In the cover for Madlib and MF Doom’s collaborative project, better known together as Madvillain, you get MF Doom in his metal face mask reminiscent of the villain Doctor Doom from Marvel Comics. The notorious black and white helps paint an image of a real Hip-Hop villain. The splash of color in the right corner helps add a nice contrast.
So, can a album’s artwork influence your perception of a body of work?
I certainly think it can.
Some album covers give you an expectation. You may have already heard some singles off the album prior to listening to the full project but certain covers give you an over-all idea of what to expect.
A$AP Rocky’s At.Long.Last.Asap is a good example (great album by the way). In the cover we have Rocky holding his face with his hands but we see several different faces. We also see a face with a birth mark that belongs to his late comrade A$AP Yams. So, already you can tell this is going to be a trippy and experimental album and also that it’s in memory of A$AP Yams. You can already expect a shoutout or two.
Kero Kero Bonito, an indie pop group with bilingual lyrics often have covers like this with colors that “pop.” Get it? Pop music? Usually Sarah, the frontwoman for the band is featured, as it is mainly her vocals that appear on the songs. She often wears “cute,” “glamorous,” or “kawaii” clothing. This is fitting because their lyrics are filled with Japanese and the production is often a glossy, bubblegum, cheery, cutesy type of music.
There are certain album covers that make more sense after listening to the album itself. Take for example, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, a play on the book title To Kill a Mockingbird.
In this album, pictured are friends of Lamar from his neighborhood, shown here flashing money and holding liquor bottles. Even the younger ones in this can be seen holding money. This is characteristic of what Kendrick Lamar grew up with. Growing up he saw a lot of hustling and partying as well. If you notice, the White House sits in the background and what looks like a dead judge lays at their feet. This is a statement on the injustice African-Americans face everyday in America. The fallen judge signifies that they’ve beaten the injustice.
Lamar surrounded by his friends can be interpreted as, when Kendrick reaches the top, he is taking his neighborhood with him. The album talks a lot about race dynamics and politics. You might think the cover is just your typical “we’re taking over” rap theme until you reach deeper.
Some album covers are more blatant. Take Joey Bada$$’s All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$.
In this album, Joey criticizes the American government and speaks on the injustices and struggles many African-Americans face at the hands of an “oppressor.” The paisley American flag represents another side of America that’s often looked over. He states here that he is All-American and should not be ignored or suppressed. The play on the infamous name of racist radical group The KKK sandwiched between the letters that spell America also suggests there is going to be themes of race and oppression.
All in all, I think good album artwork is essential for a good album. I’m of the variety who like aesthetics. I think the artwork goes hand in hand with the music and has to make sense. You wouldn’t want a grungy looking album cover for a teen girl group. It would just leave people confused and is distasteful. I think it’s what makes music so multi-dimensional. Music is not just auditory anymore but you have the static album artwork and music videos, which is film and music combined, adding to the experience.
Thank you for reading this somewhat long post. Until the next one.