Music

How ‘Boondocks’ Producer Carl Jones Turned Megan Thee Stallion Into An Anime Badass For ‘Traumazine’

Okayplayer spoke with Jones about creating the Traumazine visualizers, Megan Thee Stallion being an anime stan, The Boondocks’ relevance in internet culture, and more.

Animator, screenwriter and producer Carl Jones never runs out of ideas. From being an executive producer on cult Adult Swim favorite The Boondocks (where Jones also voiced Thugnificent) to creating Blaxploitation comedy-spoof series Black Dynamite, Jones’ breadth of experience made him a top choice for Megan Thee Stallion.

When the Houston Hottie, a known avid anime fan, approached Jones about visuals for her sophomore album Traumazine, he delivered visualizers for all 18 tracks through his animation studio Martian Blueberry. Reimagining Meg as an afro-donning vixen, Jones’ animations capture her intention of taking fans “through so many different emotions,” as she told Rolling Stone about the then-unreleased album in June.

While fulfilling Hot Girl Meg’s anime dreams, Jones has also taken his art into the Web3 space with multimedia venture Bubble Goose Ballers, which has given him an autonomy over his creative endeavors that he hasn’t fully had making projects for others. The venture is being built out into an entire brand encompassing everything from a TV series and toys to coats and a game.

“The fans of my work that I’ve done all these years, they’ve never quite had an opportunity to participate in it creatively or financially,” he said. “The idea that I can create some art, develop it into a brand using the fans as investors, participants and — in some cases, they can be your distribution network, even advertisers and marketers — they almost become evangelists for your project. It offers creative freedom, financial freedom and community wealth, not just for the artists but for the people that also support it.”

Entering a new phase of creative freedom – one where there’s direct involvement with a community of supporters – Jones admits that animation was his initial purpose.

“I was actually born and raised on a street called ‘Bedrock,’ like The Flintstones,” Jones said. “I don’t know if that was an omen, but animation was always something that I fell in love with first, but storytelling is storytelling.”

Okayplayer spoke with Jones about creating the Traumazine visualizers, Megan Thee Stallion being an anime stan, The Boondocks’ relevance in internet culture, and more.

Screengrab via YouTube

How did Megan Thee Stallion approach you about animating Traumazine visualizers?

Megan is a huge anime fan. She’s always wanted to do something that was anime but also representative of her brand. She reached out, we started talking about a few ideas and one of the things she wanted to do was an anime music video, but it hasn’t come out yet. After we finished that, she fell in love with the animation so much and she really loved the character that we did based on her. So, she asked if we could do some visualizers for Traumazine.

We had ten days to deliver eighteen animated visualizers which was insane, but we did it because Meg asked us to do it. It was fun and it was really cool seeing how much people really responded to it in a positive way. I’ve always felt like – and Meg feels the same way – there’s so many Black people that are huge fans of anime, but there’s such a lack of representation. It’s really cool to see Meg portrayed as an anime character, but like a real Black woman that has hips, thighs, lips and features like Black people have. A lot of times, whenever there is a Black character in anime, it usually [looks] like a white or Japanese character with Black skin.

How much of the concept of the Traumazine visualizers was Meg’s idea?

She did want to create a really strong, Black, female, super-badass anime character. She wanted to make sure this character represented her beauty but also the tough side of her, the intellectual side of her and the sweet side of her. She’s multi-faceted and I think a lot of times she’s painted into a corner as an artist. This was an opportunity for her to really show a lot of different sides to her, even in the music itself. If you listen to the songs, it’s very, very personal. You get to see some of what she’s going through internally and emotionally. 

I listened to the album and she gave me a lot of creative freedom to pretty much translate that into some visualizers any way that I wanted to. I knew what she wanted to say with the album and I knew what she wanted to say with the character and what the character needed to represent. In terms of how that was translated into animation, that was totally left up to me.

Which visualizer took the longest to make?

I would say “Ms. Nasty” took the longest only because we couldn’t really decide if we wanted her character twerking or doing a whine. [laughs] At first we went with the twerk and it was a three-quarter shot of her twerking, but then we had this conversation like, “Well, we got her twerking in the music video and she’s always twerking, maybe we can do something different.” So, we decided to go with the whine, but it’s not just that simple because you also want it captured in a very, very authentic way. 

When you have character designs that are really close to real-life human beings, it’s already difficult to move them in a way that feels organic. Doing something as nuanced as that is even ten times tougher. We did a lot of visual references to make sure it was accurate and that we got it right. All that stuff is important and I think people appreciate it, especially seeing how people loved what we did with The Boondocks. A part of the reason why they loved what we did with The Boondocks is because we paid attention to detail. We made sure to capture all those cultural nuances and that the characters’ mannerisms were very specific to who they were and people that [are] familiar to us in our culture. 

A lot of times, I would act out entire episodes and we would send that to the Korean animation studios so that there was no room for error and that they completely understood the culture. Before we did that, we were getting back animation that was way off the mark. Over the years of making animation and doing this culturally-specific work, I’ve kind of gotten into this process of where everything I do, I try to provide enough reference for the artist and whoever’s involved so we’re all on the same page as far as what those nuances should look like. Not just with the whining and the twerking, but with everything. All those small details – even if people don’t know why it’s resonating with them – I think on a subconscious level it does because it feels real.

What do you find most intriguing about Megan Thee Stallion’s persona?

There’s more to her than meets the eye. Even with her love for anime, people would not think that she’s this big super geek, but she really is. [She’s] really, really smart, really intelligent, and her creative process is interesting to me because I can see that she’s thinking on various levels. She wants people to dance, have fun and enjoy themselves, but she also wants to invoke some type of thought. She also wants to make sure there’s real emotion behind the characters and the stories that she’s telling within the music. 

I had a conversation with her about anime and she was saying that one of the things that she loves about anime so much is that these are real hero journeys that you see in animation. It’s very different from a lot of what you see today like with the Marvel franchise, where there’s these really powerful bad guys and powerful good guys throwing each other around the city and destroying everything. These anime stories go back to real hero journeys where there’s a small character that doesn’t have the tools to stand up against the big bad guy. They have to find the power deep within himself – or herself – to overcome some kind of larger than life struggle that they’re facing. There’s usually a very powerful emotional journey as well. Those are the things that resonate with [Meg] more than just the aesthetic itself.

Most of the people I run into, particularly rappers, it’s the anime aesthetic that they’re attracted to more than anything. With Meg, it’s the storytelling and it’s these characters that resonate with her even more than the art.

The visualizers reminded me of Blaxploitation films like Foxy Brown and Cleopatra Jones. Were Blaxploitation films essential to your start in animation?

They were essential to helping me as a storyteller only because that was the first time I saw people that looked like us that were the heroes of the movie. Even the drug dealer or the pimp — despite how they were making their money — were heroes in those movies. They were people that were overcoming odds, betting on themselves, and finding a way to turn a bad situation into a good situation, despite how they did it because it’s all in context. 

I believe that people are as good as their options, and within that ecosystem that they existed in I didn’t look at them as pimps, whores, and hustlers – I looked beyond that. I think that helped to influence my ability to tell stories that center around Black characters that are empowered in the story, as opposed to looking at them for ways to find jokes or to tell a story that’s specifically about the fact that they’re Black. A lot of those movies were called Blaxploitation but even that term came about later. Before that, they were just movies that we were making that happened to be all Black. They didn’t become exploited until Hollywood got ahold of them and then they coined “Blaxploitation.” Before that, these characters were very powerful, iconic figures, and they’re a part of our culture. I think they inspire all of us in some way.

One show that used a lot of music was Black Dynamite. Personally, I think it deserved more seasons, because it merged ‘70s Black culture with animation. Where do you think the show could’ve gone if it continued?

We got about 20 more episode ideas that we have ready to go. We had a conversation with HBO Max about bringing the show back because the numbers were still good, even after all of these years we were still holding our own. HBO Max are going through a lot of shifts with the [Warner Bros.] Discovery merger, and a lot of Adult Swim is not the same. When I was there, they were a small boutique company, and now it’s a little bit of a larger situation. Needless to say, it didn’t work out, but we do have plenty of episode ideas. 

One place we wanted to take Black Dynamite was to space. I always wanted to do a Star Wars parody. I wanted to do an entire season in space. You didn’t really see a lot of that in Blaxploitation – and I’m sure it was partially because of the budgets – but there was one called Space Is the Place. I thought it would be exciting to see “What would a Blaxploitation merged into The Empire Strikes Back look like?”

The Boondocks was shelved although there was once talk about a reboot. Can you give fans any insight about the situation?

My last season on The Boondocks was the third season. Aaron McGruder and I had some differences — I’ll just say it became more difficult for him to do the show. I was his right-hand man. I wanted to continue doing the show, we just couldn’t see eye to eye on my entire career, which he didn’t have a whole lot of say in. I think he felt otherwise because that’s where I got my start.

I’m grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to work on that show, and be a part of such a monumental show like that. I also wanted to spread my wings and I think at some point we had different ideas on what spreading my wings should look like. From that point on, I didn’t have anything to do with the show, so I can’t speak on why it didn’t happen. We had a bunch of people that were involved in the first three seasons that came together like Voltron, and made this really powerful group of creatives that made that show what it was. I think it was a combination of everyone’s efforts — from the voice actors like Regina King, John Witherspoon, Cedric Yarbrough and Gary Anthony Williams, all the way down to supervising producers like Seung-Eun Kim and the writers like Rodney Barnes. I think we had a dream team that came together at the right time. All of the stars aligned. When you throw a couple of stars out of that alignment, I don’t know if it’s as easy to create the same product.

I think that’s why a lot of people were disappointed with season four. It wasn’t just me — I think there were other people in elements of the show that weren’t there anymore. As far as the recent attempt to bring the show back, I can’t speak to that, but I can imagine it’s a very different time. The voice of the show was always very bold, polarizing, and honest. All of those things you can’t really do today. Maybe that played a part in why it didn’t happen, because Aaron is a writer that always ruffled feathers and never really took a lot of that stuff into consideration. That’s where I learned it from, being able to create a voice and saying what you want to say with your art despite what people might think.

How do you feel about the legacy of The Boondocks?

I’m thankful to be part of it because when we were making it, I had no idea it was gonna become this cultural phenomenon. We were literally doing something that we thought was cool among us. We didn’t have social media the way it is today, so we didn’t get direct feedback from the people watching it to really understand the magnitude of the success. 

We saw the numbers, which were pretty good. But today, social media is filled with Boondocks clips and memes. I have Zoom meetings, and the first few minutes of the meeting is people talking about the show and how much they loved it. It’s amazing — honestly, I still haven’t gotten used to it. When you’re making it, there’s things that you see [that’s] wrong that other people don’t see. I see what we wanted it to be, but most people don’t know what’s missing. It’s almost even hard for me to watch it, but I love that people are still talking about it. I love that we were able to push the culture forward and inspire other creatives.

Jaelani Turner-Williams

Jaelani Turner-Williams is a contributing news writer for Okayplayer with bylines at Billboard, MTV News, NYLON, Recording Academy and more. Read her mind on Twitter at @hernameisjae.

Recent Posts

This App Will Create Your Dream Festival Lineup Using Your Spotify Data

Designed by Anshay Saboo, third-party app Instafest allows users to create a dream festival lineup… Read More

November 28, 2022

Brittney Griner Reportedly Facing 16-Hour Work Days At Russian Labor Camp

WNBA player Brittney Griner has begun her nine-year sentence at IK-2 penal colony in Yavas… Read More

November 28, 2022

Best Hip-Hop Videos To Drop Last Week: Mike, Wiki, 38 Spesh, Harry Fraud, Meek Mill & More

Last week video releases from Mike, Wiki, 38 Spesh, Harry Fraud, and Meek Mill captured… Read More

November 28, 2022

The Hip-Hop Community Mourns the Death of Manager Jonathan ‘Hovain’ Hylton

Hip-hop manager Jonathan ‘Hovain’ Hylton died on Friday, sparking social media tributes from Curren$y, Lloyd… Read More

November 28, 2022

Will Smith On Moviegoers Who Refuse His Post-Oscars Comeback: “I Completely Understand”

While promoting Emancipation, Will Smith shared that he'll "completely understand" if fans don't accept him… Read More

November 28, 2022

Mixtape Monday: YL + Starker x Zoomo, SHIRT, Mike + Wiki x The Alchemist, Sadat X + More

YL, Starker & Zoomo, SHIRT, Mike, Wiki & The Alchemist, Sadat X and more this… Read More

November 28, 2022