Portraits are often the most personal photographs. The close-ups convey emotion and emphasize details that have the possibility to unveil well kept personality quirks and traits. As opposed to the mundane flashy covers decked out with expensive cars, jewelry and women, some rappers have chosen alternative routes. Often the portraits foreshadow a theme prevalent in the album’s music, other times the cover art represents an element of the artist themselves. Nevertheless, album covers feature portraits have proven themselves to be some of the most revealing.

A Tribe Called Quest – The Anthology
A Tribe Called Quest have long been advocates of afrocentricity and the cover to The Anthology is no exception. The cover is a close up of a painted woman’s face. Her face is painted pitch black but across her face are stripes of green and red. Red, Black and Green are the colors of the African American flag created by Marcus Garvey. Her face exudes Black pride and foreshadows the cultural nationalism that flows throughout the The Anthology.

Chamillionaire – The Sound of Revenge
Sound travels so fast that no human can see it; still many try to imagine its shape and form. On the cover of Chamilionaire’s Sound of Revenge he does just that. The cover depicts Cham squinting in a hoodie and navy fitted in front of a city skyline. The large sweeping blur appears to be a sound wave whose vibrations are so strong they are visible surrounding the album title and chameleon logo.

Mos Def – The New Danger
Mos Def plays the role of “the most beautiful boogie man’” on the cover of his sophomore album The New Danger. The cover is a portrait of Mos in tattered clothes and hat. A bloodied rag covers masks most of his face as he points to his temple while staring straight at the camera. Decades ago it was believed that the Boogie man was a scare tactic used on children based off the irrational fear of Black men. Mos chooses to challenge the fear on both his album cover and album introduction “Boogie man song.”

M1 – Confidential
M1 of Dead Prez is prolific for rapping about what he believes to be the truth behind the world’s conspiracies and propaganda. His debut solo album is appropriately titled, as the facts behind his themes are often confidential and withheld from the public. The cover art conveys the theme of secrecy. A watercolor portrait of M1 is smudged atop a dated document. The document is stamped and marked confidential which leads a listener to believe they are accessing classified information.

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Kendra Desrosiers

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  1. This reminds me of that J Rocc cover “Play This One” where his crew all held headshots covers over their own faces – a headshots homage.

    PS – “Lil Kim is smiling too under the plastic surgery.” Ha!

    Looks like Trick Daddy is trying to smile but doesnt quite know how.

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