Pop culture and pixels collide in Lil Ye Land platform game

Animator and illustrator Ali Graham has transported Kanye West into the digital realm for a Super Mario-style platform game, designing a set of levels inspired by the rapper’s Kids See Ghosts album

The game is a continuation of Graham’s series of Lil Ye caricatures, which are drawn as literal takes on Kanye West’s lyrics – the rapper brandishing a fly swat for “How long it take you to get so fly?” and eating a croissant for “In a French-ass restaurant”.

“Hip hop is so full of characters and source material that is larger than life, it lends itself so well to cartoons and animation,” explains Graham, who has also designed animated live visuals for Lil’ Yachty and The Who.

“The nice thing about most rappers is that they have iconic looks already well established (hair, clothes, chains etc) so it’s just about highlighting their key features and exaggerating them. It’s also about mirroring a bit of your subject matter’s personality, eg. it’s rare to see them smile.”

The Lil Ye Land game takes Graham’s bobble-headed version of Kanye a step further, casting him as the main character in a platform game that challenges players to collect coins and survive a haunted dungeon. Its design is part-inspired by a childhood spent watching the Simpsons, and playing Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog – something the illustrator says continues to seep into his work.

“There’s something so pure about old school platform games that I wanted to capture in Lil Ye Land,” he explains. “The story, the art, the music, the characters, its beautiful simplicity.”

Graham used an iPad app called Pixaki to draw and animate the mini Yeezy, getting around his own lack of technical knowledge by working with developer Liam McInroy to turn his illustrated story idea into a game. “I enjoyed designing the levels,” he says. “It was like doing a puzzle in reverse. Everything had to line up right, and flow in a way that people wouldn’t get stuck or find it difficult.”

The first demo for Lil Ye Land currently only has three levels – and “a nasty boss” – but Graham plans to develop it into a fully fledged game, with some support from Kickstarter backers. It’s available to play online, as well as on iOS, Android, PC and Mac.

So, what might the real-life Kanye think of this? “Given that Kanye’s first beat he ever made was at the age of 11 for a home made video game, I’d hope he would enjoy the concept,” concludes Graham.

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