FRKO: Action Bronson’s In-House Artist Keeps It Explicit
The ATL artist and Bronson are a match made in Heaven.
On March 23, Action Bronson released his third studio album and major-label debut, Mr. Wonderful. Leading up to the release, Action put out a slew of content, including singles, music videos, and eye-catching artwork.
After dropping the first single, “Easy Rider,” all of Action’s fliers, single artwork, and album cover were clearly coming from one person. That person was FRKO, aka Freako Rico. The Atlanta resident quickly became a fan of Bronson’s music not too long ago and started drawing pictures based on the crazy metaphors in the lyrics. Due to his competitive nature, FRKO made it his mission to produce better fan art than what Bronson had been reposting.
Ultimately, what caught Action’s and our eye was FRKO’s mix of the unreal with the truly possible; he was also as far away from being shy about his creativity as Action was. The two naturally gravitated towards each other from Instagram and a phone conversation, leading to a long-lasting friendship and business relationship. Although they have never met in person, the similarities between the two are uncanny. We spoke with FRKO to get the story on how he became Action’s go-to artist, the BMX clues in the Mr. Wonderful cover, and why his drawings are so explicit.
Mass Appeal: How are you doing?
FRKO: Busy, busy, busy.
I can imagine. Busy with what specifically?
I’ve been doing all this stuff for Bronson—his covers, fliers for shows coming up—which is all in the package that they got me on. It’s me, him, and his manager. We talk almost everyday.
Right. So how does that relationship work?
I’m in-house. When I started, I was part-time. I think [Action] made the executive decision as a full-time collaborative artist. He’s not using no one else but me. I had been drawing shit on Instagram. I had been listening to his music and I’m descriptive. He’s descriptive. I can put it on paper, of course. After the 8th [drawing], he commented. It was a really controversial one. He was fucking Miss Piggy in a Mercedes. And that’s when all that Kermit the Frog shit was going on, when he was sipping the tea.
I put that on Instagram at the perfect time, but someone kept reporting it on his page and it kept getting deleted. He kept putting it back up. His manager called me out of the blue. I had sent his manager my number just through a DM or email. I was working the door at a bar and was like, “Oh shit.” His manager put me on the spot and had me do some shit for Shady Records. I don’t think it was ever used, but he wanted to see how fast I could knock it out. I knocked it out in like two days.
What was the test they had you draw for Shady?
Eminem posted it on Instagram during Christmas time. It was called “Lose Your Elf.” I didn’t get much back from him…I don’t think he even knew who did it. It was supposed to be a holiday card, but I don’t think they used it.
What happened after you passed this test?
They didn’t say much for a month. I didn’t hit [his manager] up. He came back a month later and told me, “Bronson wants to use you for the first single off his album.” We didn’t even talk pay or nothing. I asked when they needed it and he’s like, “Don’t worry about that. Let’s just start.” I was anti-it at first because the idea wasn’t descriptive enough. It wasn’t coming from Bronson’s mouth. His manager would be telling me what he wanted, and I didn’t want to be a dick and say, “That’s not enough.” I tried it out and drew it like five times. Bronson was like, “No, it’s got to be crazier.” Bronson probably realized that I needed to talk to him, straight up. My whole life, I’ve never drawn shit for anybody.
What were the instructions the manager gave you?
“Draw Bronson riding a mechanical shark with lasers going all over the place. Neon colors.” I’ll never forget it. “Have him in a Han Solo suit. All-white New Balances. His hair in a ponytail.” Honestly, his hair was nowhere near the length of being in a ponytail. “And have him in an underwater space-looking thing with fish swimming.” I was like, “What?!” [Laughs] Actually, the first drawing I did, they went back and used it. Every time I drew another one, it got crazier and crazier. I had him looking like he was on steroids. It got out of control. I think Bronson just woke up and realized I’m as crazy as him.
What happened after they were finally pleased with the single?
After that, it got all that buzz. Everybody hit me up and congratulating me. I’m still kinda broke because I quit doing the TV show to do that shit. So I did gigs and just picked shit up. I’m not a steady job guy. I was sitting around broke around Christmas time. Then Bronson’s manager hit me back and said, “The reason we haven’t paid you yet is because we got some other shit about to happen. We’re gonna offer you the cover.” I was like, “What?” He was like, “Correction. We’re gonna have you do the entire album layout.” I was like, “What the fuck.” When you see it, you’ll see it. It’s all me. I was like, “How am I supposed to do this?” He’s like, “Bronson’s gonna call you tonight.” He called me and we were cracking jokes and hit it off easy.
What did you guys talk about?
Movies. Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Segal. I think I was high. He was high. I was drunk. We were just relating to each other. I got analogies like him. I say the wildest shit. He had me watch the movie Bloodsport. Everyone remembers the endings to those Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, but I don’t remember him doing a split, looking over Hong Kong. I saw the movie when I was like 12. I went back and watched it twice to get the feel. Then he had me watch Kickboxer. I get an idea from him every week. Then the movie Ghost. Oh god, he wants to be Patrick Swayze. I was so pumped. I took a whole day to draw. Watching Bloodsport with [Van Damme’s] master in the movie, and how he moved, it’s a stealth style. That’s how I took the drawing.
I woke up that day. I live with my girlfriend and two little dogs. I cleaned up the house and studio area and breathed and started sketching. Bronson is a people person for real. When his kids get grown, he’s gonna be a great father. He basically called me the next morning and was like, “How you feeling?” He didn’t have to tell me why he was calling. I told him, “You’re gonna get a sketch in about 5 hours.” He was like, “Alright.” I’m getting emails from Vice and Atlantic, and I’m anti-corporate as fuck. I’m getting stressed out and he’s like, “Don’t worry about that.” He loved the first sketch. I drew it full-out and then I scanned it in. And I messed around with it in Illustrator. I don’t draw on the computer at all.
What did you use for the initial drawing? Markers? Pens?
I use pencil and micro pen. You could tell it’s real raw. When I scanned it in, it was just the body on the platform. He’s like, “This is it!” He wanted it to be looking over New York. I drew it up and that took another day. It came out looking great, but it was just too much for a cover. Honestly, that could be a painting. I put in work on that thing. So they decided to just use a background and my signature because he couldn’t sign for shit. I couldn’t really either. I just whipped it up, free hand. That signature is mine, too. People don’t notice.
I ride BMX, so the little griffin head gargoyles, that’s actually a logo of one of the realest BMX companies ever from like ’01. It’s called Animal Bikes. I’m doing a collab with them. I’ve been riding BMX since I was 13 and running their products—they’re out of New Jersey and their riders are from New York. It’s all street shit, no ramps. I idolized those guys like I did Bronson. I threw those two heads in there. Another correlation is that the BMX community loves Bronson. When Curren$y came out, all of the BMX riders were bumping Curren$y. They still bump him. BMXers love Wu-Tang and real raw rap. They’re raw people. We see a lot of crazy shit. I know most of the crack heads in Atlanta because of BMX. Raw rap music is the soundtrack to our streets.
The cover foldout took a couple weeks to finalize. After that, I thought I was done again. Then Bronson called me the week after. Then his song, “Terry” leaked. He called me at like 8 a.m. He woke me up and was like, “Yo, have you heard? ‘Terry’ leaked.”
Did you hear the song before he called?
Nah. I didn’t listen to that. So he’s like, “I need you to do a cover and have it done by 11 [a.m.].” But this is when Bronson turned into God form for me: He let me listen to the track and had me call him after with my thoughts. I said, “I think it’s a great song.” He asked me what we were going to do. I think he already had an idea, but he wanted to see if my mind was in the same place. I was like, “You in a green mink somewhere in front of a nice car.” He was like, “Damn, that’s exactly what I was thinking. But put alligators on my feet. And put a poodle with a patch. Do you know how to draw a poodle?” My dog’s a poodle so I did that shit. People thought I put my dog in there [on my own], but it was just a coincidence. We knocked it out quick. I had it done by 12. Then fliers. His manager was hitting me for fliers. I knocked out two fliers. Those are easy.
Bronson calls me again for “Baby Blue.” That whole cover came off of the movie Cry Baby with Johnny Depp. I had seen it one time and I was a kid. It was corny to me as a kid. I did it and he loved it. The funny thing was I was studying how to draw Marvel comic looking rocks. I do drawings of myself on funny shit. I had myself as Dr. Manhattan, jacking off on Mars with a Four Loko can floating in the air. I pulled that rock look and sketch lines and did that for the cover. I did it big but simple. After that, I got the feeling that he was fucking with me. I did more fliers after that. It’s like every other day I’m doing a flier with his ideas. He’s getting a kick out of seeing what I can do.
Do you have any future plans to work with other rappers?
I know I want to do stuff for Run The Jewels. They’re real vivid. I actually met Killer Mike in ’08. He probably doesn’t remember it, but it was at A3C. He tried to ride my BMX bike. It was funny. I fuck with Run The Jewels. And if artists like 8Ball & MJG came out on their old style of rap. … They can still rap but they just have whack-ass covers. And I met 8Ball before I was doing these covers and I told him. I used to work at Urban Outfitters. He brought his son to buy clothes and no one recognized him but me. I was like, “You taught me how to cuss. Comin Out Hard was one of the rawest albums ever.” They just need good beats and good cover art. Any old rapper I grew up listening to, I’d do in a heartbeat.
What would you say are your influences for your style of drawing?
Honestly, the flat color shit came from watching Hanna-Barbera cartoons as a kid like Yogi. Then the linework, I’ve always drawn like that since I was seven. Of course The Simpsons, but that’s kinda corny to always say. I like the flat colors. I want it to be somewhat realistic, but have a cartoony feel to it. A lot of people say Superjail, and I’ve never watched it really. I don’t see it, but honestly that’s a coincidence. I don’t even watch TV anymore. I was reading comics. My style is still believable. Bronson was telling me the other day that I was making him too fat. He keeps it real with me. I don’t notice it sometimes. He’s losing weight, of course. The ponytail is getting longer and longer [Laughs]. Old cartoons though… like Beavis and Butthead Do America. That shit fucked my brain up. Bronson makes songs about prostitutes and I talk about prostitutes all the time. I’ve never been with one, but I love to talk to them.
When did your drawings start to go down a more explicit route?
When I was in middle school/high school. I saw my first porno when I was like five years old. I’ve been on the sex tip forever. I grew up in Atlanta, the sex club capital of the world. I grew up going to Freaknik as a kid and seeing titties and shit. I’ve always been on an explicit tip. Plus, I think it’s funny. I like messing with people’s minds. I’ve never been a guy who really wanted to give people what they wanted, but what they needed. I give them what I want to see.
Do you receive hate mail or comments that your art is too explicit?
All the time. My Tumblr gets that shit almost everyday. I get people who hate Action Bronson.
By now, you’ve come to expect the hate?
I went to college, man. I’ve had haters my whole life. I do the Martin Luther King. I love em. I love everybody. If you don’t like my work, you will one day.
FRKO art is available for purchase on his site.