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JAKE ROBINSON'S TOP 30 OLD SKOOL RAP ALBUM COVERS OF ALL TIME
As a kid growing up, my uncle David turned me on to the two passions in my life. The first one was baseball. Still to this day, I sometimes have delusions of grandeur, when it comes to baseball. I find myself on the couch, watching another loss by my beloved Orioles, and I can't help but think, If Buck Showalter would just give me a chance, I could break this game wide open with a bases clearing triple. There is no doubt in my mind, that I can do better than Mark Reynolds and his scary .198 batting average. My second love is Hip-Hop. Not the garbage you hear today, but real rap. At the risk of sounding like an old curmudgeon, today's rappers are terrible. They rely on overproduced beats, nonsensical nursery rhymes and lots of talk about how much money they have. Rarely do you find lyricist in the game today, while rappers like Immortal Technique or The Jedi Mind Tricks are forced underground because they know that's where the real hip-hop fans are. This is about the golden age of rap. Before IPod, before LiL Wayne and his 500 mixtapes with songs that have no meaning whatsoever. Before pretty rappers who can sing like Drake. Before dudes started naming themselves Gucci. In almost every other genre of music, the classics are revered. However, when it comes to rap the youngsters could care less about the brothers who paved the way for today. I find that both aggravating and sad. So this is for all you REAL rap fans out there. Hopefully these album covers will take you back, and remind you of better days gone by.
30. THE WORLD CLASS WRECKING CRU: World Class (1985)
I am not going to lie to you. This album cover makes the list because it's just flat out funny. The silly garish Commodores like outfits, high toned makeup and of course the jerri curl mullet, is always enough to send me over the top. However, if you look closer, you'll notice the two founders of the soon to be west coast gangsta sound in Dr. Dre (far left) and DJ Yella.(2nd Left). It makes me chuckle when I think of DJ Yella trading in that white glove for the black and silver of Raiders and Kings gear
29. SCHOOLLY D: Am I Black Enough For You? (1989)
A political climate was taking over the rap world at this time. Schooly D is arguably one of the first rappers to consistently use curse words to convery his thoughts and vision. A true east coast gangster rapper, who felt the need the need to change with the current evolution of rhyme. I always saw the irony in this album cover. Basically, Schoolly posed in front of the African colors of red, black and green, and threw the word black in seven of the album's titile tracks. However, there really wasn't much of a black conscience message. He was still the same hardcore Schoolly that we all loved, and it proved that Schoolly D had the insight to view the changing landscape of rap, and adapt. He now does the theme song for the anime cult favorite, The Boondocks.
28. NOTORIOUS BIG: Ready To Die (1994)
Smashing debut album of the bad boy out of Brooklyn. I loved the the clean white background, highlighted by the red and black font. Of course there is no taking your eyes off of the Adorable young Christopher Wallace, with the blown out Afro, and the far away look. A look that always seemed to say to me," I know something that you don't." Of course next to the innocent baby is the ever present parental advisory sticker, which always struck me as ironic.
27. BIG DADDY KANE: Long Live The Kane (1998)
The Smooth Operator's first album, shines like a diamond, and has a funny backstory. Designer, Jeff Janks originally, at Kane's request was to do an album cover, with Big Daddy surrounded by 24 female slaves. Janks convinced the good looking relatively unknown to compartmentalize his ambitions, and put the focus on the rapper instead of the women. The move was a stroke of genius, as Big Daddy Kane sits on his throne, attended by three drop dead gorgeous love slaves. One of the first B-boys to set aside the customary t-shirts and jeans for fine tailored suits.
26. SNOOP DOGGY DOGG: Doggystyle (1993)
After his meteoric rise as Dr. Dre's sidekick Snoop blows the doors off the rap world with his debut solo album. This cover had a retro feel to it, going back to the days of break dancing and graffiti. The sophomoric cartoon depicts the Snoopy D-O Double on the prowl for some bitches. When I look at this album now it takes me back to the G-funk era, and how Death Row Records made their niche in the hip hop world.
25. THE JUNGLE BROTHERS: Straight Out The Jungle (1988)
I just listened to this album the other day and it still holds up. The cover flows well with the spiritual rythmic sounds of The JB's. In the age of the dookie links, the Jungle Brothers were always proud of their black medallions, no gold. They also introduced JimBrowski and jimmy hats to the hip hop venacular. The vibrant colors made me fell like they were truly straight out the jungle, the jungle, the brothers, the brothers.
24. WU-TANG CLAN: Enter the 36 Chambers
Classic album cover that portrayed everything the Wu is about. Their urban assault upon the hip hop culture,was gritty and relentless. One of the things that originally caught my eye from this piece was that beautiful W logo. As far as Rap aesthetics is concerned it was probably the most visually appealing logo, since the fabled Public Enemy sniper logo. Incorporating the Kung- Fu gimmick on the cover was a clever twist. Upon it's release the album screamed, "I'm different, I'm original, I AM AUTHENTIC HIP HOP!!!!"
23. GETO BOYS: We Can't Be Stopped (1991)
At a time when silly top 40 rap groups were cashing in on pedestrian, safe rhymes, The Geto Boys were putting out vicious, brutal lyrics about their lives in the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas.They were grim unapologetic tales about the streets. There was nothing fancy about this cover. In fact it is quite the opposite. This cover makes the list because of shock value. After a night of much drinking, the diminutive band member Bushwick Bill, got into a fight with his girlfriend. He would later attempt to shoot himself in a suicide craze. This album is a picture of the self inflicted wounds, shortly after that near tragic night.
22. BOOGIE DOWN PRODUCTIONS: Criminal Minded (1987)
Like most great musicians in any genre, if you last long enough in the business it is because you were able to evolve, while staying true to yourself. The Godfather of rap, Mr. KRS-1 is a clear representation of that notion. You know your the man, when they name a whole burrough in New York after you. The Boogie Down Bronx native grew up in many foster homes, as a youth. He was a little angrier than the Chris Parker we know today. He had an edge to him, and his first couple of albums was a reflection of that. Unfortunately the man to his right, DJ Scott LaRock, was shot and killed shortly after the release of this album. This would have indelible impact on KRS' life and would have a carry over effect to his music.
21. PUBLIC ENEMY: Yo Bumrush The Show (1987)
When I look at this cover, it still sends shivers of delight up my spine. I remember the first time I held this in my hand and thought to myself that I wanted to be a member of Public Enemy. In my humble opinion, this is one of the most important albums in the history of rap music. Instead of the braggadocio nature of hip hop, PE was able to offer a much different view of the world and the problems in society. This was a pro-black Afrocentric group, that had the ability to crossover into other segments of society. The famous sniper logo is actually a picture that band front man Chuck D took of LL Cool J's boy E Love. After a couple of phases in the copier machine with the famous silhouette, Chuck simply drew a scope over it, and voila, the rest is history.
20. DE LA SOUL: De La Soul is Dead (1991)
By 1991 The rap group De La Soul was tired of being labeled as the hippies of hip-hop. In an attempt to shed that label they put this album out. I love the simplicity of this cover. Much like their good friends The Jungle Brothers, De La would put out these classic painting covers out. Even though the colors were vibrant, there is a feeling of something really special just died. The group would go on to put a few singles out, but the De La era was truly over as we knew them.
19. RUN DMC: King Of Rock (1985)
The cover is straight and to the point. In the rap world, these two giants from Queens, New York will always be remembered as the Kings Of Rock. The piercing eyes, the black Fedora hats and Darryl Mac with his his custom made Gazelles dominate this cover. The classic example of less is more.
18. NOTORIOUS B.I.G: Life After Death (1997)
This somber dark cover is ultimately a prophecy of things to come. One of the greatest MC's to ever live was gunned down in L.A shortly before the release of this mega smash record. Whenever I see this cover now, I am filled with sadness. Looking at the Goliath of a man, leaning sadly against the Hearst, I now know that it was a painful dress rehearsal for his own demise.
17. X-CLAN: To The East Blackwards (1990)
Whatever happened to these guys anyway? This album was a masterpiece. The album cover was an instant classic. While keeping a firm grasp on space and time, it also offers the black community a way to go forward by going back.The visages of prominent black leaders such as Malcom, Martin and Marcus Garvey among others dominate the landscape of this album. The X-clan was probably a little late to cash in on their genius, as the Afrocentric era of rap was winding down. However, this album will always be protected by the red, the black and the green... you sissies!!
16. BOOGIE DOWN PRODUCTIONS: By All Means Necessary (1988)
The follow up smash album to Criminal Minded. This album cover is a redefining moment for KRS. After the death of Scott La Rock,Chris saw himself as someone who had to push a generation towards self determination by all means necessary. Using a famous photograph of Malcolm X as his base of inspiration, The front man saw himself as a the figurehead of a new rap movement.
15. AFRIKA BAMBAATAA AND THE SOUL SONIC FORCE: Planet Rock The Album(1982)
Afrika, without question became the face of the electro age of rap. This was a time when rap was splitting off into sub genres and the DJ's of this time, were getting away from the constant funk loops of the day,and setting forward with drum machines and electronic sounds emanating from Europe. By taking the street raps and combining them with space age sounds, blended with an out of this world image to match, Afrika struck a chord with his out of this worldliness. The covers of Bambaattaa are epic. They gave the aura of space age heroes, in a brave new world of break dancing, scratching,rapping and graffiti.
14. ICE CUBE: Death Certificate (1991)
Truly a classic album cover in the Hip Hop culture. Here we see the same edgy Ice cube that we all love. The angry rapper,who since his days of NWA, was always ready and willing to wage war against the government establishment. Finally ridding himself of the silly Jerri curl, Cube looks more mature and ready for the hardships that the world offers. Uncle Sam wrapped in an American flag, was a classic touch, that did exactly what it sent out to do. Create controversy and more importantly dialogue.
13. THE DIABOLICAL BIZ MARKIE: The Biz Never Sleeps (1989)
This album captures the silliness and fun that is Biz Markie. Many people fail to realize the talent that this man possesses. There is a funny element that draws you to Biz. But to his core, he is everything that is right about hip-hop. This cover always seemed apropos to me. I always pictured the diabolical genius in some makeshift studio lab, cooking up new beat box sounds, rhythms and dope lyrics.
12. 2 LIVE CREW: As Nasty As They Wanna Be (1992)
I never really was a fan of 2 Live Crew for their rapping ability. I found their style to be kind of lame and generic. But man, those guys could put out a video, loaded with some of the hottest women on the planet. The Luke Skywalker beats were very advanced, and their hooks were sure to make a party or two jump off. This was by far their best album cover. The big dookie links hanging from their necks. The contrast of colors between the ocean and the sand.And oh yeah, the beautiful backsides of Miami's finest.
11. BEASTIE BOYS: Liscense to Ill (1986)
The first relevant white rappers in the game. In hindsight, it was probably a stroke of genius not putting the Brooklyn trio's faces on the album cover. What started out as a novelty album turned into a Def Jam phenomenon. At first glance, the cover seems very basic and rudimentary. The tail of a Private Jet is hardly anything worth taking seriously. However, as you opened the album, and the sleeves fall into place, you notice the rest of the jet fall into place, and the front of the craft has crashed into a wall. The tip of the plane then takes on a smashed beer can like effect, and the wrinkles in the metal haven't reached the pristine fuselage yet. I can still to this day remember, the day I bought this album, opened it, and stared at that jet like a moron for twenty minutes.
10. LL COOL J: Bad (1987)
The Bigger and Deffer album cover was a true illustration of the rap world in 1987. The arrogant ruler of rap at that time, in his B-boy stance, out on Farmers Blvd. in Queens, New York. The dark contrast in the background, with the plush car, gold dookie links, Air Jordan kicks, and the LL trademark Kango hat, personifies everything that Cool J was about. His message was very simple, I look better than you, I make more money than you, I'm better than you , and there is nothing you can do about it.
9. NWA: Straight outta Compton (1988)
Photographer Eric Poppelton, was able to accomplish everything that the worlds most dangerous group was aiming for on this cover. It's unabashed. unapologetic, violent and intimidating. This album was a stark contrast to the mainly east coast dominated rap scene at that time. While the east coast had "hoods" the west coast had "gangstas." One of the best selling underground albums, pre internet, with literally no help from radio stations. The group would assure their place in rap history, and it all started with this cover.
8. AFRIKA BAAMBAATTAA AND THE SOUL SONIC FORCE: Renegades of Funk (1984)
Afrika's covers still strike a chord with me. They were ahead of their time, and always seemed to stretch my imagination. I had never seen a crew of black superheroes in my life before. I mean let's be honest, it's very rare when you see one, let alone a whole crew of them. This album is becoming more and more rare as the years pass, but it will never be forgotten.
7. 2PAC: The Don Killuminati: The Seven Day Theory (1997)
Pac at his self righteous best. First of all, this album was the bomb. The fact that it was released within days of the icon's death, gives the album a genuine creepiness factor. If you closed your eyes when this album came out, and listened to "Hail Mary". It was almost as if Pac was singing to you from the grave. Before his death, 2Pac was quickly amassing enemies around every corner. From congresswomen Delores Tucker, to various police agencies, to the much publicized feud with Bad Boy Records. Pac was at a point in his life where he felt crucified for his shortcomings. Putting his likeness on a cross, only made more enemies in the church. I never understood the uproar over this album. It's not like Jesus Christ was the only person who was ever crucified. I love the shock value of this cover, as well as the fact that Pac had the stones to put it out there.
6. OL DIRTY BASTARD: Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version (1995)
This cover encapsulates everything that the ODB was about. His self depricating style, and humor shines through on this one, as the late rapper took his Independent Food Stamp coupon and boldly shows it for the world to see. After years of reflection,about this cover, I realize that Dirty, was in essence, showing rap fans his ghetto credentials.
5. RUN DMC: Run Dmc (1984)
As the Cool Herc, Afrika Baambaattaa, electro age was winding down, Run DMC and LL Cool J were the next big superstars in hip-hop. I love this album because it was beginning to break away from the space age genre and moving towards a more grittier and dark look. It was as if rap was finally getting away from the disco era. Look ma, no shoe laces, cause I'm down with the kings....
4. ERIC B. AND RAKIM: Paid In Full (1987)
One of the greatest rap albums of all time.This cover was the ostentatious B-boy age at it's best. The Dapper Dan suits, the blatant arrogance and love of jewelry and money. Rakim set the bar on the mic and this album cover will go down as one of the best ever.
3. GRAND MASTER FLASH AND THE FURIOUS FIVE: The Message (1992)
This cover makes the list for the same reason that The World Class Wrecking Cru made the top 30. It's just plain funny. To this day I still love the big boom box and the clothes that just scream 1982. If you were walking all alone, in a New York alley, and you happen to come across these guys. Be prepared for an all out break dancing war to pop off.
2. PUBLIC ENEMY: It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)
Brilliant conceptual art that captures the Public Enemy view. Adorned with the awesome sniper logo, we see Chuck D. and Flava Flav behind bars. The prison cell symbolizes much more than the fact that one of every three black males are imprisoned. It is the hope of Public Enemy that one can be freed from an even worse prison, the prison of ones own mind. I remember my good friend Dave Peabody once say to me," In ten years you won't even remember Public Enemy." That dude couldn't have been more wrong. This album cover will go down in infamey.
1. A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: Midnite Marauders (1993)
Quest released three different versions of this cover, with this one being the most common. Tribe decided to pay homage to all their idols and peers, by capturing them for posterity on an album cover. Some of the rappers to appear are Ice-T, Busta Rhymes and the Beastie Boys among others. The album also has the red, black and green pixie, which has become a staple on the Quest albums. The cover and the music on the album will be timeless and should be admired for generations to come.
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