Sound and Vision: OutKast's "Aquemini," And An Interview With Creative Director DL Warfield

June 06, 2018

Sound and Vision is a new segment on the Juxtapoz platform dedicated to exploring one piece of substantial album artwork every Sunday. Album artwork is one of the primary ways that musicians and visual artists are able to collaborate, and many iconic album covers are simultaneously iconic pieces of pop art. It’s also an excuse for us to share some of our favorite albums and the visual component behind what makes an album groundbreaking and fun.

This week's iteration is the 1998 hip hop classic Aqueminiwhich cemented OutKast, and Southern hip-hop in-general, as a force to be reckoned with. The album  eatures a number of skits and classic tracks, centering around Big Boi and André 3000s' giant personalities and showcases their incredibly symbiotic relationship. The cover was designed to showcase that same thing.

We spoke with the album’s art director, DLWarfield, as he explained how the cover was meant to be reminiscent of a black light poster, also evoking imagery from early 1970's blaxploitation films. The illustration, done by a friend of Big Boi’s named Greg Hawkins, was a slight departure from their previous album ATLiens, which depicted the duo in a futuristic setting. Aquemini’s cover casted them in a more classic setting, and accentuates a different side of their legendary creative collaboration. 

Read on below for our full interview with DL Warfield on his work as a creative director on Aquemini and beyond.


Eben Benson: Tell me about the visual art direction for Aquemini
DL Warfield: So, Aquemini, you know, obviously came after ATLiens.That’s normally the one people like to talk to me about. The guy that did the illustration (Greg Hawkins) was a friend of Big Boi. It was funny because it kinda had a lot of the same symbolism that ATLiens had. Also, at that time, their first two or three albums were versions of the same thing. The image is them, sitting in the wicker chairs; that was like a constant aesthetic that they liked to draw from. The illustration style was done in a way that, as soon as I saw it, I was like, man! The initial intent was to make it look like a blacklight poster. Like those old-school, blacklight velvet posters. I literally went to do a digipak where all of the black hairs were velvet and things like that. And all of the colors were fluorescent. But the label wouldn’t approve the budget. I was upset about that, thought it would look crazy, and actually take the illustration to a whole other level, but they wouldn’t approve of the budget. That was the concept going into it. Cause those guys (Outkast) were extremely psychedelic, so I thought, “this is the best way to use that.” But unfortunately, the label wouldn’t pay.

Yeah, and back then it was probably so different where people would look at packaging as being such an extra. Even now, in the streaming age, so many people buy physical products, but they’re willing to pay more for the packaging. It’s like, if someone's willing to buy this when they could stream it for free, it’s already interesting that they’re going to buy it, so they’re probably more willing now to pay extra for something unique like that black light/velvet cover.

I’ve never thought of how that cover was supposed to look like those black light posters.
Yeah, and you know what’s weird, I think kids are more visual than anything. To me, having an actual physical package really takes it to a whole other level. Labels and distribution companies don’t print as much now, because everything is so digital. So, in a way, it’s killed the artform a little bit. I think the opportunity for it to come back is with the resurgence of vinyl and how so many young kids are getting into that. So I’m thinking at some point, vinyl might become the booklets, you know, and are major in extension liner notes. I still think that people enjoy having things in their hands and flipping through it. Other than swiping. I mean I love digital, but I’m a huge fan of print. I would buy a paper subscription faster than a digital subscription anytime.

Yeah we’re definitely on the same page there. Juxtapoz moved to quarterly to make a better, more in-depth, physical product. 
I absolutely agree. I’m a huge magazine collector, I just buy, like, a shitload of magazines. I mean I always have to look for inspiration, design and art. That’s like my preferred way of viewing things, rather than digitally..


When you were coming up with the visual direction for Aquemini, and getting the cover together, what else was going on in album art at the time? And with hip hop album art? Were you trying to do something that was substantially different than that? Because the album itself was unlike a lot of what was going on at the time.
With OutKast, in particular, I always wanted the design to be an enhancement to the texture of the music. My creative process started with listening to the music, and then I’d find out what they were watching and listening to at the time, so that drove the art direction and design. For those guys, and everybody else that I was working with, I wanted it to be music and artistry that reflected them first. If you’re an artist and a creative, you can come up with a thousand ideas, but in the best case scenario, the best idea actually mirrors right up to the concept of the music or the project. So, that was what I really tried to do,

I do remember that, overall, it had a feel of like, blaxploitation, the old blaxploitation visuals, and that’s what they were into. Even if you wanted to listen to the interloops on their first couple of albums, I mean it just kind of felt like a Southern twist on a old blaxploitation movie. So the illustration on the Aquemini cover spoke to that. I came up with the Aquemini logo that’s on the package, which combined the Gemini and the Aquarius symbols. That ended up being a staple branding component throughout the entire package. They were talking about blaxploitation, they were talking about the 70’s music, they were talking about zodiac symbolism, and all of that kind of stuff. Those are all key things that I tied into the package.

When working with OutKast, just over the years, they’re similar, but they’re so obviously different, too. And at that time, the biggest difference was fashion. It would be funny. Big Boi would show up in a pimped out gangster 3-piece suit, and André might show out in a confederate outfit wearing pants that looked like they were from a Hawaiian tribal performance. I thought that was dope because when you put them together, it worked! From a fashion standpoint, and working with their stylist, I wouldn’t tell them what they need to wear. Instead, we would settle on a color palette. Like, “Okay we’re going to have a black look, wear whatever the fuck you want to wear, but it’s gotta be black,” or, “We’re going to have a red and blue look, wear whatever.” They would assemble everything so when you put them together, it just worked and it didn’t matter. That was just something I’d learned dealing with them early on, because sometimes we’d do press shoots before the albums were released and visually the things that they had were cool, but when you put them together, it just didn’t really work, at least as far as design goes. Sometimes we would do things where we would have to adjust colors to make the composition and the aesthetic of the photo look good. When we started really drilling on color palettes, they were pretty much able to nail it every time.


It’s interesting how so much of the art direction behind Aquemini was specifically about this exact project and these exact people. Sometimes it seems like album art encompasses everything but the musicians and music, instead focusing on a more general statement. It seems like by focusing specifically on how unique OutKast were, and generally how unique Southern hip-hop was, it ended up making a naturally giant statement.
They really changed the hip-hop landscape. They were kind of the driving force behind a lot of artists coming from the South, and nobody had heard anything that sounded like it at the time. I remember when I was living in St. Louis, I first heard “Player’s Ball” come on the radio, and I was like, “Holy shit, what is this??” When I realized that Babyface and LA Reid were involved I thought, “this is going to be incredible,” because those guys were and are musical legends. I wasn’t surprised about that, since they were producing some top quality music. I think when you have people that come from a different area come in and get involved, they make a splash because it keeps talented artists from being looked at as a trend. OutKast could’ve been a trend, but they weren’t because they were just so fucking dope, and they were so talented. You couldn’t deny that they were great. I think that some of the hip-hop now, a lot in the South, is trendy. I believe that the great songs OutKast made really stand the test of time.

It’s still in the forefront after all these years. It feels like a lot of young people are looking back on how hip-hop got to where it is now, and they’re looking at OutKast, or Nas, or Tupac, and collectively acknowledging, “Woah, okay, this stuff is important.”
Right, and you know the only regret that I have with the whole Aquemini projec  is this photoshoot that we did to go with the record. We didn’t really get to use it because everything was kind of illustration-based throughout. We worked with a photographer, Tom Smugala, whose shooting style was kind of like David LaChapelle, and so all of the images had these very, very, saturated LaChapelle-type looks. There was so much shit going on in the photo that it looked incredible. It was like one set-up where Big Boi and Dré were robbing a pimp, but everything happening in the background was crazy. Actually, it reminded me of the “This is America” video. There was so much activity going on in the background that you wouldn’t notice because you where looking at the central figures in the composition. I thought that was dope, and unfortunately we didn’t use a lot of it.

For one of the photoshoots, they (OutKast) came in and were like, “Yo, we want to do a shoot in the middle of, like, a daisy field, with 50 to 75 naked women,” and I was like, “Huh?!” To me, that did not connect to the music at all, but the visual is just crazy. So they put a blast out on one of the radio stations in Atlanta, and it was like, long lines going out of the office. Like I mean, women were showing up out of the woodwork. It was crazy. And we never used any of those images, but all of these women showed up and did it. They were painted in body paint and shit.

That was the stuff that they would come at us with, but last minute, like, the day before, they’d say, “Oh, and by the way, we’re going to need 50 naked women.” So, we got wavers and qualifying women. I mean, we had women showing up that were like, senior citizens, it was crazy.


So besides all these wild projects you did for OutKast, what other artwork have you been making?
For half of my childhood, I worked as an exhibiting fine artist. I’m in a few galleries around the country, from Beverly Hills to Miami, and a couple in Atlanta. I do a lot of commision pieces for either brands, high-profile entertainers or athletes. I still work as a creative director, so right now I’m getting ready to work on T.I’s new album, The Dying Trap, so that’s something I’m working on. I just finished the Hustle Gang project, where I did all of the packaging and the creative direction. 

I always tell artist that it’s best for me to hear what your thoughts are and let me do my thing. Not in an egotistical way, I think that’s where God has blessed me. I’m able to solve a problem creatively and quickly. Even with the comic book for OutKast’s ATLiens, at the time it was considered something that was "thinking left" for hip-hop. So even for the Hustle Gang project, the images that we used, I went through the national archive, in the Library of Congress, to find licensed Indian photos from the late 1800s. I wanted everything to feel like old Spaghetti Western posters and graphics. I don’t know if you’ve seen it but, it came out great. You know and all of the visuals and everything, it literally felt like you were watching some old John Wayne shit. But you see all of the hip-hop word in it and shit. And that’s where the sarcasm comes into play.