Singapore-born graphic designer and artist Irwan Awalludin has been nominated for a Grammy for best recording package at the upcoming awards.
The 31-year-old, who is based in Brooklyn in the United States, was nominated for his work on the cover art and packaging for the self-titled album by Chicago duo Intellexual.
He is the third person from Singapore to get a Grammy nod.
In 2012, Arun Shenoy’s flamenco-inspired album Rumbadoodle was nominated for best pop instrumental album, while in 2015, conductor Darrell Ang’s CD recording Zhou Long & Chen Yi: Symphony “Humen 1839” was nominated for best orchestral performance. Neither won in the end.
Irwan, who has been a graphic designer since 2007, got his big break working on the branding and cover art for debut singles like No Flex Zone and No Type by Mississippi hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd.
He went on to work on the song or album cover art for music by some of the biggest names in rap music, including Wiz Khalifa, Meek Mill and Playboi Carti.
Speaking to The Straits Times, the freelance artist says he gets jobs by word of mouth.
Most of the time he gets to listen to the song or album and that inspires him to create.
“Sometimes I just get the name of the song and they let me make whatever I want, but sometimes you get a specific brief… it differs from person to person,” he says.
He was given free rein for his work on Intellexual and the cover art is supposed to be a close-up of the human brain.
“But the forms could also communicate a sensuality… it almost looks like a human body in different poses,” says Irwan.
In the album sleeve, each song is represented as a colourful visual work with free-flowing forms.
Another memorable project that Irwan had worked on was for American rapper Meek Mill’s Grammy-nominated 2018 album Championships.
The typography and graphic design for the album cover went through “around 50 different options that we tried out over the course of three days”, he says.
The high-profile job ended up being displayed on billboards in New York’s Times Square upon the album’s release. Meek Mill even gave a diamond necklace made out of the “Championships” font to the owner of The New England Patriots after they won the Superbowl last year.
While an album’s cover art may not be the top of mind when one thinks of Grammy nominations, Irwan believes that album covers are an integral part of the music consumer’s experience, especially in the streaming age.
“The way we consume music today is primarily through streaming , so for a lot of people, the first contact you make with a musical project is the cover of the song you see on Spotify,” he says.
“(The album’s cover art) plays a big role in that sense… it’s the visual representation of the music.”
He feels pressure from having to distil an artist’s work into album art, but he tries not to think about that too much, he says.
Irwan, who migrated to Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, with his family in 2000, has not been back to Singapore since.
He says: “Every now and then I look up Google Maps and see how the streets have changed, but it’s almost unrecognisable at this point.”
But he says that he plans to visit Singapore “at some point”.
He will be attending the Grammy Awards, music’s biggest night, on Jan 26 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles with his girlfriend.
As for his parents, he says they were happy and excited to hear that he was nominated.
“They don’t listen to the music I make work for, so it’s been hard for them to get excited about a lot of the stuff I’ve been doing,” he says.
“But with the Grammys stuff, it’s something they can connect to and see the value in.”