* indicates required
Okayplayer News

To continue reading

Create a free account or sign in to unlock more free articles.

By continuing, you agree to the Terms of Service and acknowledge our Privacy Policy

The Secret History Of Anderson .Paak’s Malibu Album Artwork
The Secret History Of Anderson .Paak’s Malibu Album Artwork
Source: Dewey Saunders & Cory Gomberg

The Secret History Of Anderson .Paak’s 'Malibu' Album Artwork

The Secret History Of Anderson .Paak\u2019s Malibu Album Artwork Source: Dewey Saunders & Cory Gomberg

We spoke with Dewey Saunders and Cory Gomberg about their work on Malibu, as today marks the second anniversary of his genre-bending album.

On Thanksgiving night in 2015 Dewey Saunders and Cory Gomberg were putting the finishing touches on a pot of gumbo. Having finished their respective meals with family, the designer and art director behind Anderson .Paak’s Malibu were still finalizing the collage that would become the face of the Grammy-nominated project by the artist from Oxnard, California. Even though this was his third album (second since dropping his Breezy Lovejoy moniker), it was by all rights an introduction of his solo might to the world after making a splash as a contributor on Dr. Dre’s Compton album just months before. The duo—along with photographer Erik Ian—had the enviable task of confining a singer, drummer, rapper and producer who defied convention into a neat, flat, two-dimensional box.

“The next day on Friday, Apple Music needed the visuals for pre-order, but the record still wasn’t done,” says Gomberg, who cut his teeth as an Art Director at The Source Magazine in the 1990s before taking his talents to Loud Records, Tommy Boy and Def Jam, to name a few. “We had the track list, but everything wasn’t mastered.”

The duo also had to finish the single artwork for “The Seasons” because Dr. Dre was premiering the song early on his Beats One Radio show, The Pharmacy. To say the pressure was on was an understatement, but the team had built a strong rapport with each other and .Paak, ensuring the highest quality outcome.

READ: The Secret History Of Talib Kweli's 'Quality' Album

“We worked in tandem and put that cover together very much the same way a band would make a record,” says Cory. “You’d have a drummer, keyboard player and a guitarist. That’s how [Dewey] and I worked and why we have success as a team. We kind of jazz improv off of each other.”

Dewey, a musician in his own right who performs under the name Dewey Decibel, was introduced to Anderson through his friend Dumbfoundead, a battle rapper out of Koreatown in Los Angeles. .Paak was drumming for Dumbfoundead and sang on several of his singles. “Around that same time Questlove had tweeted about Anderson’s first album (OBE Vol.1) and was like ‘This kid is the truth.’ It was an early, early co-sign. Right after that he switched his name [from Breezy Lovejoy] and Adrian Miller started managing for him. No one knew where his genres were going. He was a drummer doing all this gospel-esque stuff but he was rapping and R&B and people were confused because he didn’t fit it any boxes they’d built.”

Dewey began doing artwork for .Paak after he hit him up on Twitter inquiring about some portraits he’d been doing for other artists, including one of Dumbfoundead.

“I think he was a little jealous. Because he hit me up in DM and asked ‘Where’s my portrait at?’ I was like OK send me some photos and I’ll get you a portrait together. It just so happened that he needed a poster for a show and the portrait came out so sick that we ended up using it for the poster. It was his weekly show at the Lyric Theater in L.A. This was in July of 2013.”

The Secret History Of Anderson .Paak\u2019s Malibu Album Artwork Source: Dewey Saunders & Cory Gomberg

This lead to Dewey doing the artwork for several of Anderson’s singles and for his album Venice.

Venice came about, we did the single for ‘Drugs’ and I kind of knew what I wanted to do—and even Anderson doesn’t know this—I had already done this collage and it was pretty much finished and I presented it to him as a pitch for an idea for the cover and he fuckin’ loved it. I didn’t have to do anything else to it besides design the typography and the border around the cover. It was the new collage style I had been working in and this piece was my crowning achievement. I was so proud of it. And when he chose it, it was if it was for him.”

With Anderson’s buzz reaching a fever pitch, Cory got a call from .Paak’s manager Adrian, whom he had known for almost 20 years. It was time to establish a visual aesthetic for that artist he’d mentioned to him a while back.

Malibu was recorded on a dented mic and a Mac Mini around the corner from my house.

READ: The Secret History Of DJ Jazzy Jeff's 'The Magnificent' Album

It was a ragtag thing,” Cory recalls. “But the production value was so rich because of Anderson’s ability to truly compose music with a vibe and sound. And part of those things are also in the album cover. There are a lot of hidden, subliminal messages in that album cover. When you listen to the Malibu album, there are very few albums where you can press play and it tells a story all the way through. And that’s what we tried to do with the cover.”

Dewey and Cory were on opposite coasts, but worked out a collaborative process for creating the artwork inspired by the music.

“We listened to it for 15-20 hours a day,” says Cory. “We’d be on the phone because he’s in Philly. We worked on the phone, iMessage and email listening to the album. ‘You heard that element about the bird? Let’s get a bird in there.’ We started making an artwork piece for every song, whether it was going to be a single or not. I think we have about eight of them done.”

The next step was to shoot the core elements for the cover and Adrian and Cory called in favors to use Charlie Chaplin’s Mack Sennett Studios soundstage. They shot for over 12 hours pulled from a variety of influences, including Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles. “He’s wearing boxers that I bought at CVS. No lie. Those are boxers,” Cory says of the outfit Anderson is wearing on the cover. “Typically, when you do an album cover you do a shoot and lay text over it. But we wanted to do something different using the collage mentality, it’s kind of like CGI. We’re gonna shoot this subject and place him in a surreal landscape. There is a black label version of a Jimi Hendrix album that was only a UK release, Electric Ladyland, and it had all of these naked ladies on it. So [Anderson] was spitballing saying that ‘I’m in a hotel room in bed with all these girls and I’m hungover at the desk.’ And I told him it’s not gonna be a desk, but a piano and you’ll be in boxers with a top hat. And he [adds] ‘With a Quill pen!’ That’s how that comes about. Our method of working was very much the same as how a song is written. Everyone has ideas. There are no bad ideas, just bad energy. Anderson let us run, but he’d chime in.”

The beauty of the disparate forms coming together is that it still left room for individual interpretation by the viewer.

“On the cover Anderson is above the water on the beach playing the piano, but when you open it up he’s underwater playing the piano,” Dewey explains. “So I saw it as this Homer-esque story like The Odyssey and the girls on the back were sirens luring him into the water. He’s so focused on the music that he doesn’t know he’s under water.”

The Secret History Of Anderson .Paak\u2019s Malibu Album Artwork Source: Dewey Saunders & Cory Gomberg

But Cory counters with another perspective almost immediately.

“The sirens lure seamen to shore to capture them, but we did the opposite with this. Anderson lured the sirens with his music.”

As with a lot of collaborative art projects the finished product isn’t anything like what you imagined when you started. The original representation for this maestro of California’s “Surf-R-n-B” was almost more literal.

“The original image was Anderson carrying a girl out of the water,” Cory reveals. “So on the soundstage we wet him down and wet her down. He’s carrying this girl and we send [the image] to Anderson. He’s in Canada on a bus and he’s like ‘Oh my God, fam, I can’t take any more L’s. They’re gonna laugh at me carrying this girl.’ And we were like ‘Yeah dude, you kind of look like Brian McKnight.’ And he was like ‘I look like a 30-year-old R&B artist.’ And we were like ‘You ARE a 30-year-old R&B artist.’”

With their main idea vetoed the team had to find an alternative.

“The one shot that made the cover, that’s a test shot. It was shot on a white backdrop knowing we were going to add things. That wasn’t even THE shot. After I got the download of all the photos that day we only had one picture. I go ‘Eric, where is the rest of it?’ He said that’s the test shot, we don’t have nothing else.”

READ: The Secret History Of Every Roots Picnic Poster Revealed

But it was enough to carry through their vision of Wolfgang Amadeus meets Prince Namor, with a whole host of cultural signifiers plucked from shore and tossed in like a salad at Chop’t. What should be a West Coast sunset is actually a New Jersey sunrise from a postcard. The sun wasn’t even in the original version, but was added to create a fire and ice contrast between the sky and water. A black surfer from the Venice album cover is ported over for seeming continuity, but some other images are just beautifully random.

“There is stuff we hide in the artwork. The classic car comes from him having a lyric about a visionary Chevy,” says Cory who pieced together the title font himself and painted it in seafoam green. “Everything has meaning and purpose — him being under water is relevant to the song “The Waters” — but there is also some weird shit we throw in there like the orca [killer whale]. I’m not gonna bullshit you, we just thought that would look cool.”

Yet, make no mistake that Anderson .Paak and his layered and complex style is still present in even the seemingly chaotic outcome.

“We wanted it to be retro and have this classic 1970s rock record feel,” says Dewey. The London art firm Hypgnosis, who designed artwork for 191 album covers including Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon were a big inspiration. “We wanted this to be a coveted item for collectors to be able to look at for a long period of time and rediscover elements in it over time. In my Photoshop [project] there’s 200 layers of different waves. It almost looks like a photograph, but it’s such a carefully constructed collage. And it’s so tight because Cory had me go back into it so many times. You can really pick it apart for a long time. Just like the music is very deep, the artwork is just as deep and there’s just as much effort and work that goes into it. It’s also open to interpretation like any other great work of art.”

“There’s a big cruise ship and then this guy is in a rowboat trying to get to the cruise ship. That was what was going on with Anderson,” Cory adds. “He’s not out here floating, but trying to get to something on his own, to the cruise ship, in a much better place. There’s definitely a struggle to Anderson’s career to get to where he got. His work and the layers he has helped inspire us to create all of these elements.”

Two years later the cover art for Malibu has garnered nearly as much attention as the music, and that was the point. A quick perusal of album covers by Migos (Culture) and Gucci Mane (Everybody Lookin’) and you can see some influence there. Which begs the question, is cover art for albums finally being given the attention it deserves again?

“I think there is a resurgence in the interest in cover art and people are really attracted to good artwork,” says Dewey. “All of Kendrick’s [artwork] is really thought out. I’m friends with a lot of album cover designers and the importance is increasing with every release. When Future drops something with an album cover that is stock photography, it’s going to get criticized.”

“Historically album covers were designed to be the eye catcher,” says Cory. “That’s what got people to buy the record in the store. Now it works in the opposite way. If they’re already into somebody, they want to explore them further. People wanna know why was that [in there]. It also helps lay the playing field for merchandise. All of our visuals we do, that’s all of his stage visuals too. Everything that is projected behind him on stage is the album art, single art. It gets many uses and it’s really important today. It’s a complimentary element to the music.”

Check out some of the B-sides and rare edits from Anderson .Paak's Malibu from Dewey Saunders and Cory Gomberg in the slideshow below:


Jerry Barrow is the founder of NODFACTOR and a veteran journalist with stints at The Source, Scratch Magazine and The Urban Daily. Follow his work (and ours!) on Twitter @JLBarrow.