Meet Duro Arts, the Man Behind Your Favorite Afrobeats Album Covers

Duro Arts.

Image courtesy of the artist.

Meet Duro Arts, the Man Behind Your Favorite Afrobeats Album Covers

We talk to the Lagos-based digital artist about his work with Olamide, Phyno, Falz and more.

Duro Arts has found himself illustrating the cover artwork for a new wave of Nigerian musicians. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Oluwadurotimi Bolaji Idowu started digital art in 2010, at a time where afrobeats music was still grasping its feet. Now, 11 years later, he has made covers for heavyweight hitmakers like Peruzzi, Phyno, Olamide, Zlatan, Oxlade, and Davido.

We caught up with Duro Arts on a Sunday afternoon over Zoom. He took the call from Accra, Ghana, where he's currently working. We talked about his journey as a digital artist, his portfolio, creative process, and the changes he'd like to see in the creative industry.

What's your creative process like?

It's different depending on the musician. There have been cases where people don't know what they want, they only know the feel they want the artwork to have. For instance, when I worked on Phyno's 2019 album, Deal With It, we kept going back and forth. He wasn't sure about what he wanted but he knew he wanted to tell a story, so that's where I come in. Sometimes people have an idea of what they want, other times it's a collaborative thing. It depends on who you are working with.

Your portfolio has some big names, you've worked with people like Peruzzi, Olamide, Zlatan, Oxlade, Davido, and Chike. Can you tell us a memorable story about working with one of these acts?

I would say Olamide's latest project, UY Scuti. I remember back in 2010, I was in my first year of university when he dropped his debut album. I was supposed to do the album art and I sent him the drawing. I recall being so gassed about it — this was going to be my first ever album artwork gig. I did the illustration, showed it to a few old friends asking for their opinions but unfortunately, it didn't work out at that time. His management opted for a picture and not an illustration. It kind of gutted me because I was still young and this was my first gig, so to see it come full circle now is a big deal to me. Eleven years after my first rejection I get the chance to illustrate an Olamide album cover and it comes at a time where he's doing this whole new sound — and I get to be a part of it in my own little way.

How did illustrating Olamide's new album happen?

Olamide texted me and said he needed the illustration in 24 hours, he had his ideas and that kinda helped me out. This wasn't the first time I had a 24 hour deadline. After the text, I was like "Yes, it's Olamide and I'm going to do this." Although there were little changes here and there, we did it. One thing I liked about working on that cover was that when I started digital art, I started with caricatures before transitioning into other types of illustrations. Working with him took me back to the point where I started, which was something that I have drifted away from entirely.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

I admire the style of Bidemi Tata, he's a digital artist, I don't know where he draws his inspiration from but every time I see his work, I'm always in awe. He is very interesting and you can tell that he's organic. Also, Duke on IG inspired and taught me a lot. I also admire Alexis Franklin. She influences my art a lot in terms of how she blends different colors into each other, it kind of looks like an oil painting, but digitally done. Lastly, there is Ignasi Monreal, he's a Spanish artist. I discovered him in 2018/2019 when he worked with Gucci designing graphics on T-shirts.

What keeps you sane or energized while working on art?

I binge a lot of shows thanks to Netflix, I can be very restless so when I'm sitting right there watching a show — actually, I'm not necessarily watching but it's there playing in the background — my attention is focused on that. So I'm always binging while working on art. I don't think I'd put out much content if streaming wasn't a thing, it helps me create.

Has your art contributed to speaking up against police brutality or the current rigid political climate?

I did some illustrations during the End SARS protests last year, but I'm not going to say I'm a political artist. It was a moment where it was time to get political. I remember when I worked with Falz on his 2019 album Moral Instruction, although it was an alternative cover, I loved it because it was a bit political and I was able to express some political thoughts. I believe in us speaking up, our most vocal platform, Twitter, recently got banned, but I believe art is another way of communicating. Our art can not be regulated and, as artists, we have to keep speaking up against the government.

What changes would you like to see in the creative industry as a digital artist?

I would like people to be given the respect and the credit they deserve. Creatives are not being credited enough, they are always being taken advantage of and being disrespected at every single level of their career. I want creatives to be seen, respected, properly credited, and recognized for the work we put into creating.

I also personally feel that in the streaming era of the music industry, I deserve some percentage each time a song/album with my artwork on it is played. The illustration I have done is on display, I don't want much — just the least percentage. I discovered recently that, for instance, if your name is involved in some sort of artistic contribution you get plaques. I feel like I should get plaques but I have none. I have just my name, we don't get any awards. Also, there is no recognition for digital artists at art shows, our name is only recognized online and I don't think it fair enough. It would be nice to feel appreciated with these plaques, we should get our money off streams as long as we contributed to the illustration and all.