If you think back to what you were doing at 13 years old, many things come to mind: high school, birthday parties, making new friends, and discovering hobbies. But you likely weren’t thinking about a 5-year career plan. For Benjamin Bwamiki, professionally known as Certified Benji, he was laying the groundwork, from the moment he became a teen, for a freelance career as a visual artist that would lead him to create cover art for noteworthy hip-hop artists such as Roy Woods and Lil Tecca— all before graduating high school.
The Toronto-based teenager was introduced to graphic design when he began helping out with projections at his church. Benji is naturally attuned to technology and the introduction to graphics sparked a curiosity in him to learn more. He turned to YouTube and utilized tutorials to teach himself all the Adobe programs he needed to start making his own cartoons. He created graphics for friends, friends of friends, and eventually new clients that found him from Instagram. Before he knew it, he was freelancing full-time outside of school, turning his passion and talent into a business.
Today, Benji is 17 years old and he started off the year on tour with Tory Lanez, creating graphics for the opening act. His impressive client roster includes Murda Beatz, Roy Woods, Lil Tecca, and Houdini. Herein, we talk about the challenges he’s overcome, his favourite projects to date, and his three pillars for success.
Can you walk us through your creative process for a new project? I consult [the client] about where the graphics are going to be used and how it works with their brand because I like doing stuff that serves a purpose or solves a problem. I’ll talk to them about it and then put together a mood board, either for myself or the client, and after that, I start sketching. Every project I sketch out a rough draft [on my iPad] and I send it back to the client. From the sketching I can visualize how the project is going to look, it’s a really important thing for me because it helps me layout and hone different parts of the piece. After the sketch, I go into Photoshop and develop it.
What does a typical workday look like for you right now? On a normal day, I would wake up, eat, exercise, and do something that’s not necessarily creative. I’ll go through my messages and a few hours into the day I’ll start working on different projects. I manage so many projects at the same time, so usually I’ll communicate with the client on the different timelines that they need. I like to take a break and move around my house or go outside and then come back to it.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? I love the opportunities that it brings, I’ve gotten to meet a lot of like-minded people that I can trust and [have] my back. And the other side [is] hearing back [from] your audience because usually when I work on a project, there’s a bit of time for it to grow between me and the artist before it gets released to the world. So when it gets released, it’s rewarding to hear what people think about it.
Is there a cover you received memorable feedback on? The cover that I did for Roy Woods and his EP Dem Times, that was a smoke session [and time travel] type of thing. If you’re going through some sort of [time] tunnel, that’s what I was trying to illustrate, but a lot of people took it their own way; some people told me it was underwater and I never even thought of that.
What has been the biggest hurdle that you’ve had to overcome? Delegating what I put my time into because there’s a lot of opportunities that I’m given and a lot of things that affect my schedule. One thing at the beginning of my work was not completing work on time or having to rush it where I don’t have full creative freedom. That was a challenge to overcome, saying no to some clients or figuring out a way. I’m not perfect but that has shaped the way I work now.
Out of all the work you’ve done, are there any covers that have stood out to you as favorites? The Roy Woods Dem Timeone. Drake posted the front and back cover, and the animation that I did on his story, that was really rewarding. Also, the Houdini Hou Woulda Thought artwork because if you scroll through my [instagram] you can see when they dropped the album and then a different graphic for the deluxe. We’re both from Toronto, but we ended up meeting in LA and with him passing that last graphic that I made was like his legacy living on through [the artwork.]
What advice would you give to those looking to get into the industry? As you develop in your career, there are different challenges that [will] come your way. I don’t think you should get caught up in it, just go with the flow, put yourself out there, and see what works for you. Three main things that I’ve always stayed true to are: your integrity, your reputation, and your word because that really builds your character and how you’re perceived in the world. As you go through those challenges, if you highlight [those three things] it will help you be successful.
Can you share an anecdote of the best work collaboration you’ve had thus far? North Side Benji, nothing has dropped yet but I met him earlier this year and behind the scenes, we’ve just been working so hard on his [next] album. That was one of the artists that I really connected with, that’s been a crazy collaboration. A big thing I want to get into is lyric videos, so these lyric videos that I’m developing [for him] are crazy and I can’t wait for those to come out.
Looking to the future, are you going to do University or take on freelance full-time? I’m planning to go to University but this year has just been crazy. I went to LA [for the] first time with Tory Lanez and that whole experience opened my eyes to what there is in the States. I’m actually born in New York, my parents went to Cornell [University], so always in my mind, I had a feeling I should probably go to the States because there’s a big market there for graphics and there are so many opportunities.