The first time the world saw Travis Scott and Quavo's Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho cover art, it didn't come with a bang, but with a signature scratchy scrawl. Tormented, abstract, and apocalyptic, Ralph Steadman's darkly kinetic art was on full display from the barrier of an Instagram post.
In the early 1970s, Steadman was the illustrator for Hunter S. Thompson — the man who started the "gonzo journalism" movement — including for his 1972 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In the artistic world of Steadman, horses are four-legged aliens, humans are skeletal rubber screaming for release, and politicians are frog-like demons. He helped visualize the depraved and bacchanalian underbelly of America and its fleeting dream by channeling the weirdly ethereal into something tangible.
It is that history that most likely drew Scott and Quavo to seek Steadman's chaotic visuals for their collaborative album. Over email with MTV News, Steadman described how he became involved in the process.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
MTV News: When were you first approached to design the artwork for Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho?
Ralph Steadman: Some emails came through from Travis's team about mid-November. I had to familiarize myself with this whole new world of rap. I liked Travis and Quavo's faces and their dreadlocks. I knew I could make some use of those. The feature was positive. There was no aggression. There was a sense of life, laughter, and hope.
MTV News: What was the inspiration behind the cover design? Did Travis or Quavo come to you with any ideas?
Steadman: Though I had never heard of them I did not consider that important, it was for me unknown territory, and I went along with it out of curiosity as much as anything. We decided to have a conversation with them. They said they would ring at 6 p.m. our time. We waited and waited and waited for an hour during which time I wrote two poems, and I do not know where the hell I have put them. I know the first sentence was, "The need to wait..." That's all I remember.
Eventually, they rang, and I think it was Travis Scott who spoke first, and I couldn't quite understand what he was saying. It was difficult to understand his vibe, but we had a nice talk and I decided to try my best to do what they wanted. I know they were keen on the landscapes from [Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas]. They had to be included. It was what you could call common ground. They loved all those things.
They sent us photographs of things that I had done, that if possible they would love to include somewhere in the artwork — a portrait of them. I was afraid of making them too old, but gradually it turned out fine. I found it an area of expression that I could follow and understand and give a point of view. I think I succeeded because they were very happy.
MTV News: You’re most well-known in the U.S. from your work with Hunter S. Thompson. Fast forward to 2017, you’re working with Travis, who says on Instagram, “Them studio nights let’s not mention those lol.” What were the similarities and differences in working with a gonzo journalist like Hunter and rappers like Travis and Quavo?
Steadman: They were nowhere so demanding as Hunter always was, even though he told me time and again to "stop that filthy scribbling" and warned me not to write, or I will bring shame on my family.
MTV News: What were your thoughts when you first heard the album?
Steadman: It's a kind of musical expression that although was a bit foreign to me, I liked their enthusiasm and vitality of youth. It reminds me of the time I was a choirboy!
MTV News: Is there any advice you have for up-and-coming artists who look to you for inspiration?
Steadman: Forget style, and just just start making marks. If you have thoughts and ideas in your head, the rest will follow.
The Ralph Steadman: Retrospective will be going on tour later this year and showcases 108 artworks from throughout his career. Dates are below.
6/16 - 8/12: American University Art Museum, The Katzen
11/3 - 1/26/2019: CSU Fullerton, Begovich Gallery, California
February - May 2019: University of Kentucky Art Museum, Lexington, Kentucky
9/28/2019 - 1/20/2020: Jordan Schitzer Museum of Art, Eugene, Oregon