You could quite accurately declare, as folks frequently do, that designer Jeff Jank has been instrumental in expanding the expressive range of how indie hip-hop is visually represented. The longtime Art Director at the revered Stones Throw Records, Jank – via his wonderful album and single sleeve art for the likes of Madlib (and his myriad of incarnations, including Quasimoto and Yesterday’s New Quintet), J Dilla, Dudley Perkins, et al – has exhibited as much a talent for creatively paying homage to vintage record designs as forging indelibly original ones. Buoyed by a striking image by photographer Eric Coleman, Jeff’s album cover design for Madlib and kindred enigmatic spirit MF Doom’s classic inaugural collab, Madvillain’s Madvillany, is an essential example of one that actually beautifully bridges both categories. We recently caught up with the man known alternately as Funkaho to discuss the making of the LP and its cover - a process which entailed bartering, bong hits, a bomb shelter, and opportunities to perhaps frighten small children.
What was the original inspiration for the Madvillainy album cover and how did the concept evolve?
Jeff Jank: Back then, 2003, Doom didn't really have public image. Hip-hop heads knew he wore a mask, that he'd been in KMD a decade earlier, but he really was a mystery. So, I really wanted to get a shot of him on the cover, just to make a definitive Doom cover. Specifically I was thinking of a picture of this man, who happened to wear a mask for some reason, as opposed to "a picture of a mask." I don't know if the distinction would occur to anyone else, but to me it was a big deal. I mean, who the hell goes around with a metal mask, what's his story?
Eric Coleman came over with camera and film and just went to it one day. I don't remember if we had a shoot planned or if he showed up on the right day. Doom and Madlib can be elusive with photos, so this was a score. We shot them at our house, where the album was being recorded.
I was thinking of the cover for King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King when I was working on this photo that I zeroed in on. I use to check out that big red screaming face on the King Crimson album in my dad's vinyl [collection] when I was a little kid and it really shook me - I was actually scared looking through his vinyl. I hoped this picture of this guy with a metal mask would do the same to some other 5-year-old somewhere.
Another thing - just sort of a little inside joke of mine - was that the black and white photo [of Doom] reminded me in some way of the first Madonna album cover, just her in black and white - it said "MADONNA" and the "O" was orange. I saw the two pictures side by side and laughed at it like it was some rap version of Beauty & the Beast. So I put a little piece of orange up in the corner, partly because it needed something distinctive, and partly to match the color with Madonna.
Describe what the environment of working at Stones Throw was like at the time. You guys were all living together in the same house, correct?
Jeff Jank: Yeah, we were all up in this house in east L.A., and I still live there today on my own. [Peanut Butter] Wolf had this sort of bedroom hip-hop DJ label he'd started a few years earlier, and decided to move to L.A. to work closer with Madlib. [Label manager] Egon and I joined up at the same time. It was the three of us just winging it, no plan, no money. Madlib moved in unofficially, first set up shop in the living room, then into this '50s era bomb shelter downstairs with 18-inch concrete walls. It's like it was custom made for him - he made music all day on a consistent schedule that really impressed me - all the much more impressive that his three breaks a day were to smoke giant mounds of green bud.