‘I Forgot I Made Them for a While’: Interview with the Creator of Viper’s Most Iconic Album Covers

If you’ve been around the internet a fair bit, you’ve probably run into the enigmatic rapper known as Viper. Lee Arthur Carter, the man behind the pseudonym, is a strange character himself. Viper’s output includes thousands of songs and albums, about 5 percent of which are actually any good. (I myself am partial one of his most popular tunes, “You’ll Cowards Don’t Even Smoke Crack” [which bizarrely samples a MIDI version of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.”])

While his music may leave the listener perplexed, his true claim to fame is his insane mixtape covers and titles, many of which have become internet memes in their own right. Perhaps the most commonly used is Kill Urself My Man, a pretty safe way to leave a death threat without getting banned.

But what goes into making a Viper tape? In a twist of fate, I managed to make contact with a man through Instagram who created many of the famous meme covers for Viper. Going by Tom, he explained to me his journey from a “naïve and impressionable” college sophomore to working with the prolific rapper from Houston, Texas.

Tom begins his story as such: “I was in my second year of college, still living in the dorms, very naïve and impressionable. My friend down the hall told me about this crazy rapper named Viper who made a million albums, or something like that. We had a good laugh over all the crazy album titles he had back then, like Cops Can’t Read parts 1-7, and I seen a Skull. I had just joined Twitter at the time, so Viper was one of my first follows. He tweeted he was looking for fans to help him with album art and offered financial compensation, in a rather Viper fashion. He promised to pay me in 2,000 shares in his real estate company, or something absurd like that.

“The saga of FreeMovers.com is it’s own thing, the TrapLoreRoss video on Viper does a good job of summing things up. To make a long story short, I was going to be paid in stock from a company that doesn’t exist, by a man without a brokers license, who promised his stock would APO at like 400 a share.  In the back of my mind I knew it was bullshit but I kinda hoped it would be legit.

“I texted him from my TracFone brand fake BlackBerry. After about 10 minutes, I got a text back saying to send an email to an enclosed address for more information.”

After sealing his fate without that email, Tom would go on to create several dozen pieces of “artwork” for Viper to use. I decided to give a Tom a quick interview in typical NEEMblog fashion, which you can find below.

NEEMblog: Viper certainly has a penchant for oddness, what was it like working with him in a broad sense?

Tom: So I only talked with Viper 2 or 3 times. I remember that he still had a Google+ account (that’s how long ago this was) and even though the account was for Lee Carter (his real name) he always referred to himself as Viper. I’ve worked a lot of weird jobs like most people in Millennial or later gens, but Viper was really weird. His methodology for making album art is sending “artists” zip folders with hundreds of bathroom selfies of him shirtless, and then a spreadsheet of like 2,000 album titles. Viper told me to pick one I liked in the middle and work my way up or down until I used every selfie of his. Sadly, I lost the hard drive I did this all one so I can’t share the full list but it was pretty funny.

This was even before a lot of the really weird stuff happened, like Viper claiming to be Jesus and the Anti-Christ at the same time, or the whole saga of The Hornace of Death (THOD). Some have speculated it is all a persona but I think most of what Viper does is legit, he’s an odd dude.

NB: More narrowly, is there any moment you had in the brief relationship that sticks out in your mind?

T: He said something like “Welcome to my family fam” when I first started, which seemed a little strange to me. I remember a lot of the album titles where really similar, to the point I’ve forgotten how many I made. Like I did make Kill Urself My Man, but I also made Kill Yourself My Man, Murder Urself My Man, Kill Yourself Fool, and so on and so forth. Viper said he liked the stuff I was doing, and only asked for the font and color to be different, and that I could use effects on the covers. I barely knew how to use Photoshop then, so like I’m the reason why there’s about a hundred Viper album covers that are just like, neon green papyrus font over a selfie that’s been put through like a water filter. Viper said that he actually liked it and then that was the last time that we talked. After I made about 200 or so album covers, I learned a little more about Viper and decided I didn’t want to talk to him anymore, so I deleted the email (I used a burner thankfully) and that was the end of it. Well until the memes started.

NB: Which is your favorite album cover that you made? And then from a music perspective, do you have a favorite Viper album yourself?

T: I mean Kill Urself My Man is the most famous one I made, but personally I think Don’t Knock My Hustle is my favorite one I made just because the cover is so hideous. I used the kaleidoscope filter on Photoshop and Viper was fine with it. I also like all the album covers that I used papyrus and comic sans for, but I made so many of those I can’t make a list of them.  Oh and 1 Million Vipers but Only One Vipa and The Pen Ain’t Mighta Than My Pistol just because I love those titles. I’ve tried listening to some of the albums I made covers for, and a lot of them are unlistenable. He does have a song that is on Kill Urself My Man among others (Viper reuses songs all the time) called Tha Night Of Tha Murda [Editor’s note: it’s pretty good] that’s one of my favorite Viper songs just because it’s about him talking to God while he murders people.

Viper as a musician is really weird. Like he’s known for the meme raps, and a lot of his music is unlistenable but some of his early stuff is actually not bad. He was a member of the Houston Hip-Hop collective Screwed Up Click, which George Floyd (Big Floyd) was a member. So yeah Viper may have at least casually known George Floyd.

Some of his early stuff is good, like when he actually tried making legit beats. He has a song I really like called “Hey, Maybe One Day You’ll See Me Again,” which samples a deep cut by T-Pain. The song is also the name of a compilation a guy made on YouTube of like Vipers good stuff. I dunno if Viper could have been one of the greats, but it’s kinda sad he stopped trying, as funny as a lot of his music and antics are.

NB: A lot of these covers have been repurposed as internet memes, especially ones like Kill Urself My Man and U Are Inferior 2 Me. What did you think when you see them used in the wild like this?

T: It’s surreal tbh. I forgot I made them for a while, until I started seeing them again. It’s weird to know that your biggest contribution to internet culture is a Viper album cover used as a reaction image. I’ve noticed that like, making one thing that randomly goes viral is a kinda common experience for people who were online in 2012-2017 or so. Like while telling this story in a Discord server, one dude went “oh yeah I did the drawing featured in Fantano’s review of TBAB so I know how it is.”

It’s also never been confirmed, and probably never will be, but a lot of people suspect that Kendrick’s cover on DAMN was inspired by Viper the rapper, specifically the selfie and text style. If you look at a lot of Viper album art before the ones I made, previous artists tried a lot harder, or at least photoshopped in graphics. I didn’t do any of that, so while I can’t say for certain if I created this style for Viper, I feel I certainly popularized it. It’s just kinda funny this is the most famous thing I’ve ever made. I’ve been published before in like smaller newspapers and academic journals, and while I am very proud of those articles, it is funny that my Viper albums have likely been seen by far more people than any of my serious work ever has, or will be. Which I think is funny to be honest. In my “professional” writing life, I’m the dude who writes about like Kanye West becoming a born again Christian, or like the influence of Mormon theology on Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Series but also secretly I made famous album covers for a memelord rapper. It’s like a cool secret legacy that’s hard to explain to people. Like when I got published for the first time in a Dutch newspaper (I did my Masters in Amsterdam) my professor was all like “you must be so proud of yourself, have you ever done anything like this before?” and like, I couldn’t think of how to explain Viper to him so I just said no.

NB: Any last words or shoutouts you’d like to give?

T: Yeah I would say probably don’t bother Viper, it’s not as fun talking to him as you imagine. I don’t really have any personal projects to plug as what I do is sooooo different than like making weird Viper album art that it wouldn’t interest a ton of people IMO. I don’t really know what else to promo, so I would just say check out the album Satekoso by Chakra. It’s this weird Japanese progish album form 1981 that sounds like Adrian Belew era King Crimson but even stranger. It just got added to streaming services and wish more people knew about it. Tadamia by Akiko Yano is another good one, one of the best albums not a ton of people outside of online music circles have heard.

Then I would just like to thanks for this opportunity to tell this story. I think it’s pretty funny and wish more people knew about it, but I don’t talk about it a TON because I don’t want to be seen as like a guy who went viral once years ago trying to chase fame. I’m not a 2010 viral video star trying to mint an NFT or anything, I’m just a tired grad student who managed to have a big impact on a super specific corner of internet culture, and then forgot about it.

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