An Interview with FRKO: Designer of the “Mr. Wonderful” Album Cover

The Atlanta-raised artist talks creative fearlessness, working with Bronson, and how Jesus is going to come back and find all his followers in the strip club.
By    April 17, 2015


The ATLien of the Art World: FRKO

If it’s after 4 p.m. in Atlanta, there’s a good chance you can catch a bruiser of a man roaming the streets, feet on the pedals of a BMX bike, one hand on the handlebars, one hand carrying an alcoholic beverage of some sort. This man, who goes by both Freako Rico, and FRKO, is the mastermind and iconoclast behind the artwork for Action Bronson’s recently released debut album Mr. Wonderful. Born and raised on the Eastside of Atlanta, FRKO’s creative prowess stems from both his natural gift to freehand whatever he conceptualizes, and his time spent sharpening the skills he acquired while earning a fine arts degree at at Howard University, the place where he also developed his love of painting.

Fueled by the spirit of Freaknik and classic hip-hop artists, such as Atlanta natives, Outkast, FRKO’s cartoon work sprouted from 90s Atlanta culture. In 2014, at the young age of 26, FRKO’s career took off when his Instagram account caught the eye of Action Bronson after months of drawing cartoons inspired by his lyrics, and uploading them to his own Instagram account and tagging Bronson.

Flash forward to April 2015. FRKO is now behind the album art of Mr. Wonderful, as well as all the corresponding singles taken from the album. A person who has looked through some of FRKO’s non-Bronson related work may not understand his dark and offensive sense of humor. But what FRKO wants the world to know is that his art is for himself and himself only. It’s a reflection of a self-proclaimed “sick bastard” who could care less if his work offends you. It’s art for art’s sake, even if some of it may take place at a strip club. — Matthew Sliter

What’s up FRKO? Before we dive into everything, could you tell me a little bit about where you’re from?

FRKO: Yeah, I’m from Atlanta, born downtown, raised up on the Eastside–Stone Mountain, Decatur. I grew up taking the train. Lot of kids grow up sheltered, then get to high school and want to become rappers and be hard and sell drugs. I was in the streets early, just watching. That kind of draws my art to street shit and grimy stuff because I’ve seen it growing up.

You mentioned you’re classically trained as an artist, right?

FRKO: Yeah, I went to Howard University. It’s one of the top black schools in the country. A lot of the black schools didn’t have art departments, and they did so that’s why I chose to go there on full scholarship. I got into painting and sculpting while at school, but I’ve been drawing ever since I was a kid. I was in art programs growing up. My Mom kept me in them to keep me off the streets–tried to keep me off the streets. It [art] went hard, man. I fell in love with it. I had talent and it’s all I wanted to do. I got to college thinking I knew everything because I was creative as shit. I had professors tell me “oh you’re good, you got an eye, but we’re going to sharpen all your skills.”

I’ve seen some of your paintings, and I was surprised at first to find out that you have the ability to paint. Do you have trouble convincing people that you’re a professional now that you’ve become established as a cartoonist?

FRKO: I do. In the hip-hop world, they might not know as much about art. But when I’m presenting myself to the professional world of art, I definitely feel like I have to promote my professionalism. You know, I can paint, I can do murals, it’s not just cartoons for me. I don’t have to draw flat all the time. I can paint values if you want me to. But it’s the same concept with most crafts. For example, I ride BMX, and it’s the same as being able to ride street extremely well, but not being able to hit a ramp. You have to know how to do everything. Especially if you want to be perceived as a real illustrator or artist.

How long have you been BMXing for? Your Instagram suggests that it’s another major passion of yours.

FRKO: I’ve been BMXing my whole life. I got into it when I was 11 years old by watching the Summer X Games of ’99 and seeing Matt Hoffman on the big vert ramp. I saw that shit and thought it was dope. A pro BMXer, to me, is my idol. Now that I’ve gotten older, I’m friends with pros now. Like my hero, Edwin De La Rosa, I can just call him on the phone now. He invented New York street riding and made it look cool, especially for black kids. Real talk, I love BMX more than art. If I could BMX full-time and do art just on the side, I totally would. [laughs]


Do you see yourself staying in Atlanta now that you are getting recognized more as an Atlanta-based artist?

FRKO: Man, I wanted to move back to D.C. I thought about it and almost did it. You’d be surprised by the fact that I’m still not that popular in Atlanta. I don’t really fit the Atlanta mold for artists. I’m too street for Atlanta. But on the flip-side, there’s no worries here for me. I can go paint and do things here and people will still know it’s done by me. I got my own little thing going on here now so I don’t think I’m going to leave. I keep it real. I’m out here. Now that I have a little bit of money, I’m like one of the only 26 year olds out here who goes from hanging out with the bums on the block to going to a five-star restaurant and eating bone marrow. I be out there talking to prostitutes and shit, might buy them some food or something. I’m always on the streets. I just walked back into my crib to do this interview. I love this city. What I hate about is that it’s become a yuppie town. I’m from here. I remember the Atlanta before the Olympics. Some will just never know. Plus the weather here is the shit.

It’s easy to develop a love-hate relationship with a city.

FRKO: That’s exactly what I have with Atlanta, man.

Your art is really no-holds-barred. Some of can be quite shocking for a person who hasn’t seen any of your previous works. Is your attitude how you and Action Bronson linked up? You two seem like you share the same attitudes with your artistry.

FRKO: That’s pretty much exactly how the relationship first developed.

Did you guys catch the same vibe?

FRKO: We got the same type of mindset when it comes to shit. He’s just like me with the whole like “you’re a piece of shit, fuck you, but I love you” vibe. You know? It’s the type of wave we are both on. Even when I talk to him, it’s always cool, but we can talk shit to each other because it’s just talking shit and he knows that. That’s love speaking when I talk shit to people. I’m not politically correct man. I’m scared of nobody.

When I first saw the Depiction of Muhammad’s Return print–

FRKO: Oh god. [laughs]

It’s highly offensive and rather abominable, but I mean either you have that sense of humor or you don’t.

FRKO: Man, I don’t even remember drawing that shit. Real talk. I tell people this all the time: I’m in a trance drawing shit until I look up and realize what I just did. That Muhammad one did get a lot of shit, though. I got emails from motherfuckers in Saudi Arabia. I can see my worldly views on Tumblr and I was getting hits from the Middle East straight to that picture. My boys here in Atlanta were like, “we aint gonna help you when ISIS shows up at your door.” But it’s still one of my favorites I’ve ever done. I didn’t mean anything by it. Muhammad is going to come back one day, just like how Jesus is going to come back, and see his followers at a strip club. Also, I didn’t deliberately attack the religion of Islam. If you notice there’s no alcohol in this drawing, or like a plate of ribs. It’s just money being thrown around at a strip club.


I was actually going to do an ISIS drawing, but my boys advised me against it. It was going to be like, me sneaking into ISIS with Four Lokos falling out of my bag. I still might do it.

Congrats on Snoop Dogg reaching out. I saw you mention that he reached out on your Instagram.

FRKO: Thanks. His man reached out and I’m waiting to see what happens. I’m going to be proactive about it and just start drawing him and see what he thinks. That’s how I am. I wouldn’t be where I am right now with this shit if I wasn’t proactive.

Isn’t that how you got Bronson’s attention at first?

FRKO: Yeah, I just started drawing him and tagging him on Instagram. My boys were like, “Man, why are you wasting your time drawing Bronson?” And I was like, “Fine, I’ll draw Gucci Mane then.” Then I went back to drawing Bronson and they were like “Bronson is never going to pay you. Ever.” I was just like “Yo I like his lyrics, they’re funny to me. Get off my dick.” Now I look back at the people who were telling me that shit and show them the Mr. Wonderful cover. I wasn’t doing that shit to get attention. I just really loved his music. I mean his lyrics are fucking classic, come on.

What’s your favorite song of the album?

FRKO: Dude, “Easy Rider” is going to be my favorite Bronson song, forever. It’s just the best. I can’t stop playing it. Other than Easy Rider, damn, this is hard! I like the singing songs! What’s that one called? Oh, “City Boy Blues”. And “Falconry”, the joint with Meyhem Lauren, I love that one too.

Now that your freelance work is taking off, and people are reaching out to you for your work, what’s a typical day for FRKO?

FRKO: I got office hours. I wake up every morning at 7, and it’s not by choice. I got two little fucking dogs. They’re two little pieces of shit. [barking in the background] There they are right now. They’re really my girlfriend’s dogs. But I gotta get up and take them out every morning. After that, I get straight to it. I got three projects I’m working on right now. I drink my coffee, get my emails out, eat a little bit. I usually get down focused around 10am, you know. That’s when I’m focused at the desk. And then by like 3 o’clock-4 o’clock, I’m drunk. I’m looking to get drunk and hit the streets. Real talk. It’s strict though man. I got to be doing shit until then.

Do you freehand everything?

FRKO: Everything’s freehanded and everything is drawn in one attempt. I don’t sketch at all. I tell people that and they don’t understand. I’ve never really been a sketcher. I’ve always been able to put straight lines down. I don’t use a tablet that much, either. I studied anatomy in college and figure drawing so that’s why I can do bodies. Drawing cartoons? It’s easy for me. It comes from being trained, drawing influence from watching cartoons growing up, and looking at album covers growing up.


I want to ask you about album art. I collect vinyl and a large reason why I do is for the album art. I love when artists make an effort to visually conceptualize their music. What would you say album art means to you as an artist?

FRKO: I think the visual is just as important as what you hear. The reason why I don’t know much about these younger artists is because they have terrible album or mixtape art. If the art doesn’t intrigue me, then I don’t really want to hear it. Look at Nas. All of his albums got his staple logo in the corner. I think artists should get back to doing that. Every time an artist nowadays drops a new album, it’s a whole different cover than the last and there are no similarities among them. The only person I can think of who drops albums with similar covers is Big K.R.I.T. He uses that black and purple because he’s from Mississippi. If you’ve ever been to Mississippi, you know it’s one of those places where the sky is never blue. Especially during the golden hour when the sky is crazy–it’s got that purple color to it.


If you’re a younger artist, you got to have an agenda for your fucking album. Like that new Drake mixtape? Come on, yo. That cover is dumbing down people in thinking that what he did is okay because Drake did it. No. But his last album, Nothing Was The Same? Now that artwork was the shit. If I were him, I would’ve kept going with that concept. Ah [pauses and contemplates], whose album cover did I recently just like?

Kendrick Lamar’s new album cover is pretty powerful.

FRKO: Yeah! It’s tight! And it looks how his album sounds. It’s rough. He’s black and he’s speaking it. I think to myself about how this kid grew up just like me. He’s from Compton, but I lived the same shit growing up in Atlanta. It’s crazy how I can relate to him. You know, he keeps it real. I think the state of rap is good right now, but for the previous couple of years the album art was definitely down. It was fucked up. We want to get this shit popping and start collecting again. There’s a spot here in Atlanta called the BeATLab. I’m going to shout them out. They sell DJ equipment and rap albums from the previous couple of decades. They got all the classic Atlanta shit and keep it real. I love just going there and looking up at all the album art. It makes me think. Like, what happened? Why isn’t album art still like this? It’s gotta come back. These kids out here [in Atlanta] are trying to emulate Migos and Future. They don’t know what it takes to stay in the game long. They got to keep it real. Save up your money and drop a real album with real art. Get everything done right.

Are there any classic album covers that you can think of that were influential to you?

FRKO: I’m going to say Doggystyle. Definitely So So Def and Jermaine Dupri, too. Look at the old So So Def All Stars album around the same time Freaknik was going down. Everybody that’s between 25-30 were the kids during that shit, and everyone 30-40, like my older brother, were there doing it. I was there on my older brother’s shoulders. He took me and I was there seeing titties and shit. That’s the old Atlanta. They used to make these dope cartoon shirts for it. There was one I vividly remember of a cartoon black chick with an enormous ass. They were banned at my middle school and shit, but I just remember those cartoons to this day. The cartoons that I was supposed to see, I got to see. So it makes sense why I’m doing this now. Also, I got to shout out Too $hort, 8Ball & MJG, and MF DOOM for their covers as well.

MF DOOM has some pretty iconic album art. Especially the art for Operation: Doomsday.

FRKO: MF DOOM, besides the artwork, was a big influence on me. I was in ninth grade the first time I heard him, and to this day not many people in Atlanta know who he is. Like, locals? Nah. The kids I grew up with still don’t even listen to him. Atlanta sections itself off and focuses on what’s going on inside. But MF DOOM’s album art is another example of how the art fuses together with the music.

What about OutKast? ATLiens has one of the best album covers of all time.

FRKO: I remember when I was a kid I used to redraw their album covers all the time. Some of my early work is really influenced by Outkast, and you can see it. It’s because I grew up influenced by all those covers. It’s how I got my style. I don’t know how it exactly all came together, but it naturally flows for me now.

Alright, just one more question. What the fuck is up with that painting you did of Flanders from The Simpsons?

FRKO: Oh shit. [laughs] Dude, that painting? I don’t even remember painting it. When I paint, I don’t even really remember what I am doing. But here’s the story: I was in New York working for three months, not painting at all. I was barely doing anything art related because I went there to work as a videographer for the TV show Inkmasters. I finally came home and just said to myself that I was going to fuck around and paint something. I ended up deciding to paint Flanders. At first, it was really toned and sketched out well with the brush. But then I looked at it and said to myself,

“this is basic as fuck.”

So I came up with a story for it. I was like, this is what happened to Flanders. Flanders got on the Springfield back page and he was looking to do some cheating on his wife with a prostitute. He ended up getting one who was a plastic surgeon and into dominatrix type shit, right? So she got a vagina fucking installed under his chin. It was out of control. I’m a sick bastard. I tell people that shit all the time. It’s the wild shit that comes to my mind. Y’all haven’t even seen the half of it.


You can purchase FRKO’s prints here. Check out more of his work on his Instagram account @freakorico

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