Xavier Chuka Obi is a writer, illustrator, comic book & graffiti artist, and creative director.
“I dropped fine art in JSS3 because I was better than my art teacher.”
Chuka “Xavier” Obi has stealthily played a leading role in defining how entertainment/art is consumed in Nigeria. Some of his involvement includes writing the popular MTN Saka “I Don Port” ad as well as a few other notable ones. He’s not your mate in this business.
When I reached out to the Lagos based creator, illustrator and father, to talk about his overall vibe and the significance behind the landmarks on Burna Boy’s Twice As Tall album cover, I could barely have a moment with him because he’s a busy bee. As a result our interview dragged longer than we both would’ve liked. When he finally had a moment, the information unpacked more than made up for the delay.
Nigerian superstar, Burna Boy released his fifth studio album Twice As Tall on Friday, Aug. 14.
Executive produced by music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs, the follow-up to 2019’s Grammy-nominated African Giant featured appearances by Sauti Sol, Naughty By Nature, Chris Martin of Cold Play and more, as well as additional production from Timbaland and Anderson .Paak. Whilst the album rightfully received plaudits for its duality, Pan-Africanism and Socio-political rhetorics. The album’s artwork packed a lot of artistic details that we couldn’t wait to unravel.
A cover is pivotal to the total packaging of a commercially released audio product, or album. It’s usually the first thing you notice before picking up or listening to an album by your favorite band or musician. Album art can be meaningful or not, depending on the artist.
An album cover can also help shape the way an album is viewed, it may also add to how an audience forms an opinion of an artist or band.
Album covers are a good way of visually presenting the music, which is why more artists are starting to get involved in the creative process. It’s not just a fine piece or art, but a marketing tool that can also become a collectors item.
Burna Boy is a perfectionist, who takes pride in his work and I like to think everyone working with him knows what is expected of them. When the foreign company originally saddled with the responsibility of creating the album’s cover and comic book failed to deliver in terms of relatability, Xavier was contacted to help supervise the artistic process. But it soon translated to something bigger.
“They had issues with the American company that had been initially contracted to create his album cover and comic book (they were not cutting it as far as quality and understating of the Burna/Nigeria context), I got a call from Burna’s sister.”
The comic book “The Secret Flame,” which accompanied the album’s release and to a lesser extent – the artwork encapsulates Burna’s larger than life personality, his love for African relics and his admiration for super heroes. During the course of our interview with Chuka Obi we got to understand the significance of each famous landmark on the cover.
Our full interview lightly edited for content and clarity can be read below:
Creative: What first got you into art?
I’ve always been drawing comics, and in SS2 I met the people who would become my second family—a bunch of comic artists with a shared dream to make comic books. Since then we’ve been friends, partners in various ventures, award-nominated members of a rap group we formed together, colleagues at different places of work, family members, bestmen and groomsmen at each other’s weddings, and more.
Creative: How did you originally get involved with creating the Twice As Tall artwork?
I vibed with his family over many things including his sister Nissi’s love for comic book art—she’s both a music artist and a comic book artist. We shared our past and present projects and it took off from there.
Since then I’ve worked on a number of projects with Burna on two brands I manage (and also become quite good with him and his people, because I’ve been a fan of his music since 2010).
So when they had issues with the American company that had been initially contracted to create his album cover and comic book (they were not cutting it as far as quality and understating of the Burna/Nigeria context), I got a call from Burna’s sister.
Creative: What was the creative process like, for both the cover art and the comic book? How long did it take and what was involved?
Xavier: The comic book came first, on children’s day (May 27), That was the day we had the first meeting with the company that was initially commissioned. Originally the plan was that I supervise them to deliver, but by mid June it was clear they were not suited for this particular deliverable.
So on June 22 (I think), I took over the job fully. I’d already enlisted Xavier Ighorodje as script supervisor when I was to supervise the project, so now I gave him the full story responsibility. We had already agreed on the premise of the story being about having the courage to put aside the things that hold him down and strip himself bare to reveal and stoke the flame that will make him Twice As Tall.
Then we enlisted Stanley Obende as artist, because he already had a great working relationship with Xavier. I already knew that Mohammed Agbadi was my choice of colorist.
Due to the quality and responsiveness shown by all, I was able to deliver as head of project. This led to me being asked to also take on the creation of the album art, on July 1 (the comic book was still work in progress at the time of course).
The cover angles were already pretty much agreed, but the meanings behind it weren’t. So I built a vision of Burna standing head and shoulders above the things that speak to African heights, from natural phenomena like the Kilimanjaro to ancient wisdom like the pyramids and Timbuktu university, all in his past, as strides forward to create the new monumental landmarks.
I enlisted one of my long time friends (the ones I talked about from secondary) Bolaji Alausa, who is now ECD at Noah’s Ark, to do the pencils and inks of the agreed expression. I had communicated in the past with Godwin Akpan about working on projects together, and I felt this was the right one to start with.
There was a whole lot of back and forth of course, but all mostly in the finer details.
|Comic art: Courtesy Chuka Obi|
Creative: Would you say if it was just you, solely working on this, you would have delivered on time? Or do you think it would still turn out this magnificent?
There’s always the temptation to do some of the things yourself—but the biggest learning as a creative director is to know to oversee and not to make it about you.
Find the best for each task at each point and utilize them.
Creative: Could you tell us the meaning behind every landmark, the significances and their meanings in relations to the album. Also, did they mean anything to you or was it all just for the “African Giant”?
The Sphinx & Pyramids — Africa has always been the seat of civilization and creative innovation.
The Timbuktu University — Africa was home to the first University, and is the seat of learning.
Isaac Boro Monument — Located in Port Harcourt, it represents Burna’s home city and the streets he emerged from.
The 7 people on his shoulders — 7 is both the number of completeness and the number of continents. He’s carrying his share of responsibilities, representing peoples and speaking for them, and carrying them along on this journey.
The Gorilla Sole — the Gorilla Emoji is the Burna African Giant emblem. And every step/stride he takes leaves an indelible impression.
Creative: You really went with the details, exceptionally beautiful! Did they mean anything to you too? Do you personally love any of them?
It’s been quite the last 48hours. @burnaboygram dropped his new album #TWICEASTALL and it’s number 1 in 32 Countries, smashing countless records along the way. I’m glad & honored to be a small part of that success story. When @spaceshipcollective reached out to me to be in charge of creating the comic book, album art and 3D promo video for this album, I knew only the best hands would suffice in creating visuals that would match the awesomeness that they played for me to hear, which also featured the best of the absolute best from the legends @youssoundour1959 Chris Martin of @coldplay @timbaland @therealmikedean and @diddy to @anderson._paak @leriq @jae5 @_telz @iammariowinans @p2jmusic @sautisol and more I’m super proud of the team I put together and how they killed it. Shoutouts to my album cover team @abolajialausa @akpangodwin and @silvabrushstudios My comic book team @mrxavierighorodje @thestanch and @mohammedagbadi And my 3D animation team @fag_studios and @nebeolise We did a thing!!!!
Creative: A PH city boy too?
Creative: Oh wow! I didn’t expect that! So, when you finished the art work, what did you think? Were you proud of it, were you eager to show the world the beauty?
Creative: Is there any new project you are working on, that you would want us to know about?
We’re also working on some interesting communication for brands that I can’t let out at the moment.