Philly Artist Justin Richburg Talks Drawing Over 60 Characters for Childish Gambino's 'Feels Like Summer' Video
If a music video includes an animation of Michelle Obama comforting a crying, MAGA-hat-wearing Kanye West along with Young Thug playing video games on a porch with The Ball Brothers, it’s bound to have everyone talking. Whether he’s making people scratch their heads or sit in complete awe, the multifaceted Childish Gambino is definitely used to making headlines by now, especially after the eye-popping visuals for “This Is America” and his newly-released video “Feels Like Summer.”
On Saturday (Sept. 1), “Feels Like Summer” took the internet by a storm and as of press time, sits at a whopping 21 million views in just over five days. The real talk surrounding Gambino’s latest clip is firmly focused on the caricatures featured in it. But Justin Richburg, the man behind the creation of all 63 character designs in the video remains as calm as ever despite the towering buzz around his work.
“You’d be really surprised the types of things I don’t get overly hype or excited over,” Richburg tells Billboard. For the 29-year-old artist from Philadelphia, this nonchalant approach about the situation doesn’t stem from not appreciating the opportunity. He is extremely grateful -- especially because Gambino and his team made sure to shout him out after the video dropped -- but the lessons he has learned from past experiences where things fell apart too early have conditioned him to react this way.
Richburg stumbled on his passion for design gradually and started taking it seriously back in 2011 once he made money off one of his pieces for the first time. Since then, he has been steadily building his brand by making and selling prints of his drawings online and also by strengthening his social media presence through videos that show off his personality.
Billboard caught up with Richburg about the process behind the “Feels Like Summer” video, his career as an artist, and the one piece of advice from Rap Radar’s B. Dot that has kept him going for years.
Check out our full interview below!
How did you get connected with Childish and his team in the first place?
It all stems from when they used my drawing on an episode of Atlanta. Darius had one of my drawings as his phone wallpaper. It was the dice game drawing with Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Obama and they’re shooting dice with Iverson. Basically, it came from that and Childish Gambino and his team hit me up to do caricature designs and be creative director for the video.
So, since you already had that big look from having your art being featured on Atlanta, and also you have a good social media following, was this “Feels Like Summer” opportunity even a shock to you?
I looked at it like another dope opportunity but I don’t necessarily get overly excited about things because I’ve been doing this for years and if you get too hyped up over one thing, then it doesn’t end up happening and you get disappointed.
Even though Childish Gambino is a super huge name, you seem very calm and collected about all of this right now.
I guess it’s part of my personality, too. I’m nonchalant and blunt about a lot of things. I learned quickly through my experiences. It’s really cool in the moment and I’m excited for the opportunity, but I don’t let myself get overly excited just in case something doesn’t pull through. Childish is the main person and I’m just fortunate enough that my stuff intrigued them so that they would want to work with me.
This just encourages me to keep on going. One time, I was in contact with B Dot from Rap Radar. We had a phone conversation, and he said something that helped me keep going. He said, “Always keep working because you never know who’s watching.” Then, he told me he showed Jay-Z some of my stuff. I think that was 2012 when he told me that. Those words really kept me going.
That’s pretty wise because I can imagine younger artists who may have not had as much experience wouldn't have reacted the same way. Is there any other advice you would give to any younger artists who are chasing a similar career path as you?
There’s no set rules to this. You make up your rules as you go along. That’s all I can really say. That’s how it was for me and there were not many examples for me. That’s why I made myself like a public figure and put my face out there and let people know. Growing up, there weren’t many examples, so I figured I would be the example. I put my face online and show my personality. My personality may sometimes rub people the wrong way but it represents my artwork and things like that.
At 19, I got sick. Mental illness runs really bad on my dad’s side of the family and it hit me at 19. Because of that, I wasn’t able to go to school and my mom had to basically take care of me for the next two years after. From 19 to 21, I can’t even tell you what was going on because I was basically like a zombie walking around. I was finally able to get myself off medication and get back down to my regular weight. I guess all those things happened because I didn’t appreciate life like that and I was wasting my time. God will do things like that to wake you up. If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be doing this.
There are so many articles writing about how many total different cameos there are. Please put an end to this. How many did you actually draw?
63 for the video, and almost 70 actually in total.
Damn, did you feel the pressure?
Nah, I wasn’t under pressure. I’m used to doing things like this and I set up a schedule for myself so it keeps me from procrastinating. While I was doing things for “Feels Like Summer,” I was still doing my art and making some videos for my page to keep people up-to-date with me. I was doing other projects as well. Always keeping a schedule.
I also felt less pressure because I worked with really good animators. Ivan Dixon, the animator, he kept everything on a really good schedule and had everything mapped out. I appreciated that about him and we were similar in that way and we were able to keep everything on track.
How do you feel about when a really cool album cover or a video comes out, most fans usually automatically credit the music artists first for it initially?
Childish is one of the first people, for real, him and his management team, who I’ve worked with that gave me credit. If you go to his Instagram, he tagged me and the animator. His team on Twitter shouted me out as well. It shot my following up on Instagram from around 66K to over 70K. He definitely helped my following out, and it helps my other pictures get shared as well.
Chris Brown followed me on Instagram and when that first happened, that made me see I’m doing something people want to see. Other people when I go on my Instagram story sometimes, I see people like Jojo Simmons looking, I saw Ne-Yo looking through there. Last night, Omarion put a random flame emoji on one of my posts. I like seeing things like that even though I don’t always talk about it, but I don’t want to be the person that’s too extra with that. When you show off things like that, it may make people not want to work with you because you might talk too much.
Who’s got your attention right now?
As of right now, I’d say I listen to Post Malone a lot. But my favorite is ‘90s R&B. New Jack Swing. Someone who inspires me for real is Teddy Riley. He’s my favorite producer of all-time and I follow a lot more producers than artists, honestly. Him, Mike Will Made It, Murda Beatz. I like Tay Keith, too. His beats sound evil.
What has been the proudest moment for you so far in terms of your career as an artist?
To be honest, I’m just proud of being able to do this full-time and not being scared to freelance. This month has been a big month. My proudest moment is just that I have the courage to do this. By having that courage, I’m being rewarded by it, little by little. I stumbled upon it because I always drew, but I didn’t take it seriously.