For musicians, their album cover art can be just as important as the songs included on the record.
Since the release of Sugarhill Gang’s self-titled record in 1980, hip-hop hitmakers have placed an emphasis on creating captivating album covers.
These pieces of art have become more than just an accessory — artists use these visual masterpieces to show off their creativity, using photographs, images, and other symbolic references.
Some musicians tap visual creators to design their album art. American contemporary artist George Condo created five different covers for Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which stirred up controversy upon its release.
The cover featured a man sitting on a couch, being straddled by a winged creature. Kanye’s album, like many more in hip-hop history, will be remembered forever. Let’s take a look back at the most creative, wacky, and controversial hip-hop album covers of all time.
'Ready to Die' — The Notorious B.I.G. (1994)
Few hip-hop albums are as iconic as Biggie Smalls’s Ready to Die.
The cover features a small child, who resembles the Brooklyn rapper, sitting against a white backdrop. Since its release, the album has sold more than six million units and is regarded as one of the greatest rap records of the 1990s.
'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' — Kanye West (2010)
Kanye is no stranger to controversy and, according to artist George Condo, the rapper was hoping to ruffle feathers with the release of his 2010 album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
In an interview with Vulture, George suggested that the “All of the Lights” hitmaker was looking for a piece of artwork "that will be banned."
'Kids See Ghosts' — Kids See Ghosts (2018)
Before their relationship went sour, Kanye West and Kid Cudi were friends and music collaborators.
They joined forces in 2018 to create the supergroup, Kids See Ghosts, releasing their self-titled album in June of that year.
The group fell apart shortly after, and the rappers got into a nasty feud, but the album art is still one of the most iconic in hip-hop history. The image was created by Takashi Murakami, the same artist who designed Kanye’s Graduation cover.
'Illmatic' — Nas (1994)
The photograph used on Nas’ 1994 album Illmatic is striking.
The cover features a picture of Nas as a child over a faded image of a city block. The grainy image pairs perfectly with the raw and thought-provoking songs on the record. The translucent image of a New York City block was captured by longtime hip-hop photographer Danny Clinch – who also photographed Tupac and Johnny Cash.
'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' — Lauryn Hill (1998)
The cover art for Lauryn Hill’s 1998 smash hit, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, is the perfect complement to the GRAMMY-award-winning album. The covers show a drawing of the “Nothing Even Matters” MC, which is carved into a school desk. The use of warm colors and soft details mirrors the depth of the album's themes.
'To Pimp a Butterfly' — Kendrick Lamar (2015)
Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is a musical and visual masterpiece.
The cover features a monochrome photo of a group of Black men in front of the White House. Kendrick is front-and-center in the photo and appears to be holding a small child. The juxtaposition of urban and political elements encapsulates the album's complex narrative.
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