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If you engage even remotely with the Underground/Hyperpop Daily/SoundCloud side of Rap Twitter, you’ve probably seen some bizarre drawings floating around. Like Summrs dunking on Mario Chalmers. Or Ice Spice posterizing Rasheed Wallace.
These minimal, oddly elegant iPad sketches are the handiwork of Kurto, a 19-year-old from Louisville, KY, who draws inspiration from comic books, anime and similar-minded rap cartoonists like kodone. Ever since his first one blew up in late January, he’s been swiftly and studiously taking fan requests of increasingly wild rapper-hooper crossovers, like, uh, Cochise euro-stepping on Lavar Ball. The Venn diagram of internet rap and niche basketball talk gets closer to being a circle every day. Kinda checks out, dudes just love naming random things!
Kurto caught a major buzz last year when Lil Yachty used his fan art for the official “Poland” cover. His philosophy then and now has been to strike while the iron’s hot and take advantage of every viral moment. We talked about shitty jobs, the New York Knicks and turning some silly sketches into a serious career path.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Mano Sundaresan: Are you a big NBA fan?
Kurto: Yeah! I’ve been an NBA fan for literally as long as I can remember.
What’s your team?
The Knicks, sadly.
Aw man, are you from New York?
No, there’s just not a team where I’m from.
Where are you from?
Oh my God, you’re from Louisville, KY, and you chose the Knicks?
It was either the Knicks or the Pacers, you know what I’m saying?
What do you mean it was either the Knicks or the Pacers? You’ve got the whole NBA in front of you, you can pick any team you want!
I mean Melo was doing his thing back then, you know?
What’s the Knicks / rap crossover going through your head right now?
Probably Carmelo throwing a lob to Sha EK, maybe Kay Flock.
So tell me about where this fascination of yours started, I’m going to start drawing basketball players duking it out with underground rappers. What was the first one?
I think it was Summrs dunking on Bobby Portis [Ed. note, it was Summrs dunking on Mario Chalmers. He did, however, draw Autumn hitting a reverse layup on Bobby Portis] and I mean, somebody just put it in my comments. It was just goofy enough to where I was like, I really don’t have anything better to do, so I might as well. And then that just started blowing up. More and more people started requesting, I kept doing it, and it just kept working. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. I had been working at a job that I hated for about a year and a half, and I’d quit it because I figured this is the year I was gonna start going all in.
Where were you working?
UPS. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. I made some good money there but it was time to start taking myself seriously. So at that point, I pretty much decided I’m done with my job. I’m at a point now where I can at least try to grow enough to make myself a sustainable living.
What were you listening to at UPS?
Oh man, a lot of Pi’erre Bourne. That’s my favorite artist.
What was the moment you left your job?
I’d saved up all my paid time off for a little vacation to go out for Christmas with my family and such. And I really just did not want to go back to work, because I was having so much fun just being outside of it for the first two week period in a year and a half. I literally just sat around with family, hung out and drew all day.
What are your materials when you draw?
Right now I’m on an iPad Pro. I firmly believe it’s the best thing I’ve ever bought. It really did change my life. But mostly while I was on vacation, I usually just opened up a little sketchbook and [used] a random mechanical pencil you can pretty much find anywhere.
What did you do the “Poland” artwork on?
I did that one on my iPad.
How did the vision for that come together?
I mean the song leaked, and it was going crazy on Twitter. A lot of people were loving it, a lot of people were hating it. It was a different kind of sound. I figured that I would try to take advantage while it’s trending, make something out of it. Are y’all familiar with who blaccmass is, the guy that does the mashups?
Yeah, of course.
Close, close friend of mine, man. I love that guy to death. We’ve been in a group chat, me and him and a couple of other people for right around two years. We were all talking about [“Poland”] and he says, “Hey, it’d be pretty cool if you tried to draw Lil Yachty crossing the Baltic Sea or something, taking this big ass pint of wock to Poland.” And I was like, that sounds pretty good! So I sketched it up and I put it on Twitter not really expecting anything out of it. That ended up blowing up and caught the eye of F1LTHY. I was like, Man, I really should, try and finish this. So I come home from work the next day, sit down at it, I put [the finished art] on Twitter, and I’ve never seen any post of art of mine just blow up so quick. It was just ridiculous to sit back and watch just how much traction it was bringing in. Then Yachty quote tweeted it out of nowhere. I was just chillin, sitting at home just talking it up with some friends. And he quote tweets and says, “On God, I’m changing the cover to this tomorrow.” I mean, oh my goodness! That was a great, great day. I was over here walking around my house shaking my fist like I just hit a game winner or something.
Did you get paid for that?
Oh yeah. Yachty reached out to me right after he did the quote tweet, I got in contact with management, and yeah, they got me paid.
What would you say is your biggest advice for any young designers?
You don’t have to be the most special person in the world. You don’t have to be born with talent. You just have to take yourself serious. Every single time I clocked into my job, versus every single time I got down and started drawing, I always knew that there’s nothing else in the world that I’d want to do. With that kind of mentality, you really just take yourself serious, try to take steps towards your dream every single day. It doesn’t mean you have to go record a whole album every day. You don’t even have to record a song every day. Just write a couple lyrics, sketch a little bit, always keep yourself fresh.
What’s the weirdest co-sign you’ve gotten?
That’s easy. Hasbulla. His fanpage Hasbulla Hive followed me on Twitter, and he asked for me to draw him dunking on LeBron. I would have loved to, but LeBron is the greatest player of all time in my eyes. I can’t really do something that slanderous to him, especially when he’s about to pass up Kareem.
Damn, that’s noble. You turned down the Hasbulla bag because of LeBron. That’s beautiful.
Goes against my morals, man. That’s my goat.
Amazing. Last question. I had this vision recently, it was of Rx Papi dunking on Glen Davis. I just really need that in my life. Could you draw that for us?