Hip-Hop 50: Bold, Breakthrough Covers Selected by Andre Torres of Warner Music Group

Eric B. & Rakim, Westside Gunn, Public Enemy and more

As hip-hop turns 50, we explore wild, wonderful and impassioned album art that's helped rap remake the cultural landscape forever. Here are some of Andre's personal favorites.

Rammellzee and K-Rob
Beat Bop (1983)

My personal holy grail. Designed and released by Jean Michel Basquiat, it doubles as not only a seminal document of hip-hop history, but also a playful early work by a modern art genius.

De La Soul
3 Feet High and Rising (1989)

My favorite hip-hop album from my favorite hip-hop group, this album broadened my perspective on the boundless creativity hip-hop had to offer. The Grey Organisation-designed cover boldly translated the "Daisy Age" musical concept into a visual one.

Eric B. & Rakim
Paid In Full (1987)

No other album cover speaks to the visual aesthetic that has come to define hip-hop culture. Dapper Dan Gucci track suits, dookie gold chains, and stacks of cash—still the blueprint over three decades later.

Strictly Business (1988)

I've always been fascinated by creative process and this album cover was my first peek into a hip-hop recording studio. I was fascinated by the lights on the board and glowing buttons and monitors. Throw Haze's type-driven logo and designer Susan Huyser's diagonal placement of the album title in the mix and you've got all the elements of a classic.

Public Enemy
Fear of a Black Planet (1990)

I was torn between this PE cover and "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" but ultimately decided on this one because it's such a high point for the group in so many ways. The result of a perfect trifecta of Chuck D and Hank Shocklee's rock album cover and Star Wars inspiration, Def Jam's in-house creative directors Cey Adams and Steve Carr's design skills, and NASA illustrator B.E. Johnson artwork, this cover signaled a visual paradigm shift in hip-hop design.

Geto Boys
We Can't Be Stopped (1991)

Nothing speaks more to hip-hop's real world graphic realism than this iconic image of the three men responsible for putting southern rap on the map. After a failed suicide attempt resulted in Bushwick Bill losing his eye, he summoned bandmates Scarface and Willie D to the hospital to shoot this album cover and forever cemented his history as a horrorcore pioneer.

Liquid Swords (1995)

Arguably the best solo debut of all the Wu-Tang members but definitively the best cover. Comics artist Denys Cowan expertly translated GZA's weed-induced chessboxin' concept of chess pieces coming to life and battling right on the board.

Ol' Dirty Bastard
Return to the 36 Chambers (1995)

A second Wu member debut, Ol' Dirty Bastard's soul-baring introduction will always have a special place in my heart. Dirty's use of his actual welfare card as the cover speaks to his unbridled creative genius.

Lil Wayne
Tha Carter III (2008)

A musical and aesthetic high-water mark for Wayne, this album cover concept has proven to be a defining theme for a generation of rappers who've made Wayne their GOAT.

Westside Gunn
Pray For Paris (2020)

Art aficionado and consummate aesthete Westside Gunn enlisted Virgil Abloh to bless him with a modern masterpiece. In flipping Caravaggio's David with the Head of Goliath, Virgil provides the perfect visual metaphor for what can be seen as Gunn's unlikely rise to rap stardom.

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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Andre Torres
Andre Torres is the SVP of global catalog development and marketing at Warner Music Group.

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