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Album Covers

by BC on November 3, 2009

What makes a good album cover? Well, obviously it’s subjective and everyone is going to have there own ideas of what makes good art.

Some of them are made good because of how much you like an artist and may not seem significant to non-fans. A simple picture of the group, or artist, can be special to a fan, but may seem plain to those that aren’t big fans, or even know who that group or artist is.

All of the above being said, here are some that I thought of, mostly off the top of my head, that are great and some that are not. I’m sure I’m missing some that I like or hate, but I had to cut myself short, because this had the potential to really get out of hand.

Great LP Covers

This is a small list of great album covers. I’ll explain a little about the artwork and a quick synopsis of the actual music. I also tried to keep it to one per artist, because some have consistently great artwork and I didn’t want to post a 12 page article. Here are some (and I know I’m missing a lot, feel free to share your faves):

The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die

Artwork: I like simple, uncluttered stuff. The album artwork is real simple and clean. I always loved this cover featuring a small child (maybe Big’s, maybe Puff’s, I was unable to find this info).

Music: Classic. This LP is an all-around great piece of music, including the intro, which may be one of the best intros ever.

Nas – Illmatic

Artwork: Nas as a child over his childhood home. Again, a pretty simple concept, but a great.

Music: Another classic. Sometimes I think the artwork, or cover, can be seen as even better than it is when the music is so good. I’m not saying that’s the case here, because I really do like the artwork, but great artwork can be seen as even better when the music is on point.

A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders

Artwork: Man, this is one of my favorites ever. Just the fact that they had all those other dudes on their album was a cool idea to me. For some reason, I thought my CD was green, but all I could find was the above picture and I can’t find my CD right now.

Music: This is my favorite Tribe LP. I mean this is a great LP with some classic tracks (Electric Relaxation, Steve Biko, Award Tour, We Can Get Down, Clap Your Hands, Oh My God). All of those songs could easily be in my top 100 songs of all-time.

Beastie Boys – Check Your Head

Artwork: It’s pretty simple. All their albums have had great artwork, but this is my favorite. This is one where being a huge fan really makes the artwork better. Black and white with the Beasties showing off their respective instruments, which they decided to pick up for this album.

Music: I’m a huge fan and this is my favorite album from them. Just like Tribe, there are a couple different albums that could be considered my favorite at any time. To me, this album is solid all the way through and the instrumentals work well in the flow of this LP. I didn’t quite feel the same way with Ill Communication, but it’s still a great piece of music.

Camp Lo – Uptown Saturday Night

Artwork: This is lame, but I don’t remember what this artwork is an interpolation of. I know the title is from the old movie of the same title, but I feel like the artwork was from something else, maybe Cooley high?

Music: This is definitely one of my favorite albums and I can just listen to it all the way through without skipping a track.

Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

Artwork: This is just an iconic image for hip-hop heads. If you’re a PE fan, you remember the video for Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos.

Music: “I got a letter from the government the other day, I opened and read it, it said they were suckers.” Great album and arguably the best from PE.

EPMD – Business As Usual

Artwork: I dig this artwork and EPMD is one of my favorite groups. This isn’t my favorite album from the duo, but it has the best art of all their albums.

Music: It’s a great album and I actually think I like it better than when I first got it, and I liked it then. EPMD was talking about the pitfalls of Gold Diggers before Mr. West and made some music with LL before he got bit by a shark.

Masta Ace – Disposable Arts

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Artwork: Everything on this cover is cool. The angle and the lighting, just lounging’ in the street on a car seat. It’s just a real cool picture and Ace is my favorite emcee, so that helps I’m sure.

Music: DA was a triumphant return from MA. This album is what TNT would call a ‘new classic’ if they played music instead of Jason Bourne movies.

The Pharcyde – Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde

Artwork: It’s a bit infantile when you view the entire thing, but the artwork is great.

Music: “I got a letter from the DMV the other day, I opened and read it, it said they were suckers.” This is one of those albums that just holds a special place in the pantheon of 90’s hip-hop. One of the few west coast artists that bucked the gangster trend and just had fun.

Tha Alkaholiks – 21 and Over

Artwork: There’s just something about the view from inside the fridge as the Liks partake in one of their favorite past times. It’s simple, but it fit’s the group perfectly.

Music: It’s a short album, but a classic. The entire album is perfect for that party that you’ve been wanting to throw, so just put this on repeat and get your drink on. Tha Liks are one of those groups that I’ve had numerous people (non-rap fans) comment on how much they like them when I play one of their CD’s. How they never just blew up, I don’t know.

Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

Artwork: This is one of those covers that just fit in with the Wu. It’s raw, like the Wu was one the first hit the seen. I imagine it looks even better in the form of a vinyl cover, where the title and W symbol would fit a little better.

Music: I remember not being into Wu-Tang the first time I heard Protect Ya Neck, but then I came to my senses. It’s a phenomenal piece of music and a great debut.

Bad LP Covers

There are a lot of albums that I could probably put in here, but I tried to relegate the list to stuff I own, or artists I like, with the exception of Lil’ Flip. Pretty much all of those LP’s from the south back in the late 90’s/early aught could go in here (No Limit, etc.).

Again, I could have went nuts here, so here’s just a small list:

Nas – I Am…

Artwork: Okay, the It Was Written made sense, it seemed to complete the gap from child Nas to adult Nas, but here he’s a pharaoh from the future I guess. I don’t know, he pushed it.

Music: After Illmatic, I bought the next 2 albums and they both disappointed. This LP has the classic “Nas Is Like” and that’s about it from what I remember. It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to anything from here except “Nas Is Like“.

Goodie M.O.B. – World Party

Artwork: Goodie M.O.B. caves in to all the artwork from the south during the time that this LP came out. Nothing bothers me more than when people copy something that’s popular, especially when that something popular is lame (see Autotune).

Music: There was some alright stuff on here, but I really didn’t get into this album much.

Lil’ Flip – I Need Mine

Artwork: I don’t own this. I just think this is one of the most ridiculous covers I’ve ever seen, so I had to include it. Who does this appeal to? If I was living in the ghetto or the trailer park, I’d want to beat the holy living hell out of this guy, not run out and buy his album. I think he covers all the stereotypes here (grill, money, jewelry). The capper here is the giant wad of cash, which has always been lame as hell to me, whether it was Pac or lame ass Lil’ Flip.

Music: I’m sure it’s awesome. I mean, he has Lil’ in his name. That’s original.

Heltah Skeltah – D.I.R.T.

Artwork – This cover makes me laugh. I think that’s what they were going for, but it still looks goofy.

Music: I was really impressed with this album. It definitely was a surprise to me. It’s worth picking up.

Binary Star – Masters of the Universe

Artwork: I think my little cousin drew this. It’s a real goofy cover, but it’s an extremely indy album, so I guess I’ll let it go.

Music: Oh, and it’s a great album, so who cares about the artwork really. Buy it
if you can find it.

If you’re checking this blog out, you probably have most of these albums, but here’s a download with a track from every album above, with the exception of Lil’ Flip:

Download it Here

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MORT November 3, 2009 at 1:48 pm

You should try listening to Lil Flip before you judge his music. Expand your musical boundaries a little. With all the free albums floating around it shouldn't be so hard to check up on an artist.

He's actually not as bad as you might think.

Or you could go on thinking that just because he calls himself Lil he's wack.

Just don't tell Lil' Fame…

On another not though, one of the lamest album covers ever has to be the first Masta Ace album. WTF was that about??

Sibusiso November 3, 2009 at 1:53 pm

interesting write up but if you are out of your depth please refrain from exposing yourself because the Camp Lo cover is an interpretation of a Ernie Barnes painting from the 70's which in essence is the Camp Lo sound (ie blaxpoitation) BTW I am a graphic Design major and not taking shots

BC November 3, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Mort – I've heard, actually I've seen, like 2 Lil' Flip videos (couldn't tell you what the songs were). I didn't like them, it's not my type of music. I just think that LP cover is so funny, that's all. Maybe the rest of his music is great, but 2 songs and the overall imagery keeps me away.

I actually did comment on Fame, in a previous post, being my favorite Lil' and then there's a big drop off, in my opinion.

I do think there are lamer covers than MA's first, but it's definitely a bit dated at this point. That's what happens w/ fashion and trends.

Sib – I knew someone would call me out on that one. Don't I at least get points for calling myself lame and knowing that it wasn't an original piece just for the Camp Lo LP, even though I thought it might be from a movie? I didn't want to leave it off just because I'm an idiot. : )

Thanks for reading the post!!!

vincentlopez November 3, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Good covers – BDP 'Sex and Violence', Outkast 'ATliens', and Organized Knofusion 'Stress; The Extinction Agenda'.

Bad covers – The majority of all Pen & Pixel covers (No Limit, etc.).

nathansmart November 3, 2009 at 4:52 pm

This is what I always thought they based it off of (and I assume the cover was done by the artist you're talking about):

Commish CH November 3, 2009 at 7:57 pm

Geto Boys- We Cant Be Stopped = worst ever

Not only is Bushwick's eye hanging out, but Willie D is rocking a frayed acid washed jean jacket and Bushwick is also using a brick cell phone.

Travis November 4, 2009 at 5:52 am

I'll let the Camp Lo album cover source slide, but what are you thinking dissing Lil Flip's music? Wait, who am I fooling, I never heard his music (that I know of) and don't plan on it neither. Call me close minded, but that's the way it is in my old age.

I still like the first Masta Ace album cover (although his cover for the "Music Man" 12 inch is the dopest by far), but as much as I love the album, the Slaughtahouse album cover is absolutely horrible. I still can't figure out what the hell is going on in it.

Alex November 4, 2009 at 6:35 am

What a coincedence, I was just thinking about the worst mainstream rap album covers this morning after going back and listening to Inspectah Deck's "Uncontrolled Substance" last night. Check out the cover for that one:

Actually the wiki image is cropped a little, but this has it all, from low-quality photo resolution to cheesy graphics including an awful-looking magnifying glass. I've got it on vinyl, so the big cover really makes the crappyness stand out.

How does Ol Dirty's "Return to the 36 Chambers" not make the list of best covers?

Alex November 4, 2009 at 6:50 am

One more bad one: Candyman's "ain't no shame in my game":'t_No_Shame_in_My_Game?wasRedirected=true

Really Candyman, no shame? Not even a little shame for your hot-dog-on-a-stick outfit?

BC November 4, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Commish – Ha, Willie D's jacket and Bushwik's phone, classic.

Trav – Yeah, Slaugtahouse is all blurry and disorienting. I don't think the 1st Ace cover is all that bad, maybe some dated fashion though. I think I've heard enough of the Lil's to know that they are all awful, again, not counting Fame.

Alex – Good call on the ODB LP. That is a classic. I remember that Candyman LP, I never had it, but definitely a corny ass cover.

MORT November 5, 2009 at 6:37 pm

I don't see how Geto Boys "We Can't Be Stopped" is considered a bad album cover.

Sure it might not look good but this is the realest cover ever released. No photoshopping, no stylists, just a bloody Bushwick who just shot himself in the eye flanked by his homies and then the title "WE CAN'T BE STOPPED"

That is one of the few album covers that not only explains the title perfectly but this picture is a part of real life, not a studio session. So in my book it's rather one of the best covers ever

BC November 6, 2009 at 3:26 am

I don't dislike the cover either, but you can't argue on the dated feel of the phone and the garb.

Irons Kill Lions November 16, 2009 at 10:26 pm

The worst album cover ever? Look at Cam'ron, Confessions of Fire and tell me it doesn't remind you of that episode in the Simpsons when Homer takes Bart to a steel-mill to prevent him turning gay…

BC November 20, 2009 at 10:19 pm

Ha! The liner notes say that it's "Dedicated to the steel workers of America. Keep reaching for that rainbow."

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