Tuesday, February 06, 2007


On our long way back from the GetDown, I engaged Angry Tim in a discussion of the best cover art in hip hop history. We went back and forth and I scribbled down names for the intention of this, a post on The Root Down. I don't know what sparked it. Maybe it was an inner monologue about how people don't respect the album anymore because, well, people don't make albums anymore. Maybe I was thinking of Mos Def's latest offering Tru3 Magic (biting my style with the "3") which was only packaged as a CD in a jewel case with absolutely no cover art, liner notes or spinelines. Just a CD in a case.

Either way, what it amounted to was a pissing contest between Angry Tim and I trying to one-up each other on each round. Angry Tim came up with some beauties. I came up with some equally fine choices. The result is this series of posts which will roll out over time. Tonight, however, I'm starting with two of my personal favorites. The Geto Boys' self-titled album and their masterpiece, We Can't Be Stopped and Scarface's solo, Scarface is Back.

Dudes were ahead of their time, f'real. Just keeping it really real. Primitive. Defiant. Their artwork communicated intimidation and street-wise grittiness. Simple text, black and white photos, the necessary warning in the corner. If a picture could capture the meaning of a true gangsta record, it would be within the four corners of the cover above.

After Bushwick was shot in the face, the Boys released We Can't Be Stopped featuring a reinactment of Bush's release from the hospital. While completely rediculous, again the Geto Boys manage to capture and nearly parody the event with Bush clutching to his enormous phone while Willie and Scarface push forward with the look of revenge in their eyes. Sans serif font, exaggerated in size across the top and bottom communicating, simply, the group and the album. Nothing more.

Same approach for Scarface's solo debut. Artist on top, title on bottom. In the middle, sawed-offs being jammed in the forehead of a narc while a fiend is about to plant his face into the middle of a pile of coke. While the imagery portrayed might be somewhat objectionable, what is true is it's a fitting image for an album that accurately depicts street life and the day-to-day grind of a hustla. The simplistic approach to packaging would soon disappear. Mainly because the major labels needed to put out a friendlier outer shell to appeal to merchandisers and retailers and, secondly, cheap cover art unfairly reflected the sense that the contents were an unfinished album. Plus, there's never a shortage of graphic designers ready to sharpen their skills with a cover art gig. These days, the above image would more likely be rendered by a cartoonist or illustrator which makes the image even more striking.

Celtics lose their 15th game in a row. Someone please fire Danny Ainge and hire Kevin McHale.

1 comment:

K-Fleet said...

Yea, it seems like when they dumped Bushwick and got Big Mike, the albums became more commercial. I don't believe we'll ever get back to that gritty and realness since too many labels are scared to market it. Even Brotha Lynch, Esham, and others are watered down versions of what it was.