On November 5th 1996, Tupac’s first posthumous release, ‘The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory’ was released. The album would reintroduce Tupac under the alias Makaveli. A name inspired by the Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli.
The artist behind the infamous album cover started working at Death Row Records in early 1996, contributing to some of the most iconic album’s in Hip-Hop history. In recent years Riskie appeared on the 2018 series ‘Death Row Chronicles’ and his work was featured in the 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Ceremony, where Tupac was inducted.
We take a look back at our 2018 interview with Riskie as he spoke about how he got into art, life before Death Row Records, Tupac and much more.
Riskie, thank you so much for talking with us. California born and raised in Compton, can you tell us what it was like growing up in Compton?
It was kinda hard growing up for me in Compton. While I was growing up gang banging was at an all time high. I lost a lot of friends to drive by shootings and the prison systems.
It seems art has always been a big part of your life, how did you get into it? Was there a pivotal moment where you decided that this is what you wanted to do?
I got interested in art at a very young age by my Aunt Karen. She would baby sit my younger brother Jonathan and I, while my mom worked graveyard shifts to provide for us. My aunt was a pretty good artist. She’d sit me on her lap sometimes and I would watch her draw.
The pivotal point for art that really pushed me into it further was the first time I saw the movie “Beat Street” I admired the character Ramo, and I wanted to be as dope as him. It’s always a shock to some when I explain to them how a fictional character became to be such a big inspiration in who I turned out to be as an artist heavily influenced by hip hop. To that I would say “You may never know who or what could be an inspiration for you to wanna be great or a turning point in your life.
Your portfolio ended up grabbing the attention of Marion ‘Suge’ Knight, CEO of Death Row Records. What was his reaction to seeing your artwork?
I think Suge, was surprised at how artistically inclined I was because there weren’t that many visual artists to come from our neighborhood. There were a few rappers but not that many of us that could draw and paint. Suge, hiring me to work in the art department at Death Row was proof enough to let everyone know he was pleased with my creativity.
You started working for Death Row Records in early 1996. Can you describe how you felt doing what you love for one of the biggest record companies on the planet?
It was an unreal feeling. One minute I’m at home watching Death Row Records videos on BET Network. The next minute I’m walking through it’s office doors as a paid employee. My paintings have been a big representation of a lot of very major and historic album covers that will live on past my years. Being at Death Row also gave me the opportunity to work with and meet some iconic entertainers. My feelings today are blessed I got the growth and experience.
Your first project on Death Row was the insert to Tupac’s classic album ‘All Eyez On Me’. The painting depicts Tupac talking to a female and showing his ‘Thug Life’ tattoo, while his comrades watch on. What was your experience like of working with Tupac?
Tupac was a good dude. If it wasn’t for Suge introducing me to him I don’t know if I would’ve made it to Death Row. Tupac looked and my portfolio and immediately told Suge, “I need him to work on America’s most wanted painting tees for the video”. Although that never happened, I ended up working on the insert for ‘All Eyez On Me’ with my homie “Hen Dogg” Rest In Peace.
He came through with the concept we talked with ‘Pac. I started creating the painting from scratch. It took me about three days to complete, that’s it. At that time I wasn’t hired on Death Row yet. After ‘Pac approved the painting I was hired and started working at the label on the same day Snoop was acquitted of murder. ‘Pac always looked out for me on any art he needed. I’m just grateful he believed in my talent working with him was a dream. If ‘Pac liked you, he loved you, he’d do anything for you.
In August of 1996, you were told about an idea that would put your artwork center stage, going out to millions of people. We are of course talking about ‘The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory’. You were assigned to paint the cover for the album. How did that come about?
I was in my office and got a call from Norris Anderson who was president of Death Row then. He had just got a call from Suge. He was explaining to me the idea Suge and Tupac had come up with for his next album. I was gonna be the one to paint it. I had less than 2 hours to create a mock up of what the painting was gonna look like for a meeting in Malibu, California later that night. Tupac didn’t show up for the meeting. I think he was on set for the movie Gang Related or Gridlock’d I’m not sure. Suge liked my idea and told me to get started.
That would also be the night that Suge explained to me he wanted me to work with Joe Cool on Snoops ‘Dogg Father’ album artwork. The next day I got the painting for the 7 Day Theory started and met up with Tupac at Can-Am Studios in Tarzana, California to show him. He liked the painting so I finished it and the rest was history.
The Makaveli album is one of the most iconic albums in Hip-Hop history. When you were working on the painting for the cover, did you ever think that it would turn out to be Tupac’s deepest album?
No I never even realized how deep it would be. I heard a few records off the album before it was put together and packaged. I never got to fully understand the meaning behind. Any of it until I got the manufactured copy of the cd and listened to it. When I saw my artwork on the cover it was then that I realized the part it played in Pac’s interpretation. The sad part is he wouldn’t be here to witness it drop!
You saw Tupac the night before he left for Vegas. What was his reaction to your painting on the cover of the Makaveli album and can you tell us about the plans he had for you to do all of his artwork?
Pac was excited I had made his vision a reality. I was at his penthouse the night before we left for Vegas and he was like “Riskie, my walls are naked start painting some stuff for the house”. Nobody ever knew we had plans to do an art show and I was gonna be the first visual artist on Death Row to have his own show and Pac was gonna host it for me.
He told me when we get back from Vegas we gonna start putting it together and get everything figured out. Suge had just given me a check for 5k to get all the art supplies I needed to make it happen. Unfortunately those dreams of mines were abandoned when Pac never made it back to L.A. I was crushed. His life was more important than an art show. I just wished he had pulled through like we all thought he would.
What is your favorite memory of Tupac and have you got any stories that you would like to share about him?
My favorite memory was the last time I saw Pac and we spoke about building a future for me and my art with his help. I’ll never forget that day at all cause he brought me in to the game by giving me the opportunity to do my first piece of commercial art in the very first double cd in rap history that would make my name and art go international.
You have done several album covers, including ‘Death Row’s Greatest Hits’, ‘Death Row’s Christmas Album’ and work for Snoop Dogg’s ‘Tha Doggfather’ album, Nate Dogg’s G-Funk Classics Vol 1 & 2. Do you have any stories of working on these projects?
I was blessed with the opportunity it would take to much time to talk about all the stories and my album art that’s why I wrote a book for those that are interested in reading it, it’s called “Riskie Forever The Streets 2pac Death Row Records and Now” it puts everything in the right perspective. Purchase Riskie’s book here
Given that Suge has recently been sentenced to 28 years in prison, what is your take on the situation?
Suge is the reason that my artwork is a part of hip hop history. I have no take on the situation. I wasn’t there when it happened so my opinion doesn’t matter. I would never wish death or jail on anyone.
Recently your artwork has been featured in the six part series ‘Death Row Chronicles’. As well displayed at the 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Ceremony, where Tupac was inducted. What do you think of Tupac’s legacy and how he is still touching people with his lyrics?
I think that Pac accomplished the goal he set out to do for himself. I’m just happy to see that what he has done is still relevant to what’s going on today. He’s still receiving awards for his accomplishments. He deserves everything he’s getting.
In 2016 you released your book ‘Art Is My Life: The Streets, Tupac, Death Row Records, and Now’ in which you detail stories of working on Death Row. Last year, you put together ‘Unauthorized Death Row Coloring Book’, with 40 original drawings. Can you tell us of any upcoming projects or content that you are currently working on?
I have other projects I’m in talks to do but I’m not at liberty to speak on them at the moment. I’m just praying that everything turns out well.
We wish you all the best with those plans. Last but not least, do you have a message to both your fans and Tupac’s fans?
Of course Stay focused in what you believe in. Grind until it hits the metal, stay suka free and prayed up. Everything comes to those that hustle while they wait! Visit Riskie’s Official Website for more great artwork