Dating back to graffiti, art has always been a large part of Hip-Hop culture. Hip hop album covers were once an art form, and artists made sure they always served heat. Streaming has taken away from the artistic side of album artwork, and covers have become more simple. Before streaming popularized, people were buying these physical pieces, and MC’s had to make sure they caught your eye!
From Snoop Doggy Dog, to Grandmaster Flash, we’re hopping in a time machine as we go through Hip-Hop’s 25 Most Memorable Album Covers.
25. Juvenile, 400 Degreez (1998)
From the diamonds and flames, to the Z in “Degreez” being a dollar sign…There’s just something about the WordArt feel of this album that keeps fans coming back.
24. Wale, Attention Deficit (2009)
The obvious shoutout to a digital world reigns as the focal point for this album cover. A strong, yet simple message burns through the vibrant cool colors, and captures your attention immediately.
23. De La Soul, 3 Feet High and Rising (1989)
You’ve probably seen these flowers before, or maybe even these 3 talented young men. Fun fact, rap group De La Soul actually hates this album cover. They felt that everyone would be associating them with flowers, peace, the whole hippie movement, when that wasn’t them at all!
22. Kanye West, 808s and Heartbreak (2008)
The minimalism in this cover is the beauty of it all. Kanye was hurting, simple as that!
21. 2Pac, Me Against The World (1995)
This album shook the charts, and you couldn’t go anywhere in 1995 without seeing it. 2Pac rocked the world right before his unfortunate passing, and sold hundreds of thousands copies of the album.
20. Run-D.M.C., Run-D.M.C. (1984)
Run-D.M.C.; Pioneers, legends, superstars. This classic cover had to make the list!
19. Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
Firstly, it’s Lauryn Hill etched into a school desk. This album taught everyone a couple of things. No further explanation needed.
18. Snoop Doggy Dogg, Doggystyle (1993)
From the dogcatcher in the back to the Snoop Dogg lookalike on top of the dog house, this album cover is full of style, steeze, and comedy!
17. Eric B. & Rakim, Paid in Full (1987)
Money. Harlem was all about money. Eric B. and Rakim made it clear that they had it, and there was never any problem getting it! The Dapper Dan Gucci sweatsuits, the huge rope chains… The aesthetic of it all represents a very transitional era in the development of Hip-Hop music.
16. Ice Cube, Death Certificate (1991)
Ice Cube next to Uncle Sam’s corpse. No further explaining to do.
17. Missy Elliott, Supa Dupa Fly (1997)
Missy Elliott has always held more swag than most artists in the music industry, remaining humble and subtly stunting on everyone! This cover embodies exactly who she is; chilling for the moment… but don’t forget that she’s fly.
18. Wu-tang Clan, Enter the Wu-tang: 36 Chambers (1993)
This album cover is actually kind of wild. Firstly, no face, no case. Secondly, does the guy in the front have a finger gun? This album cover is great for its immense mystery.
17. Jay-Z, The Blueprint (2001)
Jay-Z wearing a Rocawear jean jacket smoking a cigar. He won.
16. A Tribe Called Quest, Midnight Marauders (1993)
The various facial expressions in the background, the bulging eyes… What do we look at first?! This album cover is great because it leaves so much space for interpretation, the colors on the cover represent so many things, and everyone would formulate their own meaning.
15. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
We need to take over the White House… and keep it. Bring our culture, our families, our music… make it OUR country. Simply put.
14. Kanye West, The College Dropout (2004)
We all know the bear. This bear costume (that Kanye FOUND, by the way) looks like any college student during the longest finals week ever: TIRED. The album cover is warm, relatable, and not complex; perfect in a sense.
13. Grandmaster Flash, The Source (1986)
Do we start off with the fly guy with this legs crossed, or old boy with the red leather hat to match his shoes? This album cover embodies the true start of Hip-Hop. B-boys, spitting bars in New York City’s uptown train station, even down the pager on homeboy’s hip!
12. Snoop Doggy Dogg, The Doggfather (1996)
The Godfather is a critically acclaimed cult classic, and Snoop Dogg actually might’ve done something, by simply switching 2 letters! This was Snoop’s final album on Death Row Records under his name of Snoop Doggy Dogg, and he was owning the game. The West coast made no moves without you hearing about Snoop, rightfully making him the Doggfather.
11. NWA, Straight Out of Compton (1988)
One of the most controversial groups, with one of the most rebellious albums of all time. These young men all banded together and shook the West coast with words that everyone in Compton couldn’t bring themselves to say.
10. The Fugees, The Score (1996)
Firstly, Lauryn Hill AND Wyclef Jean on ONE album cover… That’s art. The beauty lies in the minimal yet intense typography, and the 3 beautiful black faces.
9. Nas, Illmatic (1994)
This kid is too cute. Too cute for the cover, and too cute for the hood he reigns from. Nas showed that everyone was suffering and surviving, even the young.
8. Master P, The Ghettos Tryin To Kill Me! (1994)
The lace bra hanging from Master P’s name, the Boosie fade, my man creeping in the window “Cell Therapy” style… The lo-fi quality wraps it all together, you feel like you’re watching a movie, and you’ve barely even looked at the cover.
7. DMX, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood (1998)
This album cover is bloody and gory, in every sense. Its beauty lies in the naive state of such a “Ruff” guy, and almost goes to show that the black man is one of the most sensitive species.
6. Redman, Dare Iz a Darkside (1994)
Redman is stuck buried in this Children of the Corn looking field, and its freaking me out. I love it.
5. Outkast, Stankonia (2000)
This album cover is great for 3 reasons: One, Andre 3000 was having an amazing hair day. Two, so was Big Boi. Thirdly, it calls out the entire country, so subtly, being a black and white world. We all knew… But did we really know?
4. Gang Starr, Daily Operation (1992)
Gang Starr is really giving off intellectual and successful vibes, and who doesn’t love that? “The goal is money, and this is how we get it. Don’t ask no questions, I thought this through.” Guys from the hood are smart too!
3. Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Return of the 36 Chambers (1995)
Have you seen the O.D.B tv special, where he took America into the food stamp office in Brooklyn, and got his money right? This man never cared, was never too embarrassed to live his life and let whoever wanted to look come and see. Hoping his unbothered soul is resting in peace.
2. The Notorious B.I.G., Ready to Die (1994)
Foreshadowing? This was Biggie’s debut album, and just as his career was being born, he was ready to die. Sadly, he would pass away 2 years after its release. But in those 2 short years, he conquered the world. He started off on top, and he achieved what he needed to; he was truly ready to die.
1. Geto Boys, We Can’t Be Stopped (1991)
This man… Is in a hospital bed. The rap trio is standing in a hospital, posed for an ALBUM COVER. Who was stopping the Geto Boys? NOTHING! They literally cannot be stopped, no matter the circumstance. This cover is full of hustle and desire to reach success, and has to be respected as THE most memorable. Who’s forgetting this?
Do you have any albums you think should’ve been on this list? Leave a comment below and let us know!