7 Great Hip-Hop Album Covers, Chosen by Mark Pollard of Sweathead

Aesop Rock, Atmosphere, Celsius and more

I used to host a hip-hop radio show in Sydney, I've written for tens of music magazines around the world, and I published the first full-color hip-hop magazine with a CD in the Southern Hemisphere. I moved from Sydney to New York twelve years ago. I let myself keep two crates of records. The rest I sold. Thousands of records went bye-bye.

How I've approached this task was to ask, which releases evolved how I saw hip-hop and had a decent cover?

Def Wish Cast
Knights Of The Underground Table (1993)

Let's start with Australia's first big album release Def Wish Cast's "Knights Of The Underground Table." Def Wish Cast is one of the most influential hip-hop groups in Australia. They had a hint of that britcore sound and this album was one of the first times many of us saw locals like this on television. Def Wish Cast electrified us.

The Album (1997)

A friend bought me this album a year before I took over the main radio show in Sydney. I was 19. I was partial to early '90s hip-hop—De La Soul, Del, Ice Cube, and, yes, most of the rap that made it onto the television in Australia. But Latyrx felt like they came from another dimension. They were literary, inventive, kind of spiritual when I think about it. I didn't know hip-hop could be like this.

The Lucy Ford EP (2001)

The song that drew me to Atmosphere was "Scapegoat" in 1997. I first heard it on a mixtape. It's Slug rapping almost non-stop over a simple piano riff. It was sparse but Slug's words painted such vivid pictures and he rapped in a way where you felt you could touch his melancholy. The 2001 Lucy Ford EP collected a lot of Atmosphere's earlier released material. Their work with the Rhymesayers crew brought forth a whole new sound and community, especially around Minneapolis.

Celsius (1999)

The mid- to late-'90s saw the Australian hip-hop cottage industry release a lot of cassettes and a handful of vinyl. Celsius was Sereck from Def Wish Cast and Brassknuckles. I think this is one of the most important albums from Australia because it broke rules. Sereck could have done something more orthodox—people would have expected it. But, instead, he teamed up with an eccentric Brass, who was closer to the also-left-field Anticon crew from the States. The sounds were innovative. The album artwork by Dash is exquisite. 

Aesop Rock
Labor Days (2001)

Aesop Rock is an artist and a rapper. He's known for having one of the biggest vocabularies in rap. He's one of those writers who would not tolerate a weak sentence or phrase. Like El-P from Company Flow and Run the Jewels, what he does with words is mind-boggling.

Bottle of Humans (2000)

I'm using Sole's album "Bottle of Humans" to give a shoutout to the label Sole cofounded—Anticon. Anticon popped up in 1998. Tens and tens of rappers and producers have contributed to their releases. Better known members include Sole, Doseone, Jel, Alias (RIP) and Pedestrian. Canada's Buck65 came through as did Sage Francis. Their releases usually came with left-of-field artwork.

Kool Keith
Dr Octagonecologyst (1996)

Dr Octagonecologyst was Kool Keith's first solo album after the Ultramagnetic MCs. Kool Keith didn't drop tracks, he dropped concepts—he'd perform under different names, play weird roles. It was next level.

Art of the Album is a regular feature looking at the craft of album-cover design. If you'd like to write for the series, or learn more about our Clio Music program, please get in touch.

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