We spoke to the illustrator about setting new trends with his work and creating visual worlds for J. Cole, Lil Uzi Vert & more.
With everything going on in the world it’s only natural we consider what the future of music is going to look like. The so-called “new normal” has seen livestream gigs become the reluctant medium of choice for fans who are itching to see their favourite acts in the flesh, but will settle for whatever scrapings of a concert experience they can get.
Conversely, other than collaboration being exercised remotely, the process of creating records has largely remained the same. Music videos on the other hand have generated some innovative responses to the pandemic. Artists like Rich Brian have reacted to COVID restrictions by shooting videos with drones at a safe distance, while Oakland’s Kehlani has recorded her videos on her laptop at home.
These creative endeavours though impressive are rooted in the real world and because of this, there are limits to what can be achieved.
Acutely aware of this new reality, a number of artists are opting for a medium that knows no boundaries – animation.
Hip hop in particular has latched on to this form of expression in recent years and since the world has been on virtual lockdown Rhymezlikedimez has been receiving a seemingly never ending stream of requests.
Hailing from Belgium, Robin Velghe aka Rhymezlikedimez has been injecting dreamy and abstract impressions into hip hop for a number of years, working on visual content with Nike, Apple Music, Sheck Wes, Lil Uzi Vert, J. Cole and Rico Nasty among a host of other stars.
I’d first come across his work a few years ago when I was preparing for the first interview I’d ever undertake with Belgian rapper Woodie Smalls. Interestingly the MC’s debut mixtape artwork and corresponding physical merchandise was also the first time Rhymezlikedimez’s unmistakeable aesthetic would be stamped on the music world.
“I worked on some more boring corporate projects, but in the meantime I started doing the Rhymezlikedimez thing on the side and I didn’t have any intentions with it, I just wanted to make sure I was drawing for myself, not only for money, but to do something I was passionate about,” he told me, over an early morning zoom call.
“Music has always been my biggest passion and main interest, I combined those two and since hip hop is the best at storytelling and painting a certain scene, it was a perfect fit for me.”
Shortly after this work with Woodie Smalls his obsession with connecting different mediums of storytelling led to commissioned visual loops for NxWorries and Lil Uzi Vert. Though the increased exposure and the current circumstances have led to more requests, Robin is careful about who is invited into the Rhymezlikedimez universe.
“We started getting more requests to do that, but yeah I’m trying to do it only for artists and music I really feel, cause like I said we wanna go into physical products and really build Rhymezlikedimez out as a brand and more so link the animations to that product and that way we can make it more immersive and providing the opportunity to buy something physical that you can put your hands on, like a figurine,” he explained.
Stretching back to the shelf behind him he grabbed a Quasimoto x Steve Harrington figurine to provide case in point of how he plans to expand his world.
“For example this collab piece from Quasimoto and Steve Harrington, it’s like two worlds coming together. Like you said it makes you feel like you are part of that world, so that is definitely something we are talking about with a lot of people and trying to make that happen.”
Like many of the greatest artistic collaborations, the criteria for selection is hard to define, but for Rhymez they first and foremost have to share that same penchant for painting vivid pictures.
“Creating an immersive world has always been something very interesting certainly for me because I’m very visual, I’m always more drawn towards music artists who create this visual world,” he told me as he set the figurine back on the shelf behind him.
“I think Tyler and Frank are some of the best examples of that as their visual content is as interesting as their music and they emphasises each other.”
“It’s very important that it just makes sense,” he said as he ruminated over other examples.
“For example the knxwledge collaboration, it is just a perfect fit, his vibe is all dreamy,” he concluded.
“If the music, the music videos, the clothing they sell and wear and the cover art is combining well, that synergy makes for a perfect project.”
Consequently this delicate formula is also easy to get wrong. With many artists gravitating towards animation instead of live videos, Robin believes we could see a wave of undercooked and inauthentic visuals on the way.
“I certainly feel now with quarantine and not being able to do live action and shoot a lot of videos there’s a lot of artists taking to animation, but not necessarily being invested in it, so there is a lot of room for these blatant rip offs, that’s something I am very aware of,” he admitted.
To do a full music video to a standard he wants, he told me it would take three to five months. An amount of time that others aren’t willing to put in and labels can’t afford to wait for. He suggested that the short loops he’d helped popularise could be a happy medium going forward.
“With the Lil Uzi Vert animations I did that with Jordan, a friend at Atlantic Records and he coined the term ‘visualiser’. I think it already existed as a word but it wasn’t used in that context. Now it’s something you see a lot like ‘official visualiser’, but I think that was the first time that was used in hip hop.”
“I just like these shorter forms of content too, because it seems like something that is working really well right now, people are not watching as long content as they used to 10 years ago…”
This is a trend that has developed alongside a more globalised input to hip hop culture that Rhymezlikedimez is at the core of.
“I think because of the internet and social media it is crazy how quickly you can get in touch with certain people, it’s not only animation, there’s photographers from Belgium or Europe, like a friend of mine Mathieu from France he did a photoshoot for GQ with Tyler, the pictures went viral,” he told me.
“Everybody is able to share their creative talent with the world from their phone and people are really recruiting those people… the boundaries don’t matter that much.”
This erosion of traditional barriers to entry and the heightened popularity of hip hop culture is also leading an increase in the type of surrealist content that Rhymezlikedimez has become known for.
“The budgets have increased because of the popularity [of hip hop], the tools are more approachable for people to create something unique than say a rapper just rapping into a camera and driving,” he explained.
“I think there has always been those references to surrealistic worlds, I just think there are more possibilities now… With The Neptunes, with ‘Star Trak’ and all those space references and Missy Elliott, her videos were out of this world.”
Having those artists as early inspiration, Robin told me about the bridges he’s building to expand his own surrealist universe beyond the confines of western culture. Right now he has a globetrotting collaboration with Beats 1 and Higher Brother’s Chinese artist MaSiWei that just dropped on WeChat, the biggest Asian social media network.
“That was really cool because it’s the first Asian project, cause usually I just work within the US, it’s really interesting because it is a completely different world I have to get into.”
“I’ve never been in China, so I never knew how streets were spelt, I’ve been to the states and I know how that feels it is easier to channel that.”
With much still uncertain in the world we’ll likely have to continue channelling creative energy remotely, but as it feels like many of the pillars of our modern world are crumbling Rhymezlikedimez is building another we can escape to.
Photo: @Rhymezlikedimez Instagram