name. It helped me look at things differently and I felt something when I saw it,’” Rivera remembers. “Of course, I also threw in a link to my work.”
Perez responded to Rivera’s email. “He hit me back and told me what pieces of mine he liked, what he thought I could work on, and gave me names of people I should research and learn from,” he says. “It was crazy because I didn’t expect to get a reply. didn’t even know if that was his real email.” After his first year of college at Fashion Institute of Technology, he interned for Perez.
Rivera, now 21 years old, has since worked on album and single cover art and other visuals for Post Malone, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj, Pusha T, and more. In his first interview, we talked to Rivera about how he got into graphic design, what it’s been like working on high-profile projects, how he wound up working with Donda for two years, and the inspirations behind some of his art.
How did you get into graphic design?
Growing up in Queens, I had an older brother who would always tell me about the graffiti he’d see on his commute to school. I wanted to learn more about all these writers he was into, so I started looking at pictures of graffiti and reading about the culture. Then Marc Ecko came out with this video game called “Getting Up,” which was about graffiti. From there, I knew I wanted to do something art related.
I never really used Photoshop but MySpace was popping at that time and my brother went from doing graffiti to making layouts on Photoshop. I was like, “That's crazy! I wanna do that stuff too.” So I started making layouts for my friends and helped them with coding. I started working on stuff for myself on Photoshop, and eventually put out some T-shirts and sold them around school. I’ve been doing graphic design since.
How did you start working closely with Donda?
I didn’t get accepted into this program at FIT. I was hurt at the time but then Joe mentioned that Kanye was opening up a studio in Calabasas and that he had to move from Rhode Island so he’ll need me to work on things while he was moving. I told him I wasn’t going to be in school and might stay at my best friend’s house in L.A. for the summer. Joe was like, “If you’re going to be in L.A., I got a chair for you at the studio, we’ll work something out.”
I told my mom I got a job offer and I bought the plane ticket. I had $700 dollars in my bank account and went to L.A. I was sleeping on my boy’s floor for two years. I had to commute an hour and a half to get to the office. Soon, I had a bigger roles on the projects I was working on. I was learning more, we would get immediate feedback, Kanye was even there in person.
What was it like working with a team like Donda?
I was kind of isolated. I’m not sure if that many people actually knew who I was or what I was doing. I’ve talked to [Institute founder and creative director] Nate [Brown], he was extremely cool. But most of the time, I was just there focused, with my headphones on, just working. I wasn't there to socialize, I was there to work.
I had to work just as hard as the top guys. Sometimes I would only have an hour to finish a project. Kanye would want 100 different versions of a design in 24 hours. Honestly, it took a toll on me. I don't want to say I wasn't able to live a normal life, but I became paranoid. I would wake up in the morning like, “If I go to the beach, am I going to have to leave in the middle of it and get to work?” But working at Donda taught me a lot. It taught me that if you really want something you have to work hard for it. If I would've went to the beach or to that party, what would I have gained? I wouldn't have been part of these projects.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned working with Joe Perez and Donda?
It's inspiring working with them. I learned how things work behind the scenes, the actual design process, how they communicate, and how they collaborate. For example, someone would pitch an idea, other people would pull references, and someone else would design based on those references. It was just a pool of ideas. I took what I learned at Donda and applied it to my own work. I work with my best friends Travis Brothers and Henock Sileshi. I built my own little unit, obviously not as big as Donda, but the principle is the same. I’m like, “If these dudes can do it, then we can do it too.”
What was your involvement in the visuals and merch for Kanye’s performance at The Summer Ends Music Festival?
That was one of the first things I had worked on when I went out to L.A. I worked on the shirt design for the merch with Joe Perez and the whole team. I helped get it ready for print. [Kanye’s creative director] Virgil Abloh and Joe came up with the idea for the grid design on the flyer. We initially did hundreds of versions that were 2D but eventually Kanye wanted something that was more 3D. At the time, Joe was busy working on other stuff so they asked me to make photo real versions of the grid with the smoke, trying to match the vibe of the show, with cool textures and minimal info. One thing they stressed was that they didn’t want any text on the artwork, so it was two-sided, one side was text only and the other had the grid.
You tweeted: “Swish covers were the hardest thing ever.” What was that about?
The album name changed a bunch of times, so that affected the album packaging, covers, merch, everything. There were different of covers for every possible title. Anything that Kanye works on, there's a bunch of versions. I mean he’s an amazing artist, and at the end of the day it comes down to what Kanye’s vision is. I think everyone loved the way it came out.
You also worked on the album cover for Post Malone’s debut Stoney. What was the inspiration for that?
The crazy thing about this is that we didn’t get to hear the music beforehand. He was still recording and the label was clearing samples. Initially, we wanted to have this crazy photo shoot. We put together mood boards for the shoot and the concept behind it was Post Malone’s rise to fame. We wanted to represent Post in his element, surrounded by all this craziness and all this change in his life. But he was on tour and we didn't think the photoshoot would happen. The alternative we came up with was to make a crazy alternative 3D logo that albums in the ‘80s had and pair it up with an illustration. I spent days trying to design the Stoney logo. But eventually, we were able to get [photographer] Nabil Elderkin to shoot the cover. Nabil was awesome. From there, me and my team, Trvsbrthrs and Henock Sileshi, rendered the Stoney logo we made and put everything together. We started working with Post Malone from the beginning, right after “White Iverson” dropped, and the chemistry has been great. It’s all love.
You also helped with the cover for Nicki Minaj’s album The Pinkprint, right?
Yeah, I sent Joe a font and they put that on the cover of what they already had. That font became Nicki’s logo. It was pretty crazy. That was one of those projects where I was on my way home from school, on the bus, and Joe was like, “We have one hour to submit this.” I was like, “Fuck it.” I pulled out my laptop, worked on the bus, got a good font and then luckily, Nicki liked it, everyone liked it. That was literally a one-hour job!
Did you work on the airbrush T-shirt of Kanye’s mom and Robert Kardashian that was sold during the Saint Pablo tour?
During Yeezy Season 3 and The Life of Pablo, Kanye wanted an airbrush tee. I looked up the pictures of his mom and Robert—may they rest in peace. I put photos of them on the shirt and the Donda team and I went back and forth, looking for different fonts for “In Memory of.” Mark Seekings found a really great spot for them. From there, we put everything together and got an airbrush artist to re-do it.
You mentioned Kim Kardashian’s Selfie book earlier. What was your involvement in that?
One of the images that I sent Joe for the book, about a year or two before Selfie came out, is the cover. The photo I gave was full bleed and it had some text on it, but I had blacked out the background because she was in the shower in the picture and thought there were too many colors and textures. A year later, it ended up being the final cover, they just changed the crop and took the text off. I was 19 years old when I did that. I didn't get credited in the book because I had just started working with Donda and was working under Joe mainly, but I’m fine with that. It was still an amazing experience for me.
What’s next for you?
I just landed a gig with Rolling Loud Festival to do the merch. I’m going to continue doing what I’ve been doing. If somebody can look at something I made on a square and have it change their life the way the My Name Is My Name cover did for me, that makes all the difference for me. I’m not going to say I’m going to be the next Kanye or Virgil and build an empire. If it happens, that’s awesome. But if not, I’ll be okay with working on my personal collection and contributing to the culture. I’m just super thankful for Kanye, the Donda team, and especially Joe Perez. I can't express enough how appreciative I am of Joe for being the first person to see the potential in me. He was the one dude out there who put me on and let me be a part of things, let people know who Bryan Rivera was. He changed my life.