• Lou James

Hip-Hop Album Covers That Could Be Art Pieces, and the Story Behind Them

Breaking down some of my favorite album covers, and noting how they could be art pieces even without the music.

9. AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP - A$AP Rocky, 2015

The first thing you'll notice about the cover is the purple birthmark on Rocky's face, the only thing that isn't black and white. This obviously resembles A$AP Yams, who the album is dedicated to after he passed away, but could also show the imprint that Yams left on Rocky, as he was one of the main driving factors behind Rocky's success. The cross tattoo beneath his eye is also a reference to Yams. Some people miss that in his hands, Rocky is holding another face, perhaps saying that behind Rocky's normal face is all of Yams' influence, or that he is taking off this mask of himself.

8. ASTROWORLD - Travis Scott, 2018

Shot by the iconic photographer David LaChapelle, the two covers of Astroworld reflect the duality of man, through symbolisms of day and night, at least that's the way I see it. The day cover resembles the theme park as a playful, youthful experience, whereas the night cover could perhaps resemble the darkness and more taboo thoughts of Travis, or man in general.

7. Aquemini - OutKast, 1998

Combining the star signs of Big Boi (Aquarius) and Andre 3000 (Gemini) we have the title for the album. There doesn't really need to be a meaning to resemble the cover as an art piece as it is so impressive on it's own, but it resembles the grandiosity of the music the album holds, and what OutKast wanted the album to be, such as albums like Thriller or Purple Rain.

6. Madvillainy - Madvillain, 2004

The menacing stare of MF Doom on the album cover is impossible to miss if you walked by it in a record store. Doom's actual face and shoulders have a low-key lighting to them, as they are not of importance to Doom or the album. He wants you to see him as MF Doom, and not think about the man beneath the mask, with the mask having high-key lighting. The original photograph shows Doom in a red shirt, and even with the mask he looks like a normal guy, but on this cover he is MF Doom, part of Madvillain.

5. We Can't Be Stopped - Geto Boys, 1991

The album cover was photographed the day after Bushwick Bill's failed suicide attempt, in which he shot himself in the eye during an argument with his girlfriend, as Bill put it he "Died and came back to life". The image shows Scarface and Willie D escorting him out of hospital, whilst Bill holds a giant phone of the early 90s, as the cover reads 'We Can't Be Stopped'. Aside from the incredible back story behind the album cover, it resembles that even in the light of what had happened, they need to keep on hustling, and nothing short of death will stop them.

4. Atrocity Exhibition - Danny Brown, 2016

The cover and dark title of Atrocity Exhibition doesn't need the music on the album to create the point Danny Brown wants to make. The psychedelic odyssey grasps the entire cover, easily resembling the themes of excessive drugs and alcohol use, and the effect it has on Danny Brown. His face is also distorted as we see part of his skull poke through, showing that he is losing his mind as he becomes more and more enticed and is consumed by the drugs. Atrocity means an extremely wicked or cruel act, and the cover complements that perfectly.

3. Kids See Ghosts - Kids See Ghosts, 2018

Created by Takashi Murakami, this album cover was actually an art piece from Murakami in 2001, titled Manji Fuji. The original artwork could have been used for the cover, as it resembles darker undertones, which could have been reflected into Kanye and Cudi's psyche. However, the updated version is even more perfect as the red, blue and orange colors immensely blending together complement the psychedelic and grunge production of the album. The addition of the demon riding the ghost is perfect for the themes of the album, including the darkness, and Kanye and Cudi breaking through their mental health issues of the past.

2. Illmatic - Nas, 1994

Showing a young photograph of Nas superimposed of a New York housing estate, the cover of Illmatic already shows that this innocent young kid would have to deal with a lot of the trials and tribulations of growing up poor in New York, and how easily innocence can be lost in the neglected areas of the city. Thematically that is what the album is all about too, as we join Nas on his journey of growing up in these areas.

1. To Pimp A Butterfly - Kendrick Lamar, 2015

This is my favorite album cover of all time, and I don't think it would have been possible for Kendrick to have picked a better album cover. The cover shows a rendering of Black America on the front door of the White House, reflected in the albums commentary on race and black power. We see multiple people holding stacks of cash, some are on the phone, whilst the young boy in the corner holds up his middle finger, as the only white man in the cover, a judge, presumably lays dead due to the X's marked over his eyes. A judge would have been picked due to the historically corrupt legal system which favours the white man over the black man, often not treating them equally. Being in front of the White House is an incredibly powerful image, perhaps also showing President Barack Obama's welcoming of hip-hop and Black America.

Each of these covers resemble something powerful in their own way, and I'd love to dive into some more.

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