Atlantic Records Art Director NickyChulo Shows Us His 10 Favorite Album Covers

Posted inDesigner Interviews

Graphic designer Nick Fulcher, aka NickyChulo, knew what he wanted to do from a young age. Computer graphics were an early love of his, so he thought he would fall into game design. But Chulo started to veer in a different direction when a friend asked him to design a mixtape cover. He said yes, all for the price of two McChickens.

Years later, Chulo dropped out of SCAD, describing the experience as “expensive for no reason.” After a stint at a branding agency, he returned to his roots of freelance designing for smaller musical acts. That led to Chulo creating mixtape covers for rappers like GoldLink, Chaz French, and IDK. His star rose right alongside theirs, and he eventually attracted the attention of producer Illmind. Chulo joined the producer’s independent label before landing at Atlantic, where he currently works as Art Director.

Now you can see Chulo’s work everywhere, from the record shop to the singles on a curated Spotify playlist. He reckons that he has worked on thousands of covers, and his impressive list of clients includes Cardi B, Yoko Ono, Kodak Black, Jon Bellion, and Radamiz.

When you talk to Chulo about his favorite album covers, it’s easy to get a sense of what inspires his own work. Below, we dive into the images that have made the biggest impact on Chulo’s creative practice.

(This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.)

Gorillaz – Demon Days

I bought this album from FYE. I had to be a freshman in high school, and I was going to a new school. That was just my soundtrack, top to bottom—kind of dark, very melodic. I didn’t know anything about Gorillaz, other than their hit song was on VH1 all the time.

I remember the cover vividly, being on my way to school and listening to Demon Days. I just felt like the characters resonated with me. They’re really cool, and it just made me feel really cool, you know? It’s a great mixed bag album too. You have some gospel, you have some hip-hop, some soul, and some electronic. It just runs a wide gamut. When I think about it, it’s played into who I am a lot more than I think. I’m a lot of different cultures, music experiences, and perspectives packed into one person.

Jay-Z & Linkin Park – Collision Course

I was a big Linkin Park fan, even before Jay-Z. I was growing up in Virginia, you know, super suburban, and I was just like, “what is this?” It’s just a very eclectic cover—very heavy hip-hop [influence with] the graffiti. There are a lot of illustrated hands, you have the paint, and it just feels so raw, you know? But this is one of the first CDs I purchased, and I had the deluxe edition with a DVD. I played that all the time.

Thinking back, with Linkin Park and Jay-Z, it was a perfect mashup of anime, Black culture, and rebellion. It’s just cool, you know? This cover specifically is what got me into album covers and design. It just did a lot for me, and that definitely pointed me down this path.

JMSN – Priscilla

I remember coming across this music in college. I was going to SCAD at the time, but this was just such an obscure photo. Like, what is this red box over this woman’s face? And I just listened to the music—it’s a very melodic, very dark, macabre R&B album. 

I did [a cover] for Chaz French called Happy Belated. I used that kind of red to box him and his daughter in as well, so the inspiration for that came directly from [JSMN’s] cover. It was just so striking. The color blocking is insane; it’s a little morbid, but it just stands out.

Anderson .Paak – Malibu

Definitely my favorite Anderson .Paak project. I think the collage work is beautiful. It just adds this whimsical mystique to it that makes it feel like a fairy tale. The cover is by Dewey Saunders. I didn’t know him when this came out, but over time, we’ve gotten to know each other. He’s still killing it with the collages. He has a lot of art shows going on, but he did a beautiful job with this. It’s one of my favorites of all time. Top 10.

Do you ever do any collage work yourself?

I did for Kiiara a while ago, for her single “Messy.” I did five different sets, one for each character in the music video, and then one of her on top of the car.

How involved was she in that?

She was involved, feedback-wise. But I presented this idea, and they thought it was dope.

That was early on for me at Atlantic. The way it usually goes is, I ask, “What are your inspirations?” ​​You get stuff from the artist first, and then you figure out how everyone will build it. You don’t start before you get some information. Otherwise, it’ll just be a waste of time. But I was ambitious. 

What are your deadlines usually like?

They’re pretty open. Sometimes there are rushes, and it’s like three to five days. But from marketing agency life, that was the same day. Someone would say, “Alright, we need this in the next three hours.” And [I’m] like, yo, what? 

So it’s very comfortable. We’ll get weeks or months because we have to plan photoshoots, get mood boards together, and make sure we hire the right creative. Or it’s something I work on myself— there’s just a lot of variables, but they give us lead time.

Sylvan LaCue – Apologies In Advance

That was my first time working with Sylvan. I was a fan of his projects before, and I reached out constantly. “Next project, let me work on it.” I badgered him as often as I could. And eventually, he hit me one day, and he said, “I think it’s time.”

You were a fan before?

Oh yeah. He told me the concept, and it was going to be like an AA meeting. So I made this Apologies in Advance logo—the merch looked incredible. And in this project, he speaks on this thing as a young 20-year-old with questions and being confused. So it touches on mental health, and there are interludes where it talks about situations we can all relate to. 

It’s a very healing album for people that listen to it. It makes you feel like you’re not necessarily alone in these situations where you might find yourself confused. So it just means a lot to me, and it came out super clean. They got the banner printed that same week, so it wasn’t Photoshop— it’s practical design.

Do you prefer to do something with more graphic components, or do you like photoshoots with artists better?

Practical design is always going to be key. Having a good setup, having a set designer, having things made, and getting that shot feels more honest. Things that are over touched-up or graphics-heavy can be great, but sometimes, when you’re trying to convey a message, that’s not the way to go. I think covers with as little text as possible and a strong image will transcend everything.

Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak

That is when I first got introduced to Kaws. His work has just been incredible across the board, and Kaws is one of my favorite artists. Very trendy, very hypebeast-y, but at the end of the day, I like what I like. Who cares!

But the color bars on the side of this album cover spoke to me. We referenced that in a GoldLink album I worked on, And After That We Didn’t Talk. So on the side of the album, we have color bars where we just made this language out of circles, with these little dots…in a similar fashion to [these colors] on the left side of Kanye’s album.

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

Incredible cover. I mean, Black people in front of the White House, who would have thought?

It’s definitely just a vibrant time in history, where barriers are being broken, but at the same time, people are getting hurt. But everyone’s still kind of hopeful, and we’re trying to grow. I feel like this cover just embodied where everyone was at [in 2015]. And even his single kind of threw people off. Like, “I Love Myself?” Why is this the first single of the project? 

But it’s coming together. The image just says so much to me. It’s okay to be yourself, no matter how rugged [or] ghetto, or however you want to speak. Our differences are what make us great. Imagine everyone being the same. I would cut my finger off just to be different.

Radamiz – Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes

That’s by Sam Lindenfeld. Great illustrator. 

I never heard of Radamiz until I came across this cover. And it’s a beautiful project, one of my favorites sonically [and] visually as well. It just feels like family. Even though he’s hidden in the corner, and you can’t really see his face. It’s like, what is this story? The mystery on top of the art sold me and pulled me in. When I’m feeling off or confused, if there’s too much going on, I listen to this album to reset.

Solange – A Seat At The Table

Incredible sounding album, [with] one of the greatest tracklists. I’ve revisited it hundreds of times. So obscure, but it just works because it’s balanced. The line guides your eye to where it needs to go. It’s just so subtle, and it’s a comfort to look at. It’s always been something I reference often, and it just fits. 

How do you reference it? 

Type, layout, organization, publication design. I’ve never sampled it or tried to do anything like it, but it definitely inspires me to think not so linearly, if that makes sense. The cover is linear, but it’s not at the same time. We have some records that get flipped vertically, and some are horizontal, but you have these lines that aren’t perpendicular, and the balance is just perfect.

NoMBe – They Might’ve Even Loved Me

This cover stood out to me a lot. All these bodies are on top of one another, and it looks so peaceful. It’s one guy and a few women, so I’m assuming it’s like past relationships, just with everyone in one place. It’s kind of crazy, but it just works. I like that the type on the top right just kind of spirals down, and it just repeats, but it’s there like a stamp. I always keep this in mind as well. It’s very well done.

There’s something really handmade about it. Do you ever feel like you get to do that? Where you’re actually getting to draw a little bit or do something by hand?

Yeah, definitely. Draw, scan, rip, scan again, paint— all that. I need to stand out and do something different at the same time. 

I’ve done so many covers. If I had to count, hundreds, maybe 1000s? Probably 1000s. But just having to be different all the time is very important to me. I feel like my popularity has grown a little bit, but I think it hasn’t at the same time, because you can’t pinpoint me to one specific thing.