Brow Beat

Megan Thee Stallion’s Tongue, Nicki Minaj’s Hair, “Driving the Boat”

The artist behind the cover art for “Hot Girl Summer” explains his craft.

“Hot Girl Summer” cover art.
Photo illustration by Slate. Image by 300 Entertainment.

Hot girl summer, the movement, came first: Fans of hip-hop star Megan Thee Stallion created the phrase to embody the “hot girl” lifestyle she promotes—which is gender-neutral, by the way. Megan said of “hot girl summer” in the Root in June, “It’s about women and men being unapologetically them, just having a good-ass time, hyping up their friends, doing you.”

The idea got so popular that eventually Megan tweeted, “I feel like it’s only right I drop a hot girl summer song before the summer is over.” Earlier this month, that song arrived, and with it came cover art featuring playful cartoons of Megan and Nicki Minaj, who is featured on the track, riding a liquor bottle before a fiery backdrop. With a whole summer of anticipation to bottle up into one image, designing this art was no small challenge. Slate spoke to Kedar “FlashGrfx” Griffith, the 29-year-old artist who created the cover, about how he approached making a stand-in for a giant meme, Megan Thee Stallion’s tongue, Nicki Minaj’s hair, and more. The interview has been condensed and edited.

Slate: Did someone at the label basically think you were a good fit for this and call you to do it? Is that how it works?

Kedar Griffith: Yes. I have a lot of big-name clients that I’ve been working with, and I’ve been trustworthy over the past five years. A lot of people use me because I’m always available, I’m always down to work, and I turn in things on time. Well, at least I try to turn in things on time.

Did the label give you a concept or any directions, or did you start from scratch?

I sent over some vibes. I’m going to call them vibes. Vibes are like the mood. So I sent over some moods that I want the artwork to show, like outfits. I’m like, “I like her in this outfit. Can we get something similar to this?” and “Can we have the background look like the sunset because it’s the summertime? But I want it to be in a certain texture.” And my collaborator brushworkv was able to deliver the proper vibe for the summer background.

I sent him some pictures of Meg because he actually didn’t even know who Megan Thee Stallion was. He’s from the U.K., and he doesn’t really listen to a lot of rap. So he didn’t really know who she was, and I had to introduce him to the culture. So I was just like, “Yo, this is what it is. It’s girls having fun, twerking.”

Rayna [Bass, a marketing director], she helped out a lot on this project too as far as the facial expressions and stuff like that, of Nicki and Meg Thee Stallion. Her input helped out a lot. She was just like, “The record is fun,” because I didn’t hear the record. But I’m in the rap culture. I’m well-versed in the culture. I know what “driving the boat” means.

Wait, what’s “driving the boat”?

Driving the boat is when a girl, or Megan Thee Stallion, has a bottle of D’ussé [a cognac brand partly owned by Jay-Z], which is the bottle that she’s riding with Nicki Minaj on the artwork. What she does is that she takes the bottle and pours some of the liquor into another girl’s mouth. It’s kind of a thing in the hip-hop culture now. Megan made it real popular. She started the movement of driving the boat, and if you go to parties, you will see girls pouring drinks in other girls’ mouths like shots.

That’s why that bottle was on the cover instead of a bull. At first, I didn’t know if the lawyers at the label would have approved it, so it was kind of tricky. We did a bull at first, and then we turned it in. Then Rayna was like, “Why a bull?” And I was like, “Exactly.” This is what we needed to do, because driving the boat was the first idea.

So that makes two movements then, because “hot girl summer” has also become kind of a movement, which probably put a lot of pressure on you when you were working on this.

Yup. And a lot of girls that I know are hot girls.

So you had two days to do the art originally?

I got it Tuesday night. They said he needed it in two days because the record was going to drop on that Friday. And then the funny thing about it is that we didn’t know Nicki Minaj was on this song.

But I guess Nicki Minaj went on Instagram Live and Megan Thee Stallion went on her Live, and they decided to have Nicki Minaj featured on the record. So they stopped everything. I had another week to work on Nicki Minaj. Nicki Minaj took like a week.

I got the call, and I’m like, “This is bad.” They just said, “Add Nicki Minaj on there.” And I was like, “Add Nicki Minaj?” I’m like, “OK, cool, we’re just going to add her.” And that was the hardest part, because we had a lot of back and forth about Nicki Minaj’s look. Because sometimes she wears colorful hair, red hair, pink hair. And we had to send in different revisions of black hair, shorter hair, curly hair. We have a draft with Nicki wearing glasses. We were getting real creative with Nicki’s look. But her management wanted to go with this look.

Before this final approved art, we had other sketches that didn’t make it at all. I would turn in some things to them, and they were like, “No, this is not it. This is not ‘Hot Girl Summer.’ ”

What were the ones that didn’t work like?

There was a silhouette of Megan’s body, but it didn’t show her face or her features or nothing like that. It was fire around that, and it was actually her making another girl drive the boat, but it was in black and it didn’t look that vibrant.

Again, I didn’t even hear the song. There was a lot of security on this record.

How many drafts do you think you did altogether?

I would say maybe about 30? Thirty-something drafts.

What medium and programs are you working in?

A lot of mixed mediums. I work mostly on Photoshop. Sometimes I work on Illustrator, and sometimes I have to sketch some things out and scan them over.

And then the typeface on the cover, how did you end up choosing what you did?

I kind of wanted to do a pen-and-pixel type of font, like the old Cash Money, No Limit–type of album covers back in like ’96, ’98. I just wanted to kind of pay homage, but make it more modern and not so old-school. Originally, I had a lot of custom fonts that I was creating with flames and stuff on them. It was hard to read with the background. I wanted to leave it clean so people could read it when it’s on iTunes. I want people to see their little square on their phone and be able to read “Hot Girl Summer,” you know?

How did you get into designing cover art?

It started by living in a single-parent household. My oldest sister, she used to babysit me all the time, watch over the house while my mom worked, and we didn’t have any games or a lot of toys. So we used to draw little characters with paper and cut them out. She was older than me, and I used to kind of look up to her as an influence because she was in art school and studying art.

As I got older, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I always had a background in art from drawing and stuff like that. But as high school came to an end, I just didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself. I decided to stay home, while all my friends went away to universities. I just decided to stay in Philly and go to the Art Institute of Philadelphia.

I also started working for myself at the age of 15, and basically I had clientele doing flyers and logos when I was like 16, 17, 18, and then I decided I just wanted to just start my own company. Everything started on Myspace. I was my first client. A lot of people don’t really get that concept of working and creating your own portfolio first for yourself, and then you have something to show people that might want to hire you. Everybody thought it was cool, and everybody wanted their page to look like mine. Because my page had moving graphics, and it was just different.

What other cover art have you worked on that’s really stood out?

Well, when I graduated from the Art Institute, I was kinda in the sunken place. I didn’t know how to go about doing anything. I always had dreams to work with labels, and usually people fill out applications and go to labels and interview. But I was fortunate to enter a contest for the rapper The Game.

That was my first project that went viral. Worldwide, everybody was picking it up, XXL magazine, a lot of people were blogging on Tumblr. I gained like 10,000 followers just by being in the contest. It was the Year of the Wolf project. That was my big break.

I love everything I did. I had a chance to work with Gucci Mane and Drake for the single cover art for “Both.” Cardi B, I’ve worked on a single cover for her, the song “Lick.” And Meek Mill. He’s actually from my city. He’s actually the first big client that I had, before The Game. It was a dope project, but he ended up going to jail, and it didn’t balance out in my favor. But I’m still appreciative for that opportunity at that stage in my career to work with somebody like him.