At a time where album artwork has made a major resurgence in bridging the gap between listeners and their favorite albums and artists in Hip Hop, there have been only a handful of illustrators who are at the forefront of bringing life and meaning to albums before we ever press play. It is our honor to introduce album art designer and illustrator extraordinaire, Manuel CEP Concepcion aka Cxppington. In case you’ve been living under a rock, he is the man responsible for bringing some of the most iconic Hip Hop artwork in recent memory to life for the likes of Sean Price, Griselda Records, CRIMEAPPLE, 38 Spesh and more. We got the chance to sit down with the celebrated artist to learn more about him and his craft.
-What were your early influences that inspire your artistic approach today?
I have a long list of legends and icons that have influenced me along my journey. Comic books, graffiti, and street art dominate my day to day. Icons like Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Sam Keith, and Rob Liefeld. I really love what those guys created and was totally inspired by what they represented. Aside from them, I’m definitely a huge fan of artists like RAMMELLZEE, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Warhol, Francis Bacon, Matt Reid aka Matt Doo, SEEN, Cope2, and Banksy. I could go on and on, but to save time. That’s my list right now. Lol.
-How would you describe the style of your artwork?
Grimy Opulence. I have a dark art style that I like to splash with a bit of luxury. My work is like Ghostface Killah wearing one of his bedazzled boxing robes, carpet rolling a victim while wearing all of his jewelry. How’s that for a visual?
-Who were your earliest influences in Hip Hop?
My Mt. Rushmore is Rakim, KRS, BDK and Kool G Rap. The other side of that mountain is Wu-Tang & Mobb Deep. But I’m literally a fan of it all. From Cypress Hill to Company Flow. Snoop Dogg to Kool Keith. I literally love all of it and I’m still that way. I listen to a ton of Jedi Mind, Quelle Chris, Griselda, Curly Castro, even all the commercial artists. I just love the music and if it speaks to me then it goes on the playlist and into the collection.
-What were some of your earliest cover placements?
My first cover was with the production duo Cookin’ Soul, Blanco & YG. Yea, that YG. I made the art to their California Livin’ project. It was my homage to Joe Cool. He’s the one that created Snoop Dogg’s “Doggystyle” album. I thought he was dead. But he wasn’t. And he got upset. But it’s cool now. Lol.
-How did you connect with Sean Price?
Dallas Penn. In 2012, I was teaching myself digital design and started doing novelty art. I was doing 8-Bit pieces of rappers and I designed Sean as Iron Mic Tyson in the classic Nintendo Punch Out game style. I made a shirt and sent it to Dallas. Sean saw the shirt and was like “Yea, but where the fuck is mine?”. I never looked back from there. So in essence, I owe my entire livelihood right now to Sean Price. Rest In Peace, King.
-You linked with Westside Gunn and Griselda Records through Sean Price too, right?
I formally met WSG at the first memorial show for Sean Price at SOB’s. I had shared my art with him prior to that via IG, but we both got the opportunity to speak in person at that show and build from there. Dude already had a master plan back then. The rest is pretty much history.
-After the successes of FLYGOD, Reject and DGSN, did your career as an artist in Hip Hop change?
Nothing drastic. It was pretty much just more work. I really didn’t get to make this my main source of income until late last year. It took a while to get here. Hiatus and all. But I knew in my heart that I had what it took to make things happen. I just had to make that initial jump off the cliff. And when you have kids, jumping off of cliffs isn’t an option, fam. Lol. But I have a strong foundation in my wife and family, plus I thoroughly believe in my ability. So I’m glad I did. Things are good right now and I’m grateful.
-How did you come into contact with Air Vinyls and 38 Spesh?
Jordan Commandeur. He connected those dots. I had created the covers for CRIMEAPPLE & DJ Skizz’s “Wet Dirt” as well as Observe Since 98’s “Return Of The Savage”. He contacted me and let me know he was a fan of what I did and a short while later brought me on board to create for Air Vinyl as an In-House designer.
-Speaking of Air Vinyls, you recently did an incredible piece for the alternate cover of Loyalty + Trust 2 for Flee and Spesh paying homage to Prodigy, how did that come about?
That’s just me missing Prodigy. I knew that he was a big part of Flee Lord’s journey into rap. So it was actually an idea I had for the first edition of “Loyalty + Trust” in 2019. But something wasn’t sitting right with me and I completely changed it. It wasn’t even the golden skull character either. Timing is everything and I revisited the concept again this time around. Made it even iller too. But yea, that’s just my homage to one of my favorite rappers of all time and my salute to Flee as well.
-What is your work volume currently like? Do you currently take commissions?
I’m creating 4-5 covers a month. That’s front, back and inners. The release of that art is completely up to the rappers and producers I made it for, but I’m for sure pushing out 4-5 covers every month. I also have my monthly print drop which is doing pretty well for us thanks to my amazing supporters. And as of this past summer I am no longer accepting any commissions for album artwork. I have enough work to carry me into the new year, so I literally don’t have the time for any more. I’m also doing side work with some notable names in the art game, so I can’t wait to share more on that.
-What can we expect from you to close out 2020 and what are you currently planning for 2021?
I have 3 more print drops. Oct. Nov. Dec. and then it’s all systems go on my first art gallery titled “Run For Cover” debuting September of 2021.
-The Art Gallery sounds dope! Can you tell us more about it and how can we experience this event in case travel is still limited due to COVID?
Well, because of the pandemic we’re carefully planning everything in a fashion that behaves like we expect this thing to still be around. So there will be limited entry, masks, plenty of social distancing, the works. Gotta keep everyone safe. But we’re also planning a virtual experience in case no one can actually be there physically. And even if they can, I’m sure there’s plenty of my international supporters that would appreciate not missing out on this gallery. I currently have a portfolio of over 100 covers. From singles, to EPs, and LPs. So I’m choosing 20-25 of my absolute favorite and most meaningful pieces and blowing them up to dimensions of 36×36 and personalizing them artistically, so they are unique in their own right to have on full display. Of course there will be limited merch made available at the show and simultaneously on my site. We also plan on having some special guests join us there. So I’m hoping for a memorable experience for everyone.
-As we always ask here on UGHHBLOG, what’s your definition of “Underground Hip Hop?”
Anything not on commercial/syndicated radio. Regardless of style.
-Do you have a site or online shop where people can experience more of your art and keep in tune with your future endeavors?
I’m currently working on a nice mix of different things all art related and just overall fun to see, own, and experience, so stay tuned.
-Definitely! Lastly, any shout outs?
Shouts to my beautiful wife. My 2 awesome sons. My nieces. My nephews. And all of their parents. And Big Ghost Ltd. Thanks to you and UGHHBLOG for having me.