The impact of cover art may not be acknowledged right out of the gates, but it’s arguably as important as a rapper’s rhymes. Most times, we’re eager to dive right into the music, but if striking enough, the album and mixtape artwork of a project can affect us just as much as the music does.
Back in the 1980s, Philly-bred rapper Schoolly D took the creative direction of his self-titled, debut album into his own hands. He illustrated the cover himself, plastered with b-boys who substituted their aggressively-placed curse words with PG-13 terms like “flucking.” His style of design could’ve easily been placed on the back of a cereal box for all hood kids to spit their milk on as they read the puzzles and ingredients during breakfast. But those visceral reactions would soon have their moments.
As time went on, these illustrated covers went from cool to controversial, as is the case with Snoop Dogg‘s Doggystyle cover in 1993. The artwork, done by Uncle Snoop’s cousin, received backlash due to its’ degrading imagery of a girl dog in lingerie attempting to get in a dog house while an adult version of Snoop reaches for her. The power of the illustrated cover art was acknowledged again and repurposed at this point, with artists realizing that they could start their album campaign visually way before the music began. And outwardly, rap fans learned that seeing illustrated cartoon art on an album cover doesn’t mean it will be appropriate.
Decades later, staple covers like Lil Uzi Vert‘s Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World have gained just as much attention as the songs within the project. And hallucinogenic designs like that of Trippie Redd‘s Life’s A Trip or J. Cole‘s KOD have forced our eyes to appreciate unworldly imagery. Cartoons, paintings and drawings aren’t always sweet and elegant, but when done correctly, they can take a project up a whole other notch and stick with you forever.
Today, XXL looks at the 25 best illustrated album and mixtape covers of all time. Tap in.
See 25 of the Best Illustrated Album and Mixtape Covers of All Time