It doesnâ€™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, itâ€™s only natural to extend it from another artistâ€™s album to another artistâ€™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 elseâ€™s lyrics for a Gangstarr chorus.
Inspired album covers are often more interesting than the typical artist/posse/expensive car photo â€“ mainly because the artistâ€™s choice of inspiration says more about them than any ice-grill full of fronts ever could. Sure, the Beatnuts sample Blue Note records â€“ but from their album covers, you get the sense they wish they couldâ€™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 isnâ€™t for us to say. More interesting still are the bevy of covers inspired by â€˜60s-era classic rock â€“ a genre you think would be the polar opposite of rap music.
Sure, inspired covers arenâ€™t original â€“ but are one million and one hard-posing â€œgangstasâ€ any more creative? Given the choice between the two, Iâ€™d prefer some insight into an artistâ€™s musical mind and taste-leanings everyday.
* Interestingly enough, while inspired rap album covers are common, there arenâ€™t very many youâ€™d classify as â€œparodyâ€. Perhaps because parody is humour â€“ and as we know in hip hop, ainâ€™t a damn thing funny!
Blue Note Records
Rappers often make bad choices, but sampling Blue Noteâ€“their records and their sleevesâ€“ ainâ€™t one of â€˜em. Blue Note sleeves are legendary for their simplicity and cool-ass design aesthetic, and itâ€™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.
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 werenâ€™t content just sampling Roy Ayersâ€™ music, another of rapâ€™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 â€“ right from the jam going on in the sleeve. Above all, though, these artists are giving credit where it is due â€“ even if todayâ€™s audience doesnâ€™t see the connection.
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 â€“ 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 EPMDâ€™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.