Artful Aspects of Hip-Hop: Album Covers

Art. Music. Hip-hop. Three words that seem to be meant for each other. The musical genre of hip-hop and rap is one of our generations purest art forms, one that can be easily heard and accessed by our nation’s youth. For some, hip-hop is nothing more than just a good beat to grind to at a club, or a new jam to blast out of the windows of your truck as you cruise. For others, however, the music is something more, something much more meaningful and prophetic than many give it credit for. It’s art. Pure art.

“That feel of music with urgency that speaks to you…. it speaks to your livelihood and its not compromised.” ~Nas

When you’re looking for a new CD album to buy of your favorite artist, what catches your eye first and foremost? The album cover. A simple photograph or a painting may not seem like much in regards to the music inside, but the cover is what gives the music life. It’s often not what the lyrics say themselves, but the imagery of the music as a whole. It creates an image and scene for all of the tracks to stand together as one album, rather than just a song. Take Illmatic by rap-god Nas, for example. Since it’s record store debut in 1994, Illmatic has become one of rap’s all time greatest albums. The beautiful thing about it, though, is the fact that all of Nas’s lyrics and rhymes tell a story that can be seen on the very cover of the album itself. You can begin to get in that “N.Y State of Mind” before even listening to the famous song itself.

Let’s take a look at another iconic rap album: N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton. Just one look at the album cover and you get thrown into the world of Ice Cube, Eazy E, Dr. Dre and the others. Immediately you see things their way, laying in the street having a gun pointed at your face only because of what you look like. It sort of flips the script on the race wars that were going on at the time of the album’s release and continue to go on in cities across the nation. The image itself begins to set the scene for what’s the come behind the cover as you delve into the music and sound of N.W.A.

These are just a few examples of hip-hop album covers that serve as such an influential form of art: The bluntness of the images speak a message of truth before you even plug in your headphones and jam out.