Meet the Ottawa artist who turns rappers into cartoon superheroes

Based in Canada’s capital, Andy Akangah transforms rappers like The Weeknd and Drake into art ripped from a cartoon. With his brand AKARTS, he transforms these pieces into product drops with t-shirts, hoodies, bottoms and other accessories.

His work is so impressive that it captured Timothée Chalamet wearing AKARTS Frank Ocean t-shirt, which caused sales and counterfeits, caused The Weeknd to share its After hours art on his Instagram, and Rick Ross shares his artistic recording on the rapper with Drake on Hot Ones.

As AKARTS will soon drop more products, we’ve talked to the artist to talk streetwear in Ottawa, dream of collaborations and make rappers the hero of history.

Timothée Chalamet wearing AKARTS 'Frank Ocean shirt
Timothée Chalamet wearing AKARTS ‘Frank Ocean shirt / photo via AKARTS

How is the streetwear scene in Ottawa at the moment?
It shows up and takes big steps. I had a few in the streetwear store NRML. I applied to work there and the owner did the interview. I took my portfolio with me and he said we should show my work in the store. I emailed him later and asked if he meant it seriously. He said yes so we had two pop-ups in 2019 that went really well.

It was beautiful to see people line up and come in. I was there all day and things were sold out. But I would say that the scene there is important, with NRML at the forefront and several places popping up. I can not wait to see what comes next, and be a part of it.

“When an album drops, I listen to it and try to imagine what this album would look like if you could capture it and turn it into a cartoon or manga cover. I try to make the rapper the hero of the story because they are that.”

Your brand is a combination of your love of music and graphic novels. What is it about graphic novels that captured your imagination?
I was maybe 10 and saw Dragon Ball Z and tried to get up late without getting caught. I was so amazed at the emotions, the characters and everything about it. I went into manga and comics and looked at different art styles, colors, brushstrokes. It’s fascinating.

In middle school, I got a computer with Photoshop. It was yet another of my loves and I was amazed at what it could do. Fast forward to 2015, I got a tablet where I could draw on my computer. I started drawing and realized I was making musicians the hero.

The more you look at art, the more you see the finer details. How the strokes become smaller for different movements and you learn to use color in relation to contrast. It’s a whole other world.

Akarts pictures on a wall in a gallery
Image via Publicist

And of course, music also plays a big role.
My work depends on artists making new music. When an album drops, I listen to it and try to imagine what this album would look like if you could capture it and turn it into a cartoon or manga cover. I’m trying to make the rapper the hero of the story because they are. I love working with The Weeknd, Drake, and I love it when artists have alter egos they create.

I also work from music videos that the artist has posted from the album or the album cover itself so it does not feel separated. It must be coherent, and an interpretation of it as a manga cover.

How does your process work for these pieces?
It starts with a lot of research. I want my work to evoke something that feels familiar, yet foreign. I will put my twist on it. When I find something I can work from, I do mock-ups and a collage to see if the ideas work together. Then I draw it, color it, and those steps come with the music. I usually do my work at night when I feel like I’m the only one awake.

Model in Kendrick Lamar denim jacket
Image via AKARTS

What do you currently have on offer at AKARTS?
I started selling canvas prints around 2016. It went well so I decided to branch out to clothing. My graphic t-shirts were from previous works I had made, but rethought for t-shirts. I called it Pilot. It went well, so since then I have been doing essential things.

From last year, I wanted to go harder, so I reached out to vendors and created sweatpants, tote bags, jackets, and I had a summer vacation with more accessories. Some of the pieces have been out for a while, but it is interesting to recreate and adapt them in different ways.

The Weeknd artwork
Photo via Instagram

You have had your work recognized by some impressive people. Timothée Chalamet had one of your T-shirts on recently.
It was surreal. My friends responded to people in the comments and asked where the shirt was from. We all woke up early because other people in different time zones were asking so we would catch them. It really brought very positive growth to the brand.

With The Weeknd, everything I did at that moment was purposeful. I made an animation and got pieces backed up because I really wanted him to see it. I love the visual and the whole concept After hours. So I posted it, tagged his fan pages, and the internet worked on his magic, and he shared it.

Illustration by Drake and Future
Image via Akarts

Is there anyone you are looking to catch the attention of next time?
Drake, for sure. I made another animation Certified Lover Boy in January and still have it sitting on my hard drive. If I never know what to listen to, I’m listening to Drake. Travis Scott too.

What have you lined up we can look forward to?
I am currently working on my spring / summer collection. For the holidays, I plan a series of weekly giveaways where I give away one-on-one canvas prints, so keep an eye on it. I was also recently invited to showcase my work at an upcoming RAW Artists exhibition here in Ottawa. Their events feature and promote the work of local artists from a variety of fields and highlight what makes Ottawa art so special. I am super honored to have been invited!

Leave a Comment