It’s what’s on the inside that counts, right? Not in this case. Sure, artists give you the gift of music but the album cover is the pretty wrapping on the audible present. Of course, no one (in their right minds) would listening to music just because the sleeve of a CD case looked good but it’s nice to examine this one simple yet enormous detail of music packaging. Over 200 hip hop albums/mixtapes/LPs etc. were released in 2012 and I’ve looked at all the artwork. Some of it was god awful. Some of it was so good it made it onto this list. And what right do I have in determining the best hip hop album art of 2012? Well, I’m a pretentious art student and I’ve spent countless hours critiquing and dissecting images so give me a little credit, will ya? If you ever want to have a civil debate (or childish argument, whatever) hit me up on twitter and let me know your thoughts.
Are you a hormonal young man (or woman) who lives for pretty girls? Are you a freak? Ever wished you had your own harem? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these, you’ll love the artwork for One Crazy Weekend. Are you a feminist who hates seeing women objectified as sex objects? Then seeing this is probably going to leave you feeling offended. As for me personally, I found its tongue-in-cheek humor rather cute. And I’m a little turned on as well.
With its use of vintage script, appropriate negative space and monochromatic colours, The Stoned Immaculate almost reminds me of a Charlie Brown cartoon. On the balcony of a vaudeville theater sits a shadowed figure (presumably Curren$y) smoking a spliff and watching us as we watching him.
The portrait of an artist done right. Beyond right. Although the color is rather muted, the shadows and highlights on Oddisee along with the composition present a visual that perfectly accompanies the title of the album. The viewer is immediately drawn to the eyes of the forward-facing Oddisee while being mindful of the ear which is the focal point of the backward-facing figure. The appropriate use of negative space creates a minimalist visual that lacks absolutely nothing. This album cover is the definition of modern day elegance.
Aerial views of New York have left dreamers breathless and tugged at the heartstrings of anyone with the slightest ounce of faith in humanity. Thus, the cover art of The Ports instantly captured my attention. The one detail that separates this image from all the other millions of New York we’ve seen is the little button on the coin operated binoculars – “turn to clear vision.” In order to gain a different perspective, sometimes one must change their direction in life.
Say what you may about 2 Chainz and his penchant for rhymes that leave you feeling perplexed (you can’t simply call someone “Big Booty” because they have a big booty). The cover art for Based On a T.R.U. Story gave 2 Chainz a distinctive look that will forever be synonymous with his personal brand. Virgil Abloh is credited at the Creative Director behind this album and his artisan genius is not to be overlooked. For those of you unfamiliar with Abloh, he’s the Creative Director at DONDA, Kanye’s design firm and co-owner of RSVP Gallery.
Using the image of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life (an esoteric school of thought rooted in Judaism) along with his name surrounded by the greek Ichthys fish (adopted by the Christian faith as a symbol for Jesus Christ), Control System’s cover is obviously religious in nature. However, religion and spiritual beliefs are deeply personal and varying from person to person. Presumably, this cover holds significance to Ab but the beauty of it is that to the listener, their interpretation may change as the familiarize themselves with the tracklist.
Little girls, sweet as sugar or feisty with an attitude that can only be considered cute at such a young age. There’s something about little girls that completely melts my heart. Maybe because I know all the awful things that face them beyond childhood. Maybe because I find myself sitting at the edge of my seat hoping that they’ll accomplish all they set out to do and not take ‘no’ for an answer. The fearless little girl at the forefront, the happy, relaxed little girl behind her – I just think its deeply heartwarming.
Its impossible to deny that mainstream American culture and Islam haven’t had the best relationship. In a country that deems itself “post-racial,” the treatment of its non-Christian, non-white citizens is a testament to just how deeply rooted in racism that nation still is. Regardless, it is home to millions of people all from different walks of life and home is where the heart is, right? The fact that Brother Ali is praying on an American flag shows both hope (through prayer) and melancholy (indicated in the title) and the overall image itself is electrifying.
When Nas first release the image of his album cover, I was quite hyped about it. He and Kelis had a tempestuous relationship but I loved them together. Seeing them split was only further confirmation that dysfunctional relationships (which some of us seem to gravitate towards) never end well. But seeing Nas with Kelis’ wedding tulle draped over his knee, a ponderous look on his face made me see that there were no hard feelings. The storm had settle, the broken pieces swept away and all that was left was the calm that contemplation brings.
Using what is a candid Polaroid of himself as a child, good kid, m.A.A.d city is actually quite sophisticated in composition and concept. Kendrick as at the center of it all, the other figures’ eyes may be blacked out but that’s because we as an audience don’t need to know who they are. Their presence is a metaphor for the all people in his life. Kendrick is staring so boldly and bravely as only a child could. A personal photograph like this means that no one will ever have an album cover like his, which is quite befitting because no one will ever have a story to tell like his. This is his short film, in audible form.
There were of course some beautiful covers that didn’t make the list but I enjoyed them so much, I thought they deserved an honorable mention.
Who is this lady? She has on a blouse a woman of her age would wear yet she’s wearing a toque and shades that could belong to her son/daughter.
The image on the cover was painted by Sua Yoo and first appeared in a zine. The imagery may be disturbing to some but I found it deeply beautiful.
The king of Detroit hip hop sitting on his thrown happy and healthy as we would like to remember him. His childhood depiction shows how he had stars in his eyes.