Artistic hip-hop album covers that never usually make the cut

Kultar Singh Ruprai
5 min readJun 6, 2017

Across the web I’ve come across countless articles listing ‘the best album covers in hip-hop’ or ‘the most iconic covers in hip-hop’.

Yet when browsing through these lists they all tend to be virtually the same (which are all good and worthy in their own right) but to restore some balance, below is a range of album covers (old and new) that are some of the most creative, artistic album covers in the genre and are often overlooked (in no particular order)…

RZA: Bobby Digital in Stereo

One of my favourite covers of all time: Bill Sienkiewicz depictes all the elements that fuse together make up Bobby Digital: blaxploitation movie posters, modern day technology, the usual drama of superheroes, women, the streets, kung-fu / violence, all within the siloouette of the Wu-Tang “W” symbol.

Released in 1998 with no photography, just artistic illustration which at the time was immensely different and daring, like the album.

Dead Prez: Let’s Get Free

Dead Prez’s debut album (2000) exploded the duo onto the music scene with iconic hard hitting songs like “They schools”, “Hip hop”, and “I’m an African”.

Dubbed as the moden day “Public Enemy” for their sharp lyricism that brought awareness to self and deeper issues affecting the world, it was only right to match their hard-hitting songs with hard-hitting visuals.

GZA/Genius: Liquid Swords

Never has an album / cover been so iconic. Circa 92' the graphic comic book art depicting war scenes, hooded swordsmen, severed heads and chess boards. An absolute classic.

This album single-handedly inspired me through my whole art & design foundation year.

Lupe Fiasco: Tetsuo and youth

The Tetsuo and Youth album cover (2015) is an original hand painting by Lupe entitled “Man Eating Tiger”, posing the philosophical question: Is it a man eating a tiger, or a man eating tiger?

Like the cover and the title, the album is very abstract and shifting with every listen.

Method Man: Tical 2000- Judgement Day

Method man’s sophomore album (1998) not only continued his dark and sinister theme from Tical but it also completely raised the bar.

The album cover / artwork was a perfect homage that conceptual tone; a dark Mad Max style post-apoclayse that matched the rhymes, and was released before the big millenium.

Logic: Everybody

Logic’s third album (2017) cover was inspired from ‘ The Wedding at Cana’ by Paolo Veronese. Sam Spratt spent nearly two years making this masterpiece which features over 80 odd people (everybody involved in the project and helped inspire the story).

He breaks down his journey here about creating this epic album cover that portray the conceptual sci-fi story and deciphers some of the many hidden clues and easter eggs contained within.

Cypress Hill: III Temples of Boom

By far one of the moodiest Cypress Hill albums. On the back of two successful albums and a string hit singles Cypress Hill went completely left-field with a hard-hitting, gritty, darker tone. The experimental risk paid off, and the sound has since never been replicated.

The cover was complimenting of this dark tone with an enigma like cloaked figure on an winding stair case leading up to a dark entrance of a far eastern temple-like building.

Symbolically a powerful image.

Jay-Z : The Blueprint 3

By far one of Jay’s most abstract covers; very stylistic and it’s not until you look within the inlay you discover, looking at those instruments at different angles, that those instruments actually have that red strip painted on them. And all come together to form the “BP3” stripes from the front.

Those stylistic instruments piled in the corner all represent the long linage of music and making music.

Killer Mike & El-P: Run The Jewels

The Run The Jewels hand gestures have become somewhat of an iconic symbol for the dynamic duo, even being transformed into one of the famous Marvel covers.

“For us, the RTJ1 hands were about ‘taking what’s yours’ — your world, your life, your attitude. The RTJ2 hands were wrapped in bandages, signifying injury and healing, which for us represented the growth in ideas and tone of that album. For RTJ3 the bandages are off, the chain is gone and the hands have been transformed into gold. For us this represents the idea that there is nothing to take that exists outside of yourself. You are the jewel.”

What do you think? Did I miss any out? Tweet me and let me know…
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