Everybody knew about me and airbrushing from round here. I had a play sister, Gina, who used to hang out with Suge’s homeboys and she told them about me. She showed him a picture I’d done and finally Suge said: "I want to meet him". So Gina comes to my house, says, "They want to see you." I went round to his Compton spot but I couldn’t get in as they were having a meeting. Suge and his crew would often pass through the neigborhood in their low-riders. I was on a mission back then. I was like, "I want to get on Death Row. I got to get on". And then that shit ended up happening.
One day I came to work at the swapmeet and there was a big car carrier outside. Cliff told me that somebody was going to shoot a video. I was sent on a run to buy some art supplies from the airbrush store in Anaheim. When I got back, it was like there was a big parade going on. Cliff told me Death Row was supposed to be shooting a video. Dr. Dre was there and I saw Suge. Everybody was talking to Suge. I thought if I try to talk to him right now, he’ll just blow me off real fast so he can get to the next person. So I decided to wait. One hour later, I finally walk up to him. I said,"I’m from the neighborhood and I can draw. Can I do something for the label?"
Suge replied,"Do you have your portfolio?"
I said, "No. It’s across the street."
He said, "Go get your book."
I said, "You’ll be gone and –"
He said, "I’ll be right here. Go get your book."
So I ran over, got my book and walked straight up to Suge. He said, "OK. Come with me." He took me to a van and knocked on the door. Suge opened the door and Pac was inside.
Suge said, "Pac, I want you to meet an artist. He’s one of the homies from the neighborhood."
Pac greeted me and opened the book. I had a picture of Biggie in there. Pac made a gun-shape with his hand and went, "Boom! Boom! Why you draw this mothafucka?"
I said, "Man, I just love hip hop."
Pac saw the last picture I had drawn was of him and he said, ‘" like that."
"That was in December 1995. Still nothing really happened. But right after that, I met Hen Dogg as I stayed in a building in Lakewood. One of my friend’s friends, Arletta, was the girlfriend of Rock, one of Suge’s homies and security. She kept telling Rock about me so finally he said, "Bring him down here." I introduced myself and started showing him my work. He said, ‘I’ll see what I can do for you.’ He connected me to Hen Dogg. Hen Dogg was one of Suge’s closest road dogs plus he was the Death Row artist known for drawing the Death Row logo. Hen said, ‘I need an airbrush artist – we just had to let one go. I want you to work with me on this project for ‘All Eyez on Me’ We drew the picture for the insert and I airbrushed it. They paid me $2500 and they let me keep the original painting.
But I told Hen Dogg I needed a job. I had a picture of Suge I had airbrushed onto a t-shirt. It was based on the pose he did for The Vibe cover and I had given it to Hen to take to Death Row. That day he called.
"Riskie, I talked to Suge. Na, man, they ain’t fucking with you." I was gutted. Then he laughed. "I was just messing with you. He wants me to bring you to work to sign you on."
So that was January 1996. I was so happy. This was what I had always really wanted to do. I’d stopped selling drugs, moved into an apartment with my girlfriend and couldn’t pay rent. I needed any opportunity and it came at just the right time.
I was paid $1000 a month, two $500 checks – one every two weeks. On top of that, Daz, Soopafly and other artists used to give me money to do their stuff. I did an album cover and logo for Daz for $10,000 and a logo and album cover for Soopafly for $10,000. That week, I walked home with $20,000 plus my $500 check. I had never earned that much before! It was the biggest shit ever for me. And this was all because Pac had chosen me to be his artist. They probably only wanted me to do their artwork because of that.
I’d post up in Dre’s old office. Me and Hen Dogg set up a little easel. A lot of the time, I would also take my stuff home and work on it there. So I’d be in the office 9am til 7pm and then working at home with a bag of weed.
But his work was being noticed. A bigger vision and commission was just around the corner…
Words by Nina Bhadreshwar