A Conversation With Photographer Chuck Anderson On Shooting Lupe Fiasco’s Iconic ‘Food & Liquor’ Album Cover
Yohance Kyles (@HUEYmixwitRILEY)
(AllHipHop Features) NoPattern studio head Chuck Anderson was among the 2,500 excited souls that piled into Chicago’s Riviera Theatre on November 21. It was a special event dedicated to one of the greatest debut studio LPs in Hip Hop history. Grammy-winning emcee Lupe Fiasco was headlining the Red Bull Music Festival Chicago concert that night. The 37-year-old wordsmith performed Food & Liquor in its entirety in his home city for the first time ever.
Local recording acts Kidd Kenn and Two Depressed Kids warmed up the crowd. Then Lupe presented a full-on artistic experience with a live band and back-up singers stationed on a scaffold-filled stage. The man born Wasalu Muhammad Jaco donned a red #15 Bulls jersey as an homage to Chicago, Red Bull, and the 1st & 15th label that helped make him one of the most leading-edge lyricists of the 21st Century.
Anderson was not in the venue that evening as just another Fiasco fan. The Chicago-based visual artist was celebrating the performance as a personal win as well. As the photographer who shot the Food & Liquor album cover, Anderson assisted Lupe in creating the mental image many listeners dream up when they hear songs such as "I Gotcha," "Hurt Me Soul," and "Kick, Push."
Food & Liquor turned 13 years old in 2019. Going by the reaction of the Red Bull Music Festival Chicago audience, the project aged just as well as other 2006 gems like Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men and Peter Berg’s Friday Night Lights. Now that Lupe Fiasco’s magnum opus has reached its teenage years, AllHipHop caught up with Chuck Anderson to get his current thoughts on the image connected to the undeniable classic body of work.
AllHipHop: How did you first meet Lupe?
Chuck Anderson: I actually met Lupe before Food & Liquor for a different project. I was asked by a magazine based in New York to shoot photos of him. We had a mutual friend who ran that magazine. This was like a full year before Food & Liquor came out. He was still pretty off the radar outside of Chicago. The guy asked if I would meet up with Lupe, so Lupe and I met at a store in Chicago called Saint Alfred which is like a streetwear clothing shop. I took photos of him there, and that's where he and I first met.
AllHipHop: Lupe has talked about how the Food & Liquor cover was inspired by Domu, the Japenese manga. Did you personally draw any inspiration from any other works?
Chuck Anderson: My career and my whole art design practice for NoPattern got started around 2004. I'd been doing a lot of work that kind of looked like that at the time. That's how I was making a name for myself. I was getting a lot of attention for that light-streak kind of stuff. If you go on my website, you can click on the archives and go way back to 2004, 2005, 2006. I was doing a lot of stuff that looks like that. So when Lupe came to me, it was really kind of an open-ended style. But he knew he wanted glowing lights, colored kind of stuff. I don't really know, to this day, where that effect came from. It was a lot of experimenting. I'm 34 now. I didn't go to college. I started my career right out of high school, so it's been 16 years that I've been doing that sort of stuff. So it was natural for me to gravitate toward that look and feel at the time. I just merged what I was doing personally with Lupe's vision for the album that came from his own ideas and the anime artwork that he was interested in at the time.
AllHipHop: Was it Lupe's idea to avoid literal references to food and liquor?
Chuck Anderson: Yeah, he wanted it to be more subversive and more subtle. The inside of the album is so different. I didn't work on anything on the inside of the album - the photography of the students with guns and books. That’s what was so interesting about the album. The outside and the inside were two different things. They almost didn't look like part of the same project. I always thought that was interesting. I feel like if you thought, "Okay, this dude's calling it Food & Liquor. What's the cover going to be? It might be a photo of him in front of a Food & Liquor corner store.” But the album had such different meanings to him. It was this good and evil [concept]. It was interesting that there is no food or no liquor on the cover. He wanted to do something that wasn't so literal. I always appreciated that.
AllHipHop: I personally feel like the front cover is a classic without question, but I feel like not enough attention was given to the image on the back of the booklet. Can you talk about the idea around that particular image of him with the sword?
Chuck Anderson: I think people don't really see that because it's the inside booklet of a CD, so you only see it if you own that CD and take it out. He basically just brought a bunch of his stuff to this photoshoot, and he wanted photos of himself holding that sword. That sword was something he owned and seemed to really value. That was at the end of the day. We had already finished the shoot for the album cover, and he was standing there with the sword and wanted to get some photos. So I took pictures of him pointing the sword at the camera. When I was coming up with different ideas of what might go there, I just pulled that photo and took a lot of the style elements from the cover and put them around him.
AllHipHop: I don’t know if it was intentional, but when I first saw that image with your colorful lighting aesthetic around him it made me think of Dragon Ball Z when Goku goes Super Saiyan.
Chuck Anderson: You know what’s funny? I know nothing about anime. I know what Dragon Ball Z is, but I couldn’t tell you anything about it. But I do know those light-streaks are kind of a photographic interpretation of a lot of the aesthetics that’s in anime. That’s definitely intentional, and it came from Lupe’s mind.
AllHipHop: Did you happen to see the Marvel [Black Knight] variant cover?
Chuck Anderson: Yeah, I did see that, but I hadn’t looked at it in a while... Yeah, that’s so cool. It’s funny how many different variations there have been, people doing their own interpretation of the cover. It’s kind of crazy when you see the illustration that he was inspired by originally and how it came to life. It’s sort of an iconic thing that I did. I don’t even think I knew what I was getting into at the time. There’s so much about that I was unfamiliar with. I just tried to be a good listener, just really listen to what Lupe was looking for and bring it to life.
AllHipHop: Have you reflected on the fact that you’ve created this iconic image?
Chuck Anderson: Yeah, especially over the last week. I went to the [Red Bull Music Festival Chicago] show. They brought the album cover to life with the lighting on the stage. It was really cool to see it all come alive. I’ve done a lot of reflecting on it a lot of times over the years. It’s been 13 years since it came out, but it’s been almost 14 years since I first worked on it. It just keeps coming up in my career over and over again. I’ve done a lot of work in my career. If you look at my portfolio, one thing I pride myself on is I’ve been very prolific. I’ve made a lot of stuff. But nothing comes up quite like the Food & Liquor cover. Whenever I do interviews or I speak or anytime anyone wants to talk about my work, that comes up. And it’s so funny because I haven’t actually done a lot of album covers in my career. I think this is the only Hip Hop one I’ve done. I’ve worked with some Punk bands and more mainstream stuff, but this keeps popping up. It tells me this album means a lot to people. It’s really cool to be apart of it.
AllHipHop: Do you remember the first time you saw the final image in the CD package?
Chuck Anderson: Yeah, I went to Best Buy and I bought it. I remember sending all the artwork over. I remember the day it came out. I drove to Best Buy and bought two copies.
AllHipHop: So you have a book out now?
Chuck Anderson: Yeah, I just put a new book out of some work that I’ve been doing this past year called Crash Report. It’s part of a new collection I put out and the relaunching of my online store. I used to have an online store from 2004 to 2012. Then I went on hiatus for a little bit. I just brought it back. So yeah, that’s the most recent project I’ve been doing personally.