Cover Stories: Jadakiss’ “T5DOA” Cover Artist Was Shooting for the Best Album Packaging Grammy

It’s been a busy few weeks for Def Jam Recordings—and that’s an understatement. Not only did they put out major releases from Rick Ross, Pusha T, Jeezy, Logic and Bieber Almighty, the label known for its influential presence in hip-hop also brought about the return of Jadakiss.

It’s been six years since his last official album. After a series of setbacks, his T5DOA LP finally got its November 20 release. But how does a veteran rapper, who once stood alongside The Notorious B.I.G. and has claimed top-five status, choose appropriately powerful artwork? Call Matt Senna, the man with a penchant for creating conceptual bronzed art fit for reverence. Here’s the Cover Story behind Jadakiss’ T5DOA cover bust.

How did you go from bronzing Jordans to doing a bust for Jadakiss, who’s arguably one of the most “street” rappers?
I pitched this four years ago. I was doing music stuff, and that’s how I met Tom [Medvedich, the cover photographer]. I’ve always been in and out of the music industry. I met Jay, or ‘Pick, about a year before that, right when I moved to LA, and I did some branding for SoRaspy. I helped them get that website up. I was in marketing at the time, and we were just talking. I was like, “When’s Jada dropping another album?” He was like, “It’s called Top 5 Dead Or Alive, it’s coming.” I asked who was doing the packaging for it, and they didn’t know yet. I’ve always had a thing for the first Nas albums where they just have his face; those are my favorites. Growing up, Nas was my favorite rapper, and those albums are legendary to me. When they switched that concept, I was so upset; that was so him. Now it’s so typical to put a rapper’s face on an album cover—that’s what the label wants. When have you ever seen Kanye on his own album covers? You haven’t, except for the first one, where he’s sitting in the bear suit, if you want to count that. It’s very conceptual. Think of Blueprint 3. It would’ve never been that cover had ‘Ye not done that.

This is a monumental statement he’s making, so we created a monument.

With this, they told me the concept, and I was like, “I know what we’re doing.” It just came really quick. I grew up around sports: my mom was a Phys. Ed. Teacher and my whole family played sports. I went to the Hall of Fame a thousand times; we’d go to the Baseball Hall of Fame every year. I wanted to create this bust of his face and just have that. It solves the issue for the label to have his face on the cover; it’s just not really his face. This is a monumental statement he’s making, so we created a monument.

It’s kind of bizarre. When we were shooting it for the cover, it was sitting there, and Tom was just looking at it while it was on the kitchen counter. He was staring at like, “This is weird, man. It’s crazy because it looks so much like him, but it’s just strange.”

Most busts have the chin up so they’re looking into the air like a king. You’re not supposed to feel like you’re on their level.

Why a bust?
I don’t care who you are, when you say you’re top five, dead or alive, you’d better not just have a picture of your face on that cover. You’d better not just have yourself in a suit or something the label would want you to do, like stand next to your high school in the middle of Yonkers. This is essentially how I pitched it: This is his unofficial induction into the Hall of Fame, and we’re going to treat it that way. If anyone’s going to do this, a hip-hop person has to do it.

‘Pick sent one reference of his face for this look they like that’s iconic of him, but his face was down and he was looking up, so we couldn’t use that exactly. Most busts have the chin up so they’re looking into the air like a king. You’re not supposed to feel like you’re on their level. They were pretty adamant about it being more humanistic; we wanted to make him look directly so that people can look him in the eye and see that focus.

Him carrying it around is the funniest thing ever

Why not just make it digitally?
I needed to make a physical one because I wanted him to carry it around. I wanted people to see it in person and be like, “Wow, it does exist.” As a marketer, it makes so much sense. I was watching the interview with Sway, and it was just sitting there. Him carrying it around is the funniest thing ever; I absolutely love it. I think there’s a picture that Diddy posted or something, and they kind of have it in a headlock. My friend, Jonathan [Mannion], shot this photo of Biggie in the club, and it just reminded me of that photo, just if you inserted a bust in there. They’re all just having a good time.

A photo posted by Sway Calloway (@realsway) on

What were your goals in making this?
One of my goals, and it’ll be amazing if it happens with this, is to win a Grammy for album packaging. I want to do that, but you have to be smart and do something crazy. That’s been my goal since I was like 15. 

What was the process like creating it?
Over those four years, the album kept getting pushed back, and the people that knew about it were like, “I don’t know what’s happening; I don’t know if we’re going to do it.” Then it finally came around and Jay just hit me like, “It’s go time.”

I had to fight people to get this done. I had people that were like, “Nobody will appreciate this.

I came back to LA and worked for the next two and a half weeks on it; then we had a photo shoot at the end of that week. We poured it, and it was still warm at the photo shoot. We had to pump that photo out in 48 hours because iTunes needed it before pre-orders. There’s something like 50 layers in that Photoshop document. 

Why did you create the sculpture with hair instead of Jadakiss’ signature bald head?
It was something I talked with ‘Pick about. Warren Sapp, for example, has cornrows in the Football Hall of Fame because that’s what he had. With ‘Kiss, the hair thing is this big issue with a lot of people. ‘Pick was pretty adamant about him having hair and a hairline in it. I don’t know much about hair. I grew up in a barbershop, but I didn’t know how serious the waves were. We literally counted them in a photo. The waves study went down for about two days. We had super high-res, clear, well-lit photos of his head, so we could actually count, in those photos, the number of waves and how they sat on his head. Every dude is different. I talked to somebody else about it, and he was like, “You were referencing other guys’ waves?” There were all sorts of different ones. The waves are a big hit, apparently.

#t5doa

A photo posted by Therealkiss (@therealkiss) on

What difficulties did you face?
I had to fight people to get this done. I had people that were like, “Nobody will appreciate this. They won’t like it. His consumer just cares about the music”—just all of these people hating. And somebody at Def Jam was like, “I can’t believe no rapper’s done this.” Even if somebody has done it, they didn’t do it this way.

Image: @therealkiss

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