What Is The Best Album Cover Ever?

Some rappers happen to be thoughtful, intelligent people. Every Monday Rocks Off will have some of them here discussing issues relevant to their culture.

This Week's Panel: Bun B, Lil Flip, Hollywood FLOSS, hasHBrown, Kyle Hubbard, Renzo, Brad Gilmore and Nash White

Not Invited: Kanye, because his presence is present, kiss his ass.

This Week's Prompt: Kanye's proposed album cover for his forthcoming album just got shot down, interesting because it isn't so much controversial as it is just weird and a little creepy (and, depending on who you ask/work for, a little NSFW). Anyway, we're more interested in the good stuff. So, easy breezy: Name your three favorite, or two favorite or one favorite, album covers of all time and why.

Bun B, newly appointed assistant professor, Rice University (right): Eric B and Rakim, Paid In Full. They were cool, rich and not to be played with! Looking at that cover made me wanna rap. Geto Boys, We Can't Be Stopped. The rawest album cover I've ever seen. As real as it gets. Will, Bill and 'Face. Ice T, Power. The front looked like they were just posing, but when you flipped it around you saw they were hiding guns.

Lil Flip: Top three album covers of all time: Mine are Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle, Outkast, Aquemini and Lil Flip, Ahead of My Time.

Montana: First up, Blueprint 3 [Jay-Z]. That was the best album cover of recent history. Check the YouTube video of how they made it. Second, Graduation [Kanye West]. The guy who drew that is a beast. Third, I'm goin' old school: Abbey Road, the Beattles. It's just a picture, but what a classic picture.

Hollywood FLOSS: Aquemini. At the time, could've been a comic book and I was heavy into comics at the time, so I would have bought just cause. I Am. Nas changed the game with that one, and had everyone spooked at the same time; dope imagery comparing himself to [King] Tut. Electric Circus is a collage of faces, and I've always been a fan of collages showing what people like. Art of Fiscal Intelligence was supposed to be like that but the graphic designer flaked on me, so I admire Common's.

hasHBrown: The Roots, Things Fall Apart. This album actually had multiple covers, which isn't done much in hip-hop. The particular cover I chose is a very strong image and can be interpreted to mean different things. One thing that it does do is provoke emotion before you even get to listen to the music.

Kanye West, Graduation. Again, this is actual cover "art," not a rapper posing looking cool on the cover. The bright colors and images speak to a lot of what's going on sonically on this album. Graduation has some huge songs on it and this cover really stands out, as did the album.

Outkast, Aquemini. It's just the illest cover in my opinion. It's a psychedelic painting of two ATLiens, what more do you want? I'd also like to add that Outkast always had a drawing of a naked lady printed on the actual CDs, which was very cool too. I doubt that it's coincidence that one of the best covers was made for one the best albums of all time.

As for Kanye's controversial cover, I think folks should lighten up and allow art to be art. If you want to have an edited version of the cover too, get it in Wal-Mart/Target/Bestbuy, cool. Retailers should just shut up and sell the product, drive business into their locations and not worry about censorship of album art. If we walked the aisles of Wal-Mart right now I bet we could find something offensive to someone.

Kyle Hubbard: Atmosphere, You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having: This album cover is so badass because it sums up the majority of the lyrical content that is explored musically on this project. You have Slug looking miserable in what looks to be an AA meeting that only he showed up to. Also, you got him smoking a cigarette with a "No Smoking" sign in clear view. What a hard-ass.

Jay-Z, The Blueprint 3: Now this is some high-class stuff right here. I think it says a lot about the artist that Jay has become at this point in his career. To me, it says to the world that Jay-Z is hip-hop, and his music will always transcend whatever trend is hot at the moment.

Hip-hop has become more and more digital sounding as it has grown up, from tracks driven solely by synth lines to auto-tune and so forth. To me, the imagery of this cover, with the collection of classic organic instruments, does a lot to help Jay-Z stand as a true musician in the classic sense. It's just a really thought provoking picture, especially in today's digital landscape.

Outkast, ATLiens: I am a huge comic-book buff and I am a huge Outkast fan; there was no way I wasn't going to fall in love with that cover. I don't really see any deeper meaning or anything, it's just dope as hell.

I would have said Nas' Illmatic, but I am pretty sure someone else is going to say that so I left it off. And for bonus points, the coolest comic-book cover of all time is Batman and Robin #13. Robin taking the crowbar to Joker; hells yeah.

Renzo: Busta Rhymes, When Disaster Strikes: This album cover has to be one of the best because it represented who the artist was at the time very well. It embodied all of who Busta Rhymes was at the time; the crazy dude in the corner who could explode at anytime.

Devin, The Dude: A lot of people add "The Dude" along with Devin, but it actually comes from his first album. Now people say "Devin the Dude," but either way, his first album cover was wonderful. It was just him reading the paper taking a shit. His first single from that album I heard was called "Boo Boo'n" and that's how I knew I wanted to listen to what else he had to offer.

DMX, Flesh of my Flesh, Blood of my Blood: This album cover told me that this dude was different from the other artists that were out during the time. Then I heard the loyalty and pain from the songs and realized what was going on with the album cover and title. Excellent idea in my eyes. Damn all the graphics and photoshop, just let me know who I'm about to listen to.

Brad Gilmore: Yeah I agree, Kanye's choices as of late are questionable (I'm not a fan of the album title either), but when you talk about album covers, Kanye has one of my favorites.

When Graduation dropped in '07, it was the first Kanye album I heard from front to back. I didn't know much about Kanye, but when I saw the Graduation cover in the iTunes new release section, it made me click on it. The cover by itself is just cool. It gave the album a different look from other hip-hop album covers, and it was more than a picture if the rappers face. I think it really encapsulated the albums overall sound.

Another favorite of mine isn't really an album cover, it was a single. Jay Electronica's cover for Exhibit C was really cool. It looked like a picture of Tesla making some sort of crazy electric machine, and I guess that somehow illustrates Jay Electronica's message of the song.

Lastly, the cover to Kid Cudi's debut album Man On the Moon: The End of the Day, is quite possibly my favorite album cover ever. I don't care if it's the one on the regular version or the deluxe version of the CD, it's just a really awesome cover. It obviously went along with the album name, and the lead single of the album, "Day N Night." It just furthers Cudi's impact that he's brought to the game, he dares to be different.

Nash White:

Needs no explanation.

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