Drake - Nothing Was the SameDrake’s Nothing Was the Same album shows an image that echoes sentiments of the title by revealing a side portrait of him as an adolescent and the same image of him in manhood for the deluxe edition. What makes it a great cover is that it evokes a reminiscent feeling and curiosity. Kadir Nelson, award-winning artist, created the cover. Nelson, who also created Micheal Jackson’s Michael cover art, created the imagery after Drake shared his appreciation for Nelson’s “Cleaned Cotton” piece.
A$AP Rocky -Long.Live.A$APAnother symbolic album cover is the subversively patriotic image of A$AP Rocky’s Long.Live.A$AP. The cover shows a black and white visual of A$AP Rocky draped in the stars and stripes of the American flag with television static in the background, giving the illusion that the television image is moving. In an interview, when he was asked what the meaning was behind the flag, he replied it was his “political view,” and that we are all misunderstood, with the flag representing that displacement.
Wale - The GiftedWale’s The Gifted artwork tells a unique story. The album cover has an illustration that depicts different scenes of vanity in hip hop culture, and centers around a bust of the artist himself. His explanation of the sculpture was that it represented his work. Wale’s medium is hip hop, and this album is his masterpiece.
Jay-Z - Magna Carta Holy GrailAlpheus and Arethusa, a 16thcentury sculpture created by Battista di Domenico Lorenzi, lives in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and is an actual piece of art. The sculpture also is the focal point for Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail. The original photo for the cover was taken by Ari Marcopoulos, a photographer who has captured photos of hip-hop’s greats for decades. Jay-Z asked Ari to take photos of New York for the album booklet artwork, and after taking various shots of the city, he provided Jay with the Alpheus and Arethusa statue as a possible cover option. Jay was, at first, undecided about the photo, but after some thought, had faith in Ari’s vision. Jay-Z somehow also got the cover art into the Salisbury Cathedral in England, right next to one of the four surviving original 1215 Magna Carta documents.
In 1938, Alex Steinweiss, an art director for Columbia Records invented the concept of album cover art, making way for epic images that continuously influence pop culture. It’s different now that most listeners stream and download music, which has ignited a market for unique album artwork to differentiate one project from the next. Also, design software is much more accessible and apps like instagram are extremely popular. That accessibility has given artists a bevy of new media to expand greatly the idea of album covers. Artists can create several album covers with a mouse click, and with a simple QR code make them interactive, or create a vine video that gives the viewer a short film in lieu of a traditional static album cover.
So it’s no shock that this year is has delivered dope album covers.
Here is my list of 2013’s Five Best Hip Hop Album Covers, based on: visual aesthetic, concept in relation to album name and theme, and creative execution.