Gunz ‘n’ Onez


Gun culture has long been a part in hip-hop. Everything from hit men to police brutality and gunshot victims has been discussed in rap music. For many, holding heat is a status symbol. It represents power, masculinity, and ultimately what it means to be a “G.” On the flipside, a gun, often an AK-47, was nothing less than revolutionary during the Golden Era. “By any means necessary” implied due force – so for many rap revolutionaries, it meant guns and heavy artillery. Whether positive or negative, revolutionary or straight gangsta, guns have long been a hip-hop staple – and several artists make their interest explicit through their cover art.

Boogie Down Productions – By All Means Necessary
KRS wasn’t always socially conscious. Before the death of his mentor and collaborator, Scott La Rock, KRS was not much different from the average rapper. It was after Scott La Rock’s murder that KRS made it his mission to educate and empower the Black community with the album, By All Means Necessary. The cover is modeled after the infamous picture of Malcolm X peeking through a curtain with an assault rifle in hand. The black-and-white photo displays KRS-One mimicking Malcolm X, but Kris updates Malcolm’s antiquated rifle with the popular Mac-10. KRS was representing a modern-day Black Nationalist, and the cover parallels songs on the album where like Malcolm X, KRS proclaims himself a teacher and discusses issues facing the Black community.

Public Enemy – Beats And Places
During the Black Nationalist and Black Panther regimes several activists were arrested, kidnapped and killed. They were targeted due to their extreme revolutionary tactics and were seen as a threat to America at large. Public Enemy demonstrated their political stance with the cover of Beats And Places. The album cover displays the silhouette of a Black Panther caught within the crosshairs of a sniper’s gun target. This same image is the logo for PE and can be found throughout their LPs. While other PE covers display the logo in several different colors, black was used in accordance with the signature all-black Panther attire.

Boogie Down Productions – Love’s Gonna Getcha
The cover of Boogie Down Production’s “Love’s Gonna Getcha (Material Love)” single is reminiscent of a blueprint. The cover art includes a gun schematic and a photo of KRS in concert. Rather than detail the various parts of a gun, the diagram takes a twist on materialism with the labels pertaining to different wants like fresh gear, kicks and even mobile phones. It represents the different motives many have to use or tote a gun, each bullet representing a different aspect of material lust. It is no mystery that gun violence and materialism go hand and hand in the hood, so in light of KRS’ new teacher persona, “Love’s Gonna Getcha” highlights violence that results from material love.

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Kendra Desrosiers

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  1. I noticed “Get Rich Or Die Tryin'” is not included in these covers. Even though there isn’t a gun present on the cover it is all about guns. As the designer of that cover I talk to people about it all the time, and there is one thing that is usually overlooked. You are seeing 50 through bullet shattered glass. It is a metaphor for him being strong despite having been shot himself. It is all about strength and defiance.

    As a desinger I love connecting with people who care about album covers. The cover sets the tone for the music, but somehow gets overlooked by too often. Thanks for letting us know that our hard work is appreciated.


  2. The short statement made was good but I wouldn’t consider hip-hop artists part of the gun culture. They just exploit the image of the gun to make them look “bad ass” most don’t know anything about guns nor could they hit the broadside of a barn standing right in front of it. The gun culture is made up of people who hunt or target shoot, people who actually KNOW something about guns and how to use them.

    “carry concealed, because when seconds count the police are only minutes away”

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