Hip hop album art, like the music itself, sometimes samples from and is inspired by other media, from real-life gangsters to vintage flicks. Peep this run down of some of the more notable album covers that drew inspiration from various avenues of pop culture.
Boogie Down Productions – By All Means Necessary (1989)
The stakes had been raised for BDP this time around. Shortly after debuting Criminal Minded in ‘87, BDP lost DJ Scott La Rock, who was killed while trying to settle an argument.
Taking a socially conscious approach this time around, it was fitting that KRS-One borrowed from the infamous photo of Malcolm X peering out a window with a rifle in hand. This difference? This was ‘89. KRS-One was clutching an uzi.
Redman – Dare Iz a Darkside (1994)
Inspired by Funkadelic’s album cover for Maggot Brain, Redman’s second album cover finds his screaming head poking out of the ground. While Funkadelic was certainly an inspiration for the album (the song “Cosmic Slop” is also the name of another Funkadelic album), the art may have a dual meaning.
In 2015, Redman told HipHopWired that the album was recorded during one of the darkest times of his life.
Smif-n-Wessun – Dah Shinin’ (1995)
True beat diggers, Smif-n-Wessun’s Steele and Tek had records on records to go through. They came up with Roy Ayers’ Ubiquity, He’s Coming, and interpolated it into a circle of Boot Camp Clik members circled around an eye.
“Everybody on the album cover is family,” Steele told Watchloud.com in 2015.
M.O.P. – First Family 4 Life (1998)
M.O.P. is synonymous with “intense” as much as anyone or anything in Hip Hop. How can a group translate that onto an album cover? Easy.
Billy Danze and Lil’ Fame picked the cover of the 1997 thriller Face/Off starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage as their jump-off point and even included the song “Facing Off” on the album. Fiyahhh!
— JAY Z Daily (@JAY_Z_Daily) September 11, 2015
Jay-Z – The Blueprint (2001)
This classic photo featuring a cigar-wielding Jigga is inspired by a photograph from Jocelyn Bain Hogg’s 2001 photo collection “The Firm.” The compilation chronicles four years of British gangster activity in stark black-and-white realism. The shot turned out to be the perfect cover for Shawn Carter’s most soul-baring album since Reasonable Doubt.
Lloyd Banks – Rotten Apple (2006)
Banks’ sophomore album was full of gritty NYC rhymes, so it was appropriate that cover bore resemblance to a shot from the 1990 crime film King of New York.
Frank White gazes out a high-rise window of his city while blue lights from a building are reflected in the window. The city is his.
Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III (2008)
By the late-aughts, Hip Hop had been around more than long enough to influence itself. For the third installment of his Tha Carter series, Weezy borrowed from Nas’ Illmatic and The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die to make his cover from his elementary graduation photo.
There was a twist: he photoshopped his grown-man tattoos onto his younger face. Hey, Bruce Wayne has the bat suit, Lil Wayne has the ink.
Donny Goines – The Breakfast Club (2009)
The ‘80s teen classic The Breakfast Club was inspiration in name, theme and artwork for Goines’ 2009 album. Said Goines, “The project title derives from the classic movie and is meant to showcase my versatility and growth, but instead of different characters in a classroom, you have different musicians in a studio. All from different walks of life, different perspectives and different ideas which in the end tie together to create an eclectic blend of music and sounds.”
And don’t forget, John got the girl in the end.
Wiz Khalifa – Kush & Orange Juice (2010)
How do you represent the smooth, airy flyness of the spaced-out music Wiz Khalifa created on his breakout mixtape, Kush & Orange Juice? Wiz did it by giving his take on the artwork of a legend.
For the front cover, Young Khalifa recreated almost to the last detail the cover of the Temptations’ David Ruffin’s final solo album, Gentleman Ruffin. Everything from the suave suit to the classy lady on his arm oozes silky smooth.
Gucci Mane – The Appeal: Georgia’s Most Wanted (2010)
Many rappers boast about their felonious prowess, but Gucci Mane has the rap sheet to back it up. He wasn’t long out of jail when he dropped this album, so a take on the 1995 cult classic The Usual Suspects was right in line (get it?) with both Gucci’s thug talk and his street rep.
Keyser La Flare, for the win.
Smoke DZA – Rolling Stoned (2011)
Smoke DZA is all about the sticky icky. On his first album he paid tribute to Rolling Stone and the legendary Bob Marley, who also was known to indulge in Mary Jane.
The black and white take on the classic magazine cover works well, showing DZA’s eyes emerging from the darkness to show the world what he’s got on his debut.
N.O.R.E. – Drunk Uncle (2016)
Imagine if N.O.R.E. was your uncle; holding rhyme sessions with Capone in your living room, telling you bedtime stories of how Michael Jordan is a scumbag, and giving you your first 40 at age 13. Noreaga is always interesting, just like John Candy’s Uncle Buck, which hilariously inspired his most recent outing.