Image by RNGLDR Mag
Since its genesis, hip-hop has always been a genre of boldness, egoism, and audacity.
Over the years, these traits have manifested themselves in many ways that are not only unique, but crucial to rap history. The culture has seen strong fashion choices, dark subject matter, charismatic characters, and the all too familiar rap beef to name a few. Another fascinating way that hip-hop’s cutting edge has been implemented is in the album art. Although obviously not specific to the genre itself, the album cover has always been a unique space in rap for these big personalities to shine through to the audience. Some notable classic album cover examples are Dr. Dre’s spin on the iconic Zig-Zag logo for The Chronic, Public Enemy’s incarcerated protest on It Takes a Nation… and of course, the legendary Geto Boys cover for We Can’t Be Stopped, which features an image of Bushwick Bill in the hospital after getting shot in the eye.
This striking and downright badass spirit of rap hasn’t left, and it’s still prominent in today’s covers. That’s why we reflected on the past decade to bring you this list of hip-hop’s ten hardest covers in recent history. We selected only the best, most creative, and wildest album artworks for your viewing pleasure, and even included a specialized rating scale for each one. The process was fun, challenging, and in the most brilliant moments, absolutely repulsive.
THE HARDEST Hip-Hop Album Covers in Recent History
Pray for Paris – Westside Gunn
Westside Gunn’s recent full-length album Pray for Paris didn’t have to go this hard with the cover art. Not only does the modernized take on Caravaggio’s classic painting “David holding the head of Goliath” render an extremely striking aesthetic juxtaposition, it’s cohesive with the album’s sound. The cover takes a classic image and puts it into a newer rap context, much like how Gunn’s more traditional boombap beats are fused with contemporary trap subject matter. It’s also a rare blast from the past as Virgil Abloh’s artwork reflects back on his Pyrex Vision days. What a powerful reminder in today’s commercial age that real hip-hop, true to its core, is a renaissance art form.
Rating: 8.5 discontinued streetwear brands out of 10.
Nothing Great About Britain – slowthai
In 2019, slowthai took Britain and the world of hip-hop by storm. On his debut album, he expresses his angst and frustration with Brexit, Britain’s rise of far-right nationalism, and the current welfare of the country. In channeling his frustration, he often performs while holding a fake severed head of Boris Johnson and calls Queen Elizabeth a cunt. These actions have stirred controversy, even earning himself terrorist accusations. On his album cover, slowthai taunts UK’s far-right by acknowledging these accusations. He depicts himself standing naked and captive in a town square while bystanders wave the UK flag at him. What’s harder than mocking the far right’s sensitivity to politically conscious hip-hop?
Rating: 8.2 post Brexit existential episodes out of 10
Daytona – Pusha T
If Pusha T’s catastrophic annihilation of Drake on “The Story of Adidon” indicated anything, it’s that the veteran drug dealer turned rapper gives no fucks. Not a single one. That’s probably why, on his outstanding 2018 album Daytona, he used a picture of the late Whitney Houston’s drug littered bathroom for the cover. But the morbid image of fatal addiction was more than just a shocking gimmick for press (it still got plenty of press), it was painfully accurate. Daytona’s adult contemporary approach to trap music removed the gloss and glamor and gave it to us straight with all of the daunting realities. Consider this cover a disclaimer: proceed with caution. If only Drake had heeded the warning.
Rating: 9.8 kilograms of cocaine out of 10
Jeffery – Young Thug
Over the years, Jeffrey Williams, a.k.a., Young Thug, has said things that have led listeners to ponder his sexuality. For example, he’s compared the blunts he smokes to penises and has lyrics like “I just did a week in jail and caught me three new bitches.” In response, Young Thug’s received homophobic criticism from his fans and peers, including 21 Savage. After his 2015 breakout album, The Barter 6, Young Thug decided to go full savage and wear a dress on the cover of his highly anticipated 2016 self-titled follow-up album, Jeffrey. In a controversial decision, Young Thug shows that he is comfortable with himself and does not care what anyone thinks, a choice guaranteed to keep his fans guessing and the homophobes raging. In a hypermasculine, sometimes homophobic genre, what’s harder than not giving a fuck and wearing a dress on an album cover?
Rating: 9 antebellum dresses out of 10.
Gahdamn! – D.R.A.M
Extra points for creativity go out to D.R.A.M. for his comic book inspired album art on 2015’s Gahdamn! The cover depicts the album as a D.R.A.M issue number one where the vocalist is shown as a giant amongst skyscrapers, slapping the shit out of Godzilla with a smile on his face. The bottom right corner shows civilians looking on in amazement while the title is displayed as an expression right above the hand striking Godzilla’s face. And as D.R.A.M strikes upon the beast with a mighty “Gahdamn!” he elegantly fuses the line between album title and onomatopoeia.
Rating: 8 hyperbolic comic books out of 10.
Yeezus – Kanye West
It seems oddly fitting that Kanye West’s most controversial, egomaniacal, and chaotic album gets its most simplistic, ethereal, and nostalgic album cover yet. The album cover offers Yeezus a much-needed juxtaposition between Kanye’s self-indulgent, trap- and drill-inspired madness and the reminiscent years where fans would actually listen to Kanye West’s music on CDs. In his proclamation of “I am a god”, Kanye West essentially subverts expectations for him to have an extravagant album cover with a meaningful connection to the music, by having a very plain and serene album cover. The incredibly simple style of album art inspired many artists, including french techno producer, Gesaffelstein, who used a very similar album cover a few months later on his own debut album. Somehow by doing very little, Kanye is still doing a lot.
Rating: Yeezus has been disqualified as the presence of an actual album cover is under contention.
Based on a T.R.U. Story – 2 Chainz
His name is 2 Chainz, his debut album cover features literally just two chains. What else is there to explain?
Rating: 2 chainz out of 2.
Jesus Piece – The Game
Religion and hip-hop have always gone hand in hand, on aesthetic surface levels and deep levels of subject matter. This connection is multi-generational; Tupac’s “Hail Mary” remains a classic to this day and Kodak Black has in, recent memory, asked the question to the superficial, “You don’t even believe in Jesus. Why you got a Jesus piece?” Perhaps the prominence of religious imagery in rap might have something to do with this Jesus Piece cover from The Game. This artwork powerfully unites religious and rap aesthetics as a gangster Jesus is shown in a stained glass window wearing a chain of… himself of course. Not only is this cover from The Game creative, it’s gorgeous.
Rating: 8.8 religious accessories out of 10.
#santanaworld – Tay-K
In hip-hop music, the lines between being hard, moral, and authentic are often blurred. Few artists have highlighted this dilemma like Tay-K, whether he realizes it or not. While severely lacking morality, Tay-k was one of the hardest and most authentic rappers in the game until his 55-year sentence for being excessively hard and authentic (to put it lightly). Many hip-hop artists rap about robbing, murdering, and running from the police, but only Tay-k actually does it. Then here’s the kicker: he uses photographic evidence as his cover art. It seems like a joke, but it’s not.
Rating: 8.4 pieces of self-incriminating evidence out of 10.
No Love Deep Web – Death Grips
If you know, you know. Google this one at your own risk.
Rating: 9.5 sharpee riddled penises out of 10.