04-02-2015: Album Artwork Trends

by on March 27, 2015

    A music artist’s album is a gift from the artist to their fans. But how many gifts do we receive, and forget to check out the wrapping paper? Similarly, we do this when it comes to album covers; paying little-to no attention. But there are times when we stumble across one-of-a-kind album covers that are completely adorable, controversial, artistic, or just plain random.


1. The Childhood Photo

The infamous album cover to the Notorious BIG’s album, Ready To Die (1994) features B.I.G. as a toddler. The contrast in the title versus the picture are both shocking and genius. Featuring both the fear of death and the joy of life (as a child). Although, the album artwork was never quite explained, in an interview with The Show, B.I.G. explained the content of the album:

“If I was dead, I wouldn’t have to worry about nothing…If I was dead I’d be a lot better off.”

Knowing that the content of the album had nothing to do with suicide, took a little eeriness away from the title of the album.In the next years, the tactic of putting one’s infant picture on the album cover would be duplicated. Infamously by, Nas on Illmatic (1994), and later by Lil’ Wayne on Tha Carter III (2008).


2. The Controversial Picture

On his latest LP, How To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar uses a controversial picture for his album cover. The photo features a group of black men (and possibly a woman) surrounding a dead government official, that closely resembles Ronald Reagan. The backdrop in the photo is the White House, and a young boy is strategically placed where the parental advisory note is stamped, holding up the middle finger. Making the artwork a possible stinge towards the Reagan administration’s call on culture wars.

To simplify, the artwork to the album is a symbol of protest, much like the title of the album, which is a play on the novel by Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (1960), a fictional metaphor of how the U.S. justice system was skewed in the 1930s. Similarly, The Roots’ 1999 album, Things Fall Apart featured an old picture of a young black male and female running from white police officers. The title also stemming from a novel, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958).


3. The Artistic Self-portrait

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998) is Lauryn’s Hill most iconic album to date. The album cover features an etched portrait of Hill on a wooden school desk, perfectly coinciding with the title of the album. The title of the album was inspired by The Miseducation of the Negroe (1933) by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, an innovating book about the African diaspora influence on the U.S.

In the album, Hill discusses past and present experiences in her life to shatter common misconceptions, similar to the intent of Woodson’s book.

In an interview, Hill explains the intent of her album:

“With this album, I wasn’t looking for perfection, I was looking for feeling.”


4. The Random Cover

Sometimes there are album covers that do not correlate with the title, or content of an album. An example of this would be Red Hot Chili Pepper’s LP cover for I’m With You (2011). The album cover features a fly sitting on a pill- different from the title of the LP. When asked about the inspiration behind the picture, band member, Anthony Kledis, there really is no explanation.

“It’s art. Iconic. We didn’t give its meaning but it’s clearly up for interpretation.” According to Stereogum.

Similarly, the artwork to Kanye West’s 2010 album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, features two disfigured people possibly have intercourse. The picture caused the album to be banned from Wal Mart due to its nudity.

Now that you know the back stories regarding the packaging of music. Will you pay attention?