Thursday, May 15, 2014

15 Best Hip-Hop Albums Covers Of The Past Half Decade

Hip-Hop artists, more than any other genre, have a hit-miss relationship with album covers. They're the most important thing for a first time listener, or viewer, to gauge the theme of the album. Many Hip-Hop albums fall into the bland category, while others, few others, expand on the tired topics and expose brilliant pictures that deepen themselves into music lore for decades to come. These are just 15 of the top Hip-Hop album covers of the past half decade, from 2009-2014. 

15. Captain Murphy's Duality (2012)

Flying Lotus' surprise entrance into the rap game struck many by surprise. His unique approach to beat making has been well-noted and, shockingly enough, his lyrical density and rapping ability were just as on par. Dualities cover, with its coral colors littered throughout, cycling around the Captain's head whilst a mound of skulls form at his feet accurately describe the sound and events occurring within the album. Darkness mixed with psychedelic tendencies. 

14. The Left's Gas Mask (2010)

While the album may not be on par with other underground releases recently, The Left's Gas Mask struck an immediate chord with its strikingly haunting cover. The picture itself is real, which only adds to the eery feeling it exudes. The Izu Islands, after numerous volcanic explosions, now holds the highest level of sulfur in the air on the planet. And humans decided to live there. Which then gives us this horrendously terrifying 'town portrait' The Left so properly uses. 

13. Mac Miller's Watching Movies (2013)

Mac's second studio album was a huge departure from his previous work, for the positive that is. One of the most surprising albums of 2013 in terms of a rapper improving tremendously. The cover itself is all kinds of awesome; it has comedy, religious comments, and a simplistic nature that makes it appealing to the eye, despite an all nude Miller dominating the scene. While the cover doesn't entirely capture the sound or messages behind the album, the point that Mac is intending to eat Eve's bad apple kinda gives you a sense of where it's going. 

12. Cunninlynguists' Oneirology (2009)

Switching scenes to a cover perfectly replicating the content held within the jeweled case, Cunninlynguists' fifth album was an introspective look at dreams and nightmares. What better way to show that then a sleeping woman as her blankets get torn to shreds by the demons on the back cover, barely noticeable here, foreshadowing their approach. Every song here, as the concept details, covers the topics of dreams. Kno's production, more-so than any song's lyrics could ever do, elicit this feeling the most, with his woozy, lush soundscapes acting as a trip through our dreams. 

11. Tyler, The Creator's WOLF (2013)

In typical Tyler fashion we have WOLF's soon to be legendary album cover. Absolute hilarity ensued upon first witnessing this gem. It was in stark contrast to his previous two albums which had the title blasted across the center with demonic looking kids, or himself, in the background. Here we see a 'older' Tyler reflecting on his former goofy self, adorning his inhaler. The subject matter on WOLF however, if this isn't obvious enough, doesn't reflect the nature of the cover, despite one or two joke songs thrown in. Just goes to show to never judge a album by its cover, since WOLF was one of the best releases in 2013. 

10. Run The Jewels' Run The Jewels (2013)

The collaboration no one anticipated but secretly wanted, for how well Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music turned out. While it's hard to put a face to an album with such a simplistic look, Run The Jewels' debut LP does so wonderfully, as a zombie hand holds up another one's who wielding a large, gold-plated chain. It's grimy, in your face, and stylish, all of which also defines the album itself, one of 2013's surprise releases, which captured the attention of relative notoriety, despite both artists' underground alliances. 

9. Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)

Arguably the best song of this past half-decade (in competition with another one coming up), has one of the most memorable album covers to adore it. Nothing visually could describe the events behind the packaging than this; a picture of toddler Kendrick, surrounded by his uncles, with 40's placed right next to baby bottles. The addition of three crudely placed black bars, hiding the faces of those with him, only further add to the allure, placing Compton as a place where people fade into obscurity, or death. 

8. Action Bronson's Rare Chandeliers (2012)

I don't really even need to explain this one, you can sit back and watch. Watch, because the official cover is a gif, with Bronson sporting a wolf hood and shotgun as it blasts off the screen. It's possibly the most hilarious album cover we've seen in recent memory. Midgets attacking a man after burning his car, a car chase, a bootylicious knife-wielding woman with an alligator with a laser on its head, and a fighter pummeling another as a wizard looks on from the background. I can't make this stuff up. But Bronson can.

7. Kanye West's My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy (2010)

The other running for album of the past half decade. There's nothing left to be said about this masterpiece, it's Kanye's magnum opus. Now, the cover itself, while still great, isn't actually why it's on here. It's more the trail it left on Hip-Hop as a whole. Many recently from Danny Brown to Freddie Gibbs have used this style to showcase their respective albums. Also within this realm are Kanye's G.O.O.D Friday's series, which showcased their song titles and featured guests in large, simple bold letters across the face of the cover. This has also been used an immense amount in Hip-Hop now-a-days. Still, Kanye's multiple different album covers are unique and awesome within themselves and deserve a spot on here.

6. The Roots' undun (2011)

One of the most polished records of the last half decade comes with an equally riveting album cover. Telling the story of a man caught up in gang-related affiliations and the troubles his life comes with, in reverse, is the concept to undun. It's executed brilliantly, beginning with his death, ending with four instrumental movements, all to symbolize his childhood. Here we see that childhood. A youth does a backflip off a wrecked mattress in the middle of a destroyed park, meant to represent the struggle of inner-city youth. Capturing action also shows a 'moment captured in time' aesthetic to the piece.

5. Kid Cudi's Man On The Moon II (2010)

The announcement of the cover to Man on the Moon's sequel showed some the looming dark side of Kid Cudi and his thoughts, depression, and feelings. Here, he sits, aimlessly in the middle of a dank room, with space, the entire universe, outside the window, circling his head. It's a telling picture, one that exclaims that while the universe may be at Cudi's fingertips, he remains stagnant inside, away from everything and everyone. The music portrayed this greatly, especially the closing tracks, with their dark and claustrophobic sounds covering topics of suicide, depression, and abandonment.

4. Big K.R.I.T's 4eva In A Day (2012)

It's a cover that doesn't come by every once in a while. It plays out like a Maurice Sendak children's novel, only with bibles, beer, and strip clubs. While the topics shown here aren't remarkable shocking or unique, the way they're presented is. A church stands on the same street corner as the strip club, the former abandoned, while the latter sports a cadillac out front. The imagery on top, with the moon (or darkness) setting over the joint, implying that the sun rises over the church is yet another layer to the picture that evokes some sense of wonderment. All the while a child stares off, back facing us, as he contemplates what choices to choose. This is Big K.R.I.T's day, as the mixtape itself follows suit through the course of a 24 hour period.

3. BadBadNotGood's BBNGII (2012)

This isn't Hip-Hop persay, more Jazz-inspired Hip-Hop cover's. But regardless, the album cover alone is strikingly terrifying. More than likely an inside joke from the band, the fat pig standing tall, doused in a loin cloth, staring ever so slightly towards the camera as a black and white mystique is laid atop the image paints a vividly uncomfortable moment. While it's hard to capture such a picture on record BBNG did it relatively well, with such songs like Flashing Lights and Bastard, having this eery, dark, cruel sense laid over them. A personal favorite cover of mine.

2. Brother Ali's Us (2009)

Upon first look the picture is beautiful upon itself. Kids line the interior and exterior as some finish the final puzzle pieces of 'Us,' the albums peaceful title. The intricacies however are where things get even more dazzling. A boy helps adjust a piece with headphones on. A small child to short to put in a small piece hands it to an adolescent resting on a boombox with a potential crush. A small brother and sister dump a bowl of water on a sprouting flower, the only object in scene not devoid of color, sporting a vibrant red hue. All of this makes for a wonderful picture of peace, wonder and kind gestures performed by kids who've failed to witness the cruel outside world just yet.

And number 1 goes to...

Ahhh who am I kidding, this is crap. The real number 1 is...

1. Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor II (2012)

It's stunning. A brilliant expose on the troubles facing our society, through the eyes of its black citizens. No other image on earth could tell so much by showing so little. I feel as though the blackness showcases what the album is about, the struggles of the black community, in Chicago, as they aim to rise up out of the streets and into the limelight. The second I witnessed this haunting image I knew it be number one on all lists. . . . ahhh who am I kidding, this is the worst album cover of all-time, and possibly the most pretentious work in Hip-Hop I've ever seen. 

The real number one is...

1. Fashawn's Boy Meets World (2009)

A true-to-honest reinterpretation of the sounds, styles, and messages layered beneath the wrapping on the record itself. Fashawn's world that he paints on his only album to date is none other than tales told from his life in the streets, through the child himself, many times blissfully unaware of the problems surrounding him. Many tales, some greater than others, are violent, horrific, and heartbreaking. And yet, our lead stands alone, as elegant shades of yellow and gold surround him, with bubbles streaming across his face, meant to symbolize happier times, only to have him looking back at us, at the situations and events he's seen, in utter shock, unable to convey emotion, and certainly not happiness which the rest of the cover is forcing upon him. It's brilliant, and perfectly shows the disparity between Fashawn's stories and Exile's production. 

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