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NickyChulo is the designer behind some of your favorite albums

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How the indie music scene helped the designer find his footing

Photo by Nicholas Fulcher

Graphic designer and art director Nicholas “NickyChulo” Fulcher has worked with some of the biggest names in music. As part of Atlantic Records, he’s designed covers for GoldLink, Kodak Black, Shy Glizzy, Kiiara, and Jon Bellion, in addition to working on the cover of Cardi B’s Grammy award-winning album Invasion of Privacy. His work is almost impossible to miss.

The Virginia-born, New York-based designer was always a creative at heart. Known around town for being extremely creative and outlandish, Fulcher started designing album covers for local rappers in high school. After some time working in Virginia’s indie scene, he began studying at the Savannah College of Art and Design, but had to drop out early due to financial issues. This led him back to New York City, where he began his professional career working with !llmind, Revolt Media, and ultimately Atlantic Records.

I talked to Fulcher about his origins, his process, and whether he thinks the album cover is due for a change.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

When did you realize you wanted to design album covers?

I came across Linkin Park and Jay Z’s Collision Course. That cover spoke to me. And I realized this is something I definitely want to do and love. That was my favorite cover, which kind of propelled me into music. Back then I was more influenced by video games and graffiti. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. But I saw that cover. I was like, “Ight, this is my way. This what I want to do.”

How did your time at SCAD impact you? What do you think about the value of college now?

I mean, I’m like, “Fuck, why did I spend so much money!?” I learned a few techniques that I use day to day. I got some education from it. But the most important thing for me was the relationships I built there. Like the kids, the friends, the experience, and the all-nighters. The human bond of people similar to us is something that you can never put a price on. I’m definitely grateful for the SCAD experience and learning these techniques that kind of got me where I am today.

What do you think distinguishes a great cover designer from a novice?

That’s a tough question! I mean, there are kids out there, they’re passionate, and they have Photoshop. They may not be skilled, but they know what they want. They can express themselves and it can be a hit, you know what I mean? I think knowing your audience is what comes with experience being a designer — like having the experience versus being an internet kid. Understanding visual communication is the difference between a skilled artist and a novice.

What does this craft of designing covers mean to you?

Designing an album cover is very collaborative. It might just be me and the artist, if I know them personally, or management, or the label management and artists. They’ll pitch me their idea, and we kind of make that work to the best of our ability. Sometimes I can pitch my idea if I know the artist well enough. So 60 percent of it is communication and selling your idea, and the other 40 is craft and technique.

The music industry has gone through a lot of changes recently with the rise of streaming services. Have you felt the changes while working with these artists and different collaborators?

Yeah, because it’s more of a singles game now. People are doing one-offs instead of a whole album. And we kind of build around those singles, but it’s not as grandiose as an album. An album is a whole experience, and then a single can be like a short film. You’re getting a taste, but it’s fun and more enriching to do the whole album experience as an art director.

Do you think there’s room for innovation in the medium?

With Spotify, we’ve done a couple of things. Like Kiiara, for one of her singles, we did the animated cover so when you play the song, it moves around instead of just having that static image.

I think change is imminent, but with music, it’s like a parent. Parents will collect your teeth and your hair forever. Like people still have cassettes, vinyls, and CDs, and I think that all is going to be around. But the peak right now is digital, and I think AR could be next. I would say VR, too, but the only person I remember doing VR was Childish Gambino, like the Pharos thing. I saw potential in that, but no one’s really tapping into it at the moment. It’s changing fast, and I feel like it’s like throwing darts. We don’t know what’s going to hit, it’s really based on the people.

You recently tweeted, “I come from a place where we do much more with much less.” Do you think people are as scrappy as they used to be?

I feel like as you move into the corporate world, things are very structured.

And because I came from working with indie artists, we didn’t have budgets. I was charging $50 for an album cover. It came from the gut when we were young. We didn’t worry about 90 people’s opinions, and it resonated through the artwork.

Have you found that the number of people involved in the creative process has increased over your career?

On the label side, yes, but on the indie side, there’s a lot of trust when people come to me from a freelance perspective. That came with popularity and I’m grateful for that. It makes it a lot easier to sell my point, but I don’t just dismiss them either.

What was it like holding that Cardi B plaque in your hands?

Oh, man. It was mind-blowing. First of many, I hope! I just got approval for the Grammy certificate for Best Rap Album of the year, so that’s coming in, too! I’m gonna flex on the ‘gram!

Lastly, any artists you’d like to shout out?

Tony Whlgn, Jimi Tents, !llmind, Quadry, and Megan Harris, my plus one.