When the covers for Method Man, Ghostface and Raekwon’s Wu Massacre project began leaking online, bloggers and fans alike were just as open about the artwork as the idea of the collaborative album. The illustrated cover—as well as the three collector’s edition variants and single art—are the handy work of comic book kingpin Chris Bachalo, whose drawings have been seen on the pages of Captain America, Incredible Hulk and Uncanny X-Men, and on the hit TV series, Heroes.

Coming from the fantasy world of comic books, Bachalo was initially nervous about tackling a hip-hop project, but under the art direction of Alex Haldi, he drew up some marvelous shit. Now, appreciated by the wider rap community, the talented artist is on his way to becoming the go-to guy for some of your favorite rappers’ album packaging. XXLMag.com caught up with Bachalo to break down his artistic process and to see if his pen is mightier than a Shaolin sword.

XXLMag.com: Were you familiar with Wu-Tang before doing the Wu Massacre cover?

Chris Bachalo: I was aware of them [but] I’m more of a Johnny Cash, Cheap Trick, White Stripes type of guy. I haven’t paid close attention to hip-hop. I’m a White guy from White suburbia so it’s not a culture that I’ve been exposed to that often so what was really interesting about the project, and what’s great about being an illustrator is when you get to work on an assignment like this where you’re exposed to something different.

XXLMag.com: Being that you’re not a hip-hop guy, how’d you end up getting pulled into this project?

Chris Bachalo: I was called by the art director [Alex Haldi] who contacted me via my website and asked if I’d be interested in the project…. It was something different and I took a look at it and said, “Okay, I’ll give it a try.” Alex sent me over all the information regarding the guys and what the characters should potentially look like. He sent me pictures and artwork, examples of what they were looking for and it was right up my alley.

XXLMag.com: It still had to be a little bit of culture show, though, right?

Chris Bachalo: You know how Disney World has a lot of different adventures like Adventure Land, Frontier Land and Tomorrow Land? For me it was like being in Disney World and going to Hip-Hop Land. It was a different place for me to explore and learn about and taking on the project, I was exposing myself to hip-hop. In my research in putting the covers together, I took to the Internet and watched their videos and listened to their music and was like, “Wow, this is great stuff.” I was really thankful that I had an opportunity to be exposed to that corner of pop culture.

XXLMag.com: How long did it take you to complete the sketches and artwork?

Chris Bachalo: What was interesting in the beginning is that they initially gave me six days to turn the cover around and I was hesitating at that because typically for a cover you’d ideally have a week or two weeks to turn it around. But we talked about it and I said I’d give it a shot. But luckily, I’m not sure where the delay happened, but it worked in my favor where I ended up having more time and the final turn around time ended up being 60 days and for me, creatively, that was a lot better. The product turned out better because we had time to go back and forth, throw out different ideas and figure out what the characters were going to look like.

XXLMag.com: Is the comic theme consistent throughout the rest of the album packaging?

Chris Bachalo: I think that’s the theme that they want to go throughout. I know that thus far they’ve released three variant album covers and there’s one more image that we did. It was a double page spread of the guys in action that I think is going to be incorporated into the CD package. I’m not exactly sure where it’s going to fit but that’s definitely going to be there. too. The guys like the comic book, graphic novel culture, and I think that’s a big reason why they want to head in that direction to give them a different look.

XXLMag.com: Will there be any storyboards in the casing?

Chris Bachalo: I know that after we finished the four [cover] images, they came back to me and asked if I would do a six-page comic. So I’m working on that now. I don’t think at this time it’s going to be part of the CD package. I think that this time what they want to do is put it online. Again, I don’t know exactly how this is going to go but I think they’re going to publish the comic book on a website so that people can check out the guys in action.

XXLMag.com: Did you work directly with Method Man, Raekwon or Ghostface?

Chris Bachalo: No. The guys were working on the material for the album and they were hard to reach when we were working on our part so the creative director and the art director took it upon themselves to go with the best ideas for what the CD was going to look like. I know that when we reached the pencil stage, they sent the art to the guys. I’m not really sure about the other two but Method Man was especially pleased with the results.

XXLMag.com: Has this project made you cooler with your son or more in demand in the hip-hop circle?

Chris Bachalo: [Laughs] It has been so much fun because I’ve entered into this completely different world and so people have been contacting me incessantly on a daily basis about how dope my artwork is and when I was growing up, if someone called you dope those were fighting words because they were insulting your intelligence. Now it’s cool to have really dope work, so this new culture I’ve been exposed to is really neat. I love it and I’ve been sharing it all with my friends. As far as my son, he’s nine-years-old so he’s probably a little bit young for the hip-hop culture, you know, some of the language, but I’m sure when he gets a little bit older it will probably be the coolest thing in the world.

XXLMag.com: What else are you working on?

Chris Bachalo: In January I did a lot of work for EA’s Army of Two: The 40th Day so that was pretty exciting, and right now I’m working on The Amazing Spider-Man for Marvel Comics, featuring The Lizard. It’s a lot of fun. I’m under contract with Marvel so I spend a lot of time with them. But after that, I’m taking into consideration the offer for [more] album covers.

XXLMag.com: Who else in the hip-hop world reached out to you about doing their album?

Chris Bachalo: I can’t say who but I have been getting calls. I can’t believe it. I was laughing with my wife because now I’m like, the hip-hop artist to the stars. I’ve had a dozen people contact me about hip-hop album covers and I’m like, “Okay, if you’re interested then I’m happy to do something for you.” —Starrene Rhett

Peep following pages for sketches, single covers & final cover art...