TORONTO — Drake’s tattoo artist wanted to give the Toronto rapper a truly unique housewarming gift to celebrate his move into a new multi-million dollar mansion. But what do you get a global superstar who seemingly can buy whatever he wants?
It’s a question Inal Bersekov says he asked himself before embarking on a year-long visual art project that turned 50 real U.S. $100 bills into a framed showcase of entertainers, sports icons and politicians.
Drake revealed the piece he called “The Many Faces of Benjamin Franklin” to his fans through Instagram Stories on Friday, highlighting pencilwork sketches of Whitney Houston, LeBron James and Tiger Woods. The priceless gift also includes drawings of Canadians Jim Carrey, disguised as his character in “The Mask,” and late Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
“I was thinking what could I give him as a friend? You cannot buy just anything for that guy,” Bersekov explained in a phone interview from Berlin.
“I was like, maybe I should give him something done by my hands… It means more than money.”
He pitched the concept to Drake, who was immediately intrigued by the idea of replicating the faces of famous people who somehow influenced his life and career.
“We talked about people who actually inspired him in a certain way,” Bersekov said.
“He’s pretty private about it. He’s never going to go like ‘OK, this guy inspired me for this.’ He just randomly gave me a few names here and there.”
The 30-year-old tattooist has a brief history behind the scenes with Drake and his entourage.
Bersekov said the “Hotline Bling” performer contacted him through Instagram about his work several years ago. After the two agreed to meet in Toronto he was hired in 2017 to expand on an existing tattoo of singer Sade across his torso.
From there, they hit it off and Bersekov inked Drake with several other images using his trademark hyper-realistic sketch style.
Earlier this year, he inked Drake’s forearm with a sketch of Drizzy waving as he crosses the Beatles on Abbey Road — a nod to passing the Fab Four’s record for the most Top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Drake revealed the tattoo in an Instagram post, drawing the ire of Beatles fans who felt it was an insult to the legendary English band.
But coming up with “The Many Faces of Benjamin Franklin” was an entirely unique experience for Bersekov, who was born in Russia but moved to Belgium before he was a teenager. The whole idea rested on drawing the portraits with pencil so it wouldn’t destroy the bills, which he said absolves any concern over it being illegal.
He then compiled Drake’s pick of famous faces, which include the Queen, Lil Wayne, Hugh Hefner, Adele and Barack Obama.
Perhaps the most surprising choice among the names is Ford, who was elected Toronto mayor in 2010 and later became embroiled in a scandal over a video of him smoking crack.
Bersekov said he never questioned the choice.
“I was just about to ask him, but I never usually ask questions,” he said.
“This is not something personal to me. I never go deep as: ‘Why did you do it? Why do you want to (include) the mayor?'”
Bersekov said a mutual friend gave the artwork to Drake earlier this month and he isn’t sure where he plans to hang it.
His experiences with the Canadian rapper, and his Toronto hometown, have left a positive impression.
He’s even considering moving to the country with his wife. They haven’t started the application process yet, but they’ve talked about possibly making the country the home base for his tattoo work.
This story by The Canadian Press was first published on Nov. 23, 2019.
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David Friend, The Canadian Press