Next month Gucci Mane will release Trap God 3, his 16th independent release since he was arrested on weapons charges just over a year ago. Gucci’s been behind bars since, but, via the extensive unloading of material previously recorded at his Brick Factory Studios and compiled by audio engineer Sean Paine and A&R Ronald ‘Caveman’ Rosario, he’s maintained his presence in hip-hop’s daily conversation. Another part of the formula is Kevian Dodd, a.k.a. KD Designz. The 18-year-old graphic designer lives in Jackson, Tennessee, a small city of 67,000 that falls in between Memphis and Nashville. He just graduated high school in May, but he’s been making mixtape cover art since he was in middle school and is somehow now handling the bulk of album artwork duties for the barrage of Gucci Mane projects that have flooded the internet in recent months.
KD's aesthetic is clean and generally straightforward. A mixtape titled Kings Of The Trap sees a gigantic crown sitting atop an abandoned home. “Choppa On The Couch” features an AK47 resting on a beat up leather sofa. You get the idea here. The content of the images, along with the darker hues and designs that accompany them, carry a hint of menace that aligns with the tone of Gucci Mane’s music in recent years. In addition to his work for Gucci, KD’s also done artwork for OJ Da Juiceman, Young Dolph, Chief Keef, Lil Durk, and others. We caught up with him over the phone and got the scoop on his start in graphic design, working for Gucci while still in high school, and that infamous 1017 Thug 2 cover, where Young Thug’s head somehow got placed on Wiz Khalifa’s body.
Noisey: Tell me a little bit about your background in graphic design.
KD Designz: Well, I started when I was back in the sixth grade. I used to see my brother and my dad creating these real cool pictures for their Myspace pages, so I wanted to learn how to do it too. I always loved drawing, so I was thinking to myself that it would be cool if I could take my drawings and make them digital and fix them up on the computer. I started using this program called Corel Paintshop Pro, and my brother taught me like the basics to it. After I got the basics down I started charging people at my school like one dollar for me to make them a picture. Eventually more people started coming to me for artwork, so I started charging five dollars. Eventually I heard about this program called Photoshop, and once I got it, I noticed there was a lot more I could do on that than Corel Paintshop Pro. So my designs got a lot better because there were more features on there. Once I learned Photoshop, my prices went up to $10 at that point. So I’m doing mixtape covers, profile pictures, logos, everything. I had my own little business going around school.
Who was the first prominent rapper you worked with?
Around the eighth grade I started doing work for Soulja Boy. That was the first major artist I ever worked with. I used to do little profile pictures for him on Myspace. I wasn’t getting paid or anything, but I was just so happy to be doing work for him. Eventually I think he found another designer, and I stopped designing pictures for him.
How did you end up linking up with Gucci?
My senior year I started working with Gucci Mane. [Gucci’s associate] Caveman had hit me on Twitter telling me to send him my contact info. I already knew he worked with Gucci, so as soon as I saw that I was so excited. The first one I did was a single cover for Gucci Mane and Young Thug’s “Bricks Like A Project,” and that was pretty cool. At first I wasn’t getting paid, but I was OK with it because it was Gucci Mane—that’s my favorite rapper. So to be doing artwork with Gucci Mane is already amazing. Eventually they just loved my work, so I started getting paid for the work I was doing with him.
So at that point you’re a high school senior doing the cover art for Gucci Mane. Were you like the most popular kid in your class or what?
Back in high school I never did really hang around too many people. I only had like one or two homies I’d hang with. So I could tell who was my friend and who wasn’t. But when it got around that I was doing the Gucci covers the people that I never talked to started to come around.
What did your parents think?
My parents are really proud.
A lot of these covers feature guns, bricks of cocaine, cups of lean, things of that nature. Were they at all weirded out by that?
Yeah they were a little bit at first, but they’re familiar with the territory, and they understand. It’s business, and people want that they want, so I gotta give it to them.
What’s the process of putting these images together? Are you given specific instructions on what Gucci wants, or do you have creative license?
The majority of the time I’m able to listen to the song or album first, so I can get an idea based off of that. Sometimes they have their own ideas, but usually they let me take it away, and they love what I send them. I always start my covers from scratch. I’ll get my images from online, and then I’ll edit them up nice and color correct them. A lot of the times I’ll start with something I find online that’s like a blurry picture, so I can color correct it real good and make it HD. Like with “Choppa On The Couch,” I put those images together. I put the gun on the couch, and then the holes in the couch with the cotton coming out, I added that in too. Then I added some shadows, the scratches on the couch, I put those in there to add different textures.
So I have to ask you about the 1017 Thug 2 cover. The one with Wiz Khalifa’s body and Young Thug’s head.
Basically what that was—that was just a mistake honestly. I was going through Young Thug’s Instagram, and I couldn’t really find any HD photos or anything of Young Thug. I found one picture that had an HD headshot of him, but I really wanted a full body picture for the cover. I had to find a body. So I went on Google images and looked for some people with the same body type as Young Thug. I Googled like Soulja Boy, and then I Googled Snoop Dogg, and then I Googled Wiz Khalifa. I found that one of Wiz Khalifa, and I was like ‘Yeah he has a really nice jacket in this picture.” So I figured I could edit it up a little bit and use it for Young Thug’s body. I did it, and it looked good, so I sent it off.
The next day it was on Twitter, and at some point I saw somebody retweet the picture of Young Thug next to the original picture of Wiz Khalifa, and it had like 2,000 retweets. I was like ‘Oh man, I’m about to cause an uproar.’ I really didn’t know why people were making it such a big deal. Soulja Boy did it on the Young n Flexin’ cover over Nas’s body and Wiz Khalifa had done it on Kush & OJ when he put his head over David Ruffin’s body. But we changed the cover up and put a new one up on iTunes, and eventually the uproar died down.
Did you see Wiz’s response to it?
Yeah. Wiz said, “Young Thug is actually Wiz Khalifa’s body and Young Thug’s head” or something like that. I remember I was watching the interview with Wiz Khalifa, and he was talking about it on Vlad TV and said he knew it was probably just a mistake and actually thought that it was pretty tight. I was a little worried at first and was thinking 'I really hope I don’t start any beef between those two over a mixtape cover,' so I was happy that he liked it.
What’s next for you?
I just want to continue with graphic design and hopefully be the best of all time. I really just want to be successful.
Neil Martinez Belkin is actually Wiz Khalifa's body and a rap journalist's head. He's on Twitter - @Neil_MB