The Law


The Long Arm of the Law Like rock and roll before it, hip-hop is outlaw music. But while rock n’ rollers merely seek rebellion, rappers seek justice. Of course, justice for the rapper is prevailing against persecution by law enforcement and its judges, courtrooms and prisons. One of the foremost concerns of the hip-hop community, this theme is one of the few presented on rap album covers that denotes a broader message. That is, the artist is speaking about something bigger than themselves, unwittingly or not.

Some artists are trying to make a political point and others just want the police to leave them alone. But rappers all are arguing against the inherent bias of a discriminatory system. And they want everybody to know about it.

Every time an artist shows the relationship that truly exists between the police and the hip-hop community, it means more than the vinyl it was printed on. Depicting a struggle is proving that the struggle exists.

Fuck The Police!

N.W.A. – Elfin4zaggin
MC Shan – Time for Us…
Geto Boys – Geto Boys
Boogie Down Productions – Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop

While plenty of anti-police songs have been released, most album art depicting the boys in blue shows them as the aggressive authority figure, with the artist at the mercy of the po-po. People might think it would be empowering to depict the artist as the one delivering punishment to his oppressor, but curiously, this is seldom the case. In that regard, rap obviously reflects reality more than fantasy. Even those related the demise of the law.

Here Come The Judge!

Biz Markie – All Samples Cleared!
Kaos – Court’s In Session

Even when rappers do not commit heinous crimes on records (and off them) they still have legal problems. Kaos, a forgotten middle school rapper, is happily corrupting a system that isn’t often merciful to rappers. For the Biz, his album marks the end of a lengthy legal battle that saw him being the first rapper sued for sample clearance (by Gilbert O’Sullivan, for “Alone Again”). It appears the law is the only one that could truly beat the Biz.

Incarcerated Scarfaces

Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back
Ras Kass – Institutionalized
Lifer’s Group – Living Proof
Beanie Sigel – The B. Coming

Incarceration is a grim reality for many in the hip-hop community and it is celebrated in countless songs and videos – not to mention the fact that many artists have recorded songs while imprisoned. Hell, Tupac had a number one single while he was locked down. Given its prominent status in rap life, it’s worth noting that few album covers reflect that. When P.E. did it in 1989, it was a defiant political statement. The Lifers Group and Beans, on the other hand, denote prison as shorthand for hardness and respect. And Ras Kass, maybe he’s just gone bonkers due to lack of record sales.

More Covers:

Rick Kang

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  1. One cover that is missing is Tony Yayo’s “Thoughts Of A Predicate Felon”. His album cover to shows one of the consequences of choosing a certain way of life. The packaging isn’t empowering or glamourous, instead it is focused on confinement. Since he’s locked up he uses a mirror to look out of his cell to make eye contact with the viewer.

  2. I was browsing your site and saw a picture of one of my favorite rappers “KAOS” in your April 8 2007 issue. How do you know that album and where is he?

    He toured with Big Daddy Kane, KRS – ONE and others then dissappeared in about 1991.

    And is he still friends with Todd Terry? Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez?

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