How An Instagram–Famous Artist Created Chance The Rapper’s Debut Album Cover

How An Instagram–Famous Artist Created Chance The Rapper’s Debut Album Cover

You can thank Sara Shakeel for the Swarovski crystal-infused imagery for The Big Day.

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If you needed confirmation that Chance the Rapper’s album was going to be different from his other projects, all you had to do was look at the cover art. The Chicago–bred MC had a signature format for his past covers: They’re bold, whimsical portraits of him amid colorful backdrops, created by Brandon Breaux, and when put together, all three illustrations seem to tell a story. He appears awestruck on the cover of 10 Day, frenzied on Acid Rap, and blissful on Coloring Book. His newest drop, The Big Day, looks nothing like the rest.

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The Big Day @chancetherapper 💎 . . Photographer @nolis Album Artwork by SaraShakeel ( damn that feels nice! ) . . & to be honest creating this has been the best DAYS OF MY LIFE! From coming up with this artwork to working with @chancetherapper !!! … my god This has been an unreal experience !!! Lol 3 years ago I was a freaking Dentist 👩🏻‍🔬 ! And today my work is a part of chances new album and featured on @jimmyfallon @fallontonight 🤯!!!! I meannnn my work made it to the spotlight!!!!! Lol And nooo!! I cannot calm my shitsss down !!!! Lol I am so happy for this great great and an extremely humble guy !!!!! Who called a regular girl 👧🏻from far far away, & made her ART dream come to life!!!!!!! 💎💿✨ I cant wait for this album to hit 💎💎💎💎💎💎💎 !!!!! I hope you like what I made !!! And support his album till the end of times!!!!! Forever & ever & everrrr !!!! ✨💎 . . : #art #originalcrystalartist #artist #coverart #happy #imagine #ilovemyjob #jimmyfallon #thebigday #happiness #real #diamonds #crystals #swarovski #music

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Instead of the classic Chance bust, we get a photograph of a translucent CD embedded with crystals, glimmering in the light as the rapper holds it in his hand. For that, Chance the Rapper, née Chancelor Bennett, hired the perfect artist for the job: Sara Shakeel, a former dentist-turned-viral visual artist who turns the mundane into sparkling masterpieces.

You’ve probably scrolled past some of Shakeel’s work already. She edits diamonds and crystals into photos of celebrities from Kendall Jenner to Lana Del Rey, or into pictures of blunts, McDonald’s fries, stretch marks, fried eggs, and subways. At least one of her “digital illusions” is likely on your favorite mood board Instagram account. They’re so ubiquitous that Bennett took notice.

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Breakfast for Champions 💎🍽🥚 . I remember this very day so well, while I was creating this plate with real glass crystals , imagining what a perfect breakfast would look like! I then imagined what if I was asked to create an art installation where a dinner table , with all the food one can imagine, covered and saturated with crystals would be such a classic thing to make! 💎💎💎 but coming back to real life I hushed myself lol and Literally a few days later @nowgalleryse10 with their amazing panel of talented artists including @ookaia approached me and TODAY I am in the process of creating an actual dinner table full of sparkles, love, imagination and full of conversations! 😍😍💎💎💎 this time no #photoshop no editing! 🙈✨🌝✨✨✨ I cant wait to share the process with all of you!!! 💎💎💎 oh boy talk about #dreams coming true 💎 exhibition will run from May 15th to June 23rd with free entry 🌝 . P.s what food items would you want me to turn into #crystals?? ✨🌝 . . CollageArt / photography / artwork SaraShakeel . . . #breakfast #egg #delicioso #foodporn #food #yummy #bread #hungry #imagine #imagination #Creative #art #artwork #photography #crystals #diamonds #artinstallation #dreams #dreamscometrue #surreal #edit #diamonds #foodphotography

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“Like, all of a sudden I saw someone, like, messaging me, Chance the Rapper, saying, ‘Hey, Sara, I love your work,’” Shakeel explains to BAZAAR.com. He sent her a screenshot of a piece she posted in April of someone holding a glittery, crystalline CD. “He was like, ‘Sara, I really want this work to be my next album cover.’” Shakeel jumped on the opportunity. “I said, ‘Okay, for sure. Let’s do this.’”

First, Shakeel created a digital image as she usually does, editing diamonds onto a photo of a disc, but Bennett wanted something tangible. He invited her to Chicago and she obliged, equipped with Swarovski crystals. (She’s close with the owner, Markus Langes-Swarovski.)

After about three trials, Shakeel landed on the final product: a clear resin disc embellished with 20 to 30 clear, diamond-cut Swarovski crystals. It took a day for her to create a mold for the disc and set in the resin, and then it took about a week for the material to harden to a plastic-like state. “If you see the image, the concept is 100 percent of what we made in reality,” Shakeel says. She just had to digitally enhance the flashes and sparkles emanating from the gems for a more enchanting effect.

Earlier this month, Bennett shared a video that shows him and his team with Shakeel, working on the disc concept and photographing it in a backyard. Clips include him flaunting the work at the The Lion Kingpremiere and his three-year-old daughter playing with it in her car seat. “He’s a very nice person, a very, very cool and humble person,” Shakeel says of the rapper. “To work with someone like that is amazing.”

The crystal disc, though a departure from Bennett’s past covers, makes sense for this drop. “The diamond itself and the crystals and sparkle itself represent happiness, and it presents something very exclusive, something very precious,” Shakeel explains. To Bennett, perhaps his debut album is just that. It’s a treasured milestone for one of the biggest musicians who spun the music industry on his head and won Grammys without a record deal.

To add to the album release celebrations, Bennett is also setting up a crystal-infused pop-up that Shakeel creative-directed; it features multiple rooms inspired by the rapper’s life, from his music-making to his wedding. Considering the sneak peeks from Shakeel’s Instagram Stories, the spectacle is a Kira-Kira fan’s paradise.

Shakeel, who lives in Pakistan, “never imagined” the life she has now. She says her popularity was an “accident”; she was a dentist with no formal artistic training, but she loved creating collages in her free time. Her big break occurred two years ago, when she digitally added crystals into a stash of lipsticks, posted the photo on Instagram, and awoke to 15,000 new followers and media coverage. “I was like, ‘This is something that people like, and let me just carry on with that,’” she says.

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Guys the love & respect i am getting out of these crystal lipsticks is so amazing and beautiful. I felt that there were some glitches left in that picture, sadly i have been focusing on my exam, so a few touchups were left behind. All thanks to this insta-friend ( tinybeamdoesthescream- tagged him )who sent me this amazing picture edit of my lipsticks. Now they look super real…right? Thank you so much for the love and appreciation. I just thought a surreal picture shared would look even better. Thank you once again for the love not only from my country, but all around the 🌎🌐 . . Due to such an amazing response & love from all around the world these crystal lipsticks might be hitting the 🌎 soon…. 💞 love you guys. . . . . Copyrights.SaraShakeel #sarashakeel . . . . #art #art🎨 #artstudio #collageartwork #collage #lipstick #makeup #makeupguru #crystallipsticks #lip #makeupart #artwork #digital #digitalart #graphic #graphicart #graphicarts #classy #mac #chanel #dior #guru #happiness

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Shakeel acknowledges that social media propelled her unexpected career as an artist. “I love how Instagram and social media has made me who I am today in one way or another,” she says. “I found a new talent, which I never knew I had.” But her works also exist beyond the ‘gram. Earlier this year, she transformed her glitzy creations into sculptures at London’s NOW Gallery. The exhibition, called The Great Supper, featured a diamanté dinner table, complete with gem-coated food and utensils. The display closed in June, but she’ll have another, bigger art installation in London later this year.

The crystals have an emotional significance for Shakeel. She once edited diamonds dripping from a woman’s nose when she was suffering from severe sinuses. She created sparkly McDonald’s fries when she was craving fast food during a diet. “I was like, ‘This is how I see my food right now: Holy, and I can’t touch them,’ and it’s just sparkling there like, ‘Eat me!’” she recalls.

Shakeel’s Instagram bio reads, “Each picture heals a part of me and I hope it heals a part of you too.” The best thing about her pieces, she says, isn’t the fame; it’s the reactions she gets from her viewers. “That makes me so happy,” she says. “And that’s the reason why I came up with this creation.”

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