Inspired Hip-Hop Album Covers

Inspired Hip-Hop Album Covers

It doesn’t matter how many Casio beats Southern hip-hop throws at us, rap music is, and will always be about sampling. And since sampling is the rap way-of-life, it’s only natural to extend it from another artist’s album to another artist’s album art. Some designers sample album art from the same pool of musicians that producers sample from; others even pay cover-art homage to other rappers. Consider it the album-art version of Premo scratching someone else’s lyrics for a Gangstarr chorus.

Inspired album covers are often more interesting than the typical artist/posse/expensive car photo – mainly because the artist’s choice of inspiration says more about them than any ice-grill full of fronts ever could. Sure, the Beatnuts sample Blue Note records – but from their album covers, you get the sense they wish they could’ve made Blue Note Records, as well. Others choose giants of black music to emulate, thereby linking themselves to a lineage of black artistic genius. Whether the artists doing the emulating are geniuses themselves isn’t for us to say. More interesting still are the bevy of covers inspired by ‘60s-era classic rock – a genre you think would be the polar opposite of rap music.

Sure, inspired covers aren’t original – but are one million and one hard-posing “gangstas” any more creative? Given the choice between the two, I’d prefer some insight into an artist’s musical mind and taste-leanings everyday.

* Interestingly enough, while inspired rap album covers are common, there aren’t very many you’d classify as “parody”. Perhaps because parody is humour – and as we know in hip hop, ain’t a damn thing funny!

Blue Note Records

Inspired Hip-Hop Album Covers

Rappers often make bad choices, but sampling Blue Note–their records and their sleeves– ain’t one of ‘em. Blue Note sleeves are legendary for their simplicity and cool-ass design aesthetic, and it’s only natural that Blue Note-sampling artists wanted to borrow that vibe. Most are paying homage (J-Live, Guru), while others are a little more meticulous in their outright jacking (Beatnuts, Atmosphere). Either way, at least you’re jacking something with style and class. And if you recognized the inspiration behind these covers, consider that a savvy/coolness point.

JazzyRockinFunkadelicSoulMusic

Inspired Hip-Hop Album Covers
Often rappers align themselves to the great tradition of black popular music that preceded them. And in many cases, the artist inspiring the cover also provided the rapper’s samples. Redman, and producer Erick Sermon, have made a living off of P-Funk samples, so extending the privilege to album art isn’t a stretch. Bootcamp’s Tek & Steele weren’t content just sampling Roy Ayers’ music, another of rap’s most sampled, they thought his cover concept was dope enough to restage. Camp Lo jacked Marvin for his album cover and also their fashion steez – right from the jam going on in the sleeve. Above all, though, these artists are giving credit where it is due – even if today’s audience doesn’t see the connection.

Rappers

Inspired Hip-Hop Album Covers
This segment is a little harder to understand. In much the same manner that rappers pay respect to the artists they sample, perhaps this is a way of honoring their rap influences and peers. Or, they didn’t have any ideas. In Consequence’s case, he jacks one of rap’s most famous and recognizable covers – of an album he appeared on, no less! I guess he thought Tribe just had it goin’ on. The X-Ecutioners are acknowledging one of the most important rap groups of all time, if not one of the world’s best album covers. In the RZA/Fingaz case, the original inspiration actually lies in the sleeve of the Cotton Comes to Harlem soundtrack, by Galt MacDermot. The RZA obviously liked the concept so much he commissioned comics god Bill Sienkiewicz, who also did EPMD’s Business as Usual, to emulate it. DJ Fingaz decides to split the difference, using elements of both to acknowledge one of rap’s sources and one of its pioneers.

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Rick Kang

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27 comments

  1. I’m surprised more godfather covers weren’t included. Most of the original covers were inspired by pop culture and trends themselves. Like the George Clinton and Redman covers immediately remind me of The Colored Museum which was published before both of the album releases and I can see a little Andy Warhol in some of the others. Itd be interesting to see how many artists were inspired, not by another artist, but from the current event or trend itself.

  2. Lebron Jenkins says:

    This just proves that all rappers are unoriginal. Rock and Roll artist with real integrity who actually have something to say such as Nickleback, Good Charlotte, and Hoobastank would never do something like that. Same goes for Tim McGraw…oh wait, his last album cover was totally ripped of an Iceberg Slim book jacket, forget it.

  3. Lebron Jenkins says:

    One More Thing…

    I heard that for Kanye’s next album, he’s totally gonna rip off the cover of “Man In The Middle” by John Amaechi. Jerry Sloan has signed on to produce the beats as well.

  4. The ZigZags/Chroniccc is the best. That’s not a ripoff at all, more like a dedication, and it works perfectly.

    God, Tone Loc is awful. I saw him live when I was about 13, and he was all too happy to accept the advances of some girl who can’t have been much older than me.

  5. Dope post.

    Mad I ain’t think of it.

    The concept would make a dope coffee table book w/ the look-a-like designers discussing what made them choose “that cover” to mimic.

  6. Not for nothing, how about the countless other hip hop album covers that were original creations? You can’t pigeon hole the genre just because cats expressed association with classic works/album covers – that’s what hip hop is all about – I applaud the fact that hip hop can be so eclectic!!!

    Excellent drop Mr. Kang…

  7. I don’t think anyone is saying originality doesn’t exist in Hip Hop album cover art — we’re just exploring a fairly common theme here (Inspired joints).

    Stay tuned — obviously many more themes to go thru… including album covers with original concepts!

    For my money, “Low End Theory” is still probably the best (original) Hip Hop album cover ever, with the Geto Boys’ “We Can’t Be Stopped” a close second. And therein you can see the diversity of genius — one a subtle, jazzy “concept”, the other a str8t-up photo of a recently-shot-in-the-eye Bushwick Bill on a gurney (and on a brick-sized celly), surrounded by Mr. ‘face and Willie D. Let your nuts hang!

  8. Fantastic post. This would be a great coffee tale book. It could also be a dope way to decorate the walls of a studio.

  9. Fantastic post. This would be a great coffee table book. Oh wait, it already is part of a great coffee table book. At least cite the egotrip influence. I hope your next assignment isn’t a critique of contemporary rap music through the guise of a race-specific MC talent search.

  10. Look, the Ego Trip Book of Rap Lists is undoubtedly one the best books ever, and yes, the idea of exploring album covers inspired by other album covers isn’t new — duh. Enuff peeps have tackled this subject — why not cite any magazine/book/pundit that’s ever written about hip hop, then?

    My next critique is actually of douche-bags who post comments looking for arguments that aren’t there. Stop subliminalling dissing yourself.

  11. In my opinion many of these shown covers are deliberately imitating classic covers – not as a rip-off but as a tribute.

    The Beatles cover is a good example, Scarface another (His name is Scarface, so it makes sense to show a tribute like this).

    The fact that the cover for Dr. Dre’s the Chronic looks like a pack of zig-zags is not because they couldn’t make an original idea, but because a weed (the Chronic) is smoked as joints using zig-zag paper. So in this instance the imitation of a productdesign is used as an artistic gimmick – not as a rip off.

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