This list breaks down the best rap album covers ever, from recent releases to historic records that have reach icon status.
The criteria for this countdown include cultural significance, a cover that perfectly reflects the content, and those that are considered pieces of art in their own right.
Let’s jump in and learn about the best rap album covers of all time.
25. Straight Outta Compton (1988) – NWA
The first entry on this list is the N.W.A. powerhouse Straight Outta Compton – an iconic albums, and one of the most instantly recognisable rap album covers.
Despite the simplicity of the image, Straight Outta Compton’s cover contains a power that reflects the contents of the album. The low angle paired with the stares of the rappers suggests that they’ve now got the upper hand and are rising above their original statuses. The dominant mood of the image is exemplified by Eazy-E (far right) pointing a pistol directly at the camera.
The lack of flashiness donned by the photograph lets you know that this group isn’t mucking about. They care about the messages they’re rapping about and suggest you should too.
24. Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version (1995) – Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return to the 36 Chambers cover could be seen as an exaggerated mickey-take on how people perceived him.
ODB’s style was reckless, chaotic, and random. His next moves couldn’t be determined, a stylistic choice that is carried through this album. He played on the idea of blackness, and the ghetto, being associated with being poor – a flaw in the opinion of some at the time – plastering the front of his album with a food coupon identification card.
The contrast between the food coupon card and the success of the album is one giant middle finger to those that doubted him.
23. All Eyez on Me (1996) – 2Pac
If Tupac hadn’t reached the status he did, this rap album cover may not be considered anything special. However, the release of the album followed by the rapper’s sudden death within the same year, made this raw album an even tougher pill to swallow.
Pac is seen on the front donning his signature jewellery, tattoos, and of course, the westside hand gesture. In short, the cover shows the rapper in the most truthful way which is reflected in the album. His gaze directly into the camera seems sombre as we know what is to come.
22. The Never Story (2017) – J.I.D
As we head into the contemporary era, rap album covers start to become more experimental with their style.
This entry from J.I.D instantly catches your eye with its yellow and black colour scheme. When you dive deeper into the image, you can see that people from the entire spectrum of life can be spotted. From criminals to police officers, to joggers, to the homeless, The Never Story captures a snapshot of life (there’s even a version with Where’s Wally lurking amongst the group).
The satisfying composition of the cover is continued in the music with an album that you can hear has been crafted with love.
21. Life After Death (1997) – The Notorious B.I.G
Biggie’s Life After Death was released sixteen days after his murder and the following impact the album had on rap was astronomical.
Although the name of the album is an obvious truth about Biggie’s career, the cover tells a spooky story. The photograph we see was taken before the star’s death. We see the back of a hearse with the rapper leaning beside it. Biggie almost looks like an 18th Century ghost lurking in a smokey graveyard.
Although Biggie had no idea of his fate, it’s certainly an eerie sequence of events forever changing the course of hip-hop.
20. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990) – Ice Cube
Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted album cover feels reminiscent of NWA’s Straight Outta Compton. Both feature a collection of men looking threateningly into the camera.
Ice Cube is in the forefront rubbing his hands together as though about to start a fight. Luckily he has his mates as a backup. The cover is appropriate concerning the content of the album with Cube’s relentless lyrics about various misdeeds and his opinions about women and the police.
The cover is not a photograph but rather a cut-and-paste collage perhaps reflecting the assortment of subjects found within the album.
19. Life’s a Trip (2018) – Trippie Redd
Trippie Redd has managed to create a rap album cover that’s equally interesting and unsettling to look at. He has managed to tap into our human curiosity about things that look almost human but are not quite.
The artwork depicts an idea of life when tripping on drugs. Various household objects have gained sentience while the sun enjoys the chaos. The moon can be seen smoking while we catch a potential glimpse of hell and heaven along the top. A lot is going on.
Despite the trap artist being much like marmite to many, there’s no denying that this cover stops you in your tracks.
18. Bigger and Deffer (1987) – LL Cool J
LL Cool J’s Bigger and Deffer deserves a place on this list for the colour scheme alone. The pale green light reflecting on the building behind him mixed with the red of his car, shoes, t-shirt, and hat make the rapper the striking centrepiece of the image.
The image is taken in front of Andrew Jackson High School from which LL Cool J dropped out. His disregard for standing on his Audi and leaning on the spike of the fence tells you everything you need to know – he defied the odds and became a huge success (in fact, one of the best-selling rappers of all time) despite never finishing school.
17. All For One (1990) – Brand Nubian
The album cover for One For All exudes confidence. From the colourful African art-inspired border to the expressions worn by the band members, you know you’re in for an album that knows what it’s about. Despite the artwork dripping in fun, the contents of the accompanying lyrics are often political and make grand statements.
The styling of the cover cements it in a certain period of time, the turnover from 80s to 90s hip-hop. Those who may be new to the album will get a sense of the rap genre the record contains.
16. E. 1999 Eternal (1995) – Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
Despite Bone Thugs-N-Harmony not managing to cement their legacy, the group (made up of Bizzy Bone, Wish Bone, Layzie Bone, Krayzie Bone, and Flesh-n-Bone) found a lot of success throughout the 1990s with E. 1999 Eternal becoming their best selling album.
The cover has a moody almost apocalyptic scene with derelict buildings, a fiery sky, and a collection of skulls in the bottom right. The cut and pasted group in the foreground seems to have come out of this nightmare unscathed, perhaps alluding to them being stronger, and therefore better, than rappers that have come before.
15. The Score (1996) – Fugees
Fugees’ The Score dons a minimalistic cover that says everything it needs to say. The suffocating black background with just the trio’s faces emerging from the darkness makes for a hard-hitting image that reflects the realities going on behind the scenes.
While many rap albums at the time were founded on gangsta ideals and motifs, Lauryn Hill wanted to create something more positive with the music. Hill’s face shining out in the centre of the cover feels powerful. Accompanied by her bandmates, Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel, The Score feels timeless and is mirrored by the album artwork.
14. Illmatic (1994) – Nas
The best thing about some album covers is attaching your own interpretation to them. However, Nas himself has explained his view of this rap album cover.
In the artwork, we see 7-year-old Nas superimposed on a city street. The rapper explains that it was at this age that he finally realised everything that was going on around him and that his life and future were for him to take, not for someone to hand to him. #
Since its release, the cover for Illmatic has been parodied and tributed multiple times and has become an iconic piece of album art within the rap industry. A truly legendary rap album cover.
13. Punk (2021) – Young Thug
Punk, released in 2021, sees Young Thug gaining the confidence to experiment with his music. With the contents of the album exploring new ideas, it allows the cover to do the same.
Punk is the type of album cover I love. It’s colourful, interesting to look at, and makes you question what’s really going on. We see two men (or is it the same man?) facing one another although their faces are made up of two others, both with their heads down, one playing with dice, the other playing with an instrument. Perhaps this represents the four corners of Young Thug as a musician.
12. Muddy Waters (1996) – Redman
The cut-and-paste style of rap album covers sure did dominate in the 90s with another entry from Redman. The rapper’s discography is largely flawless and Muddy Waters is considered by many the magnum opus of his career.
Muddy Waters sees the rapper lounging in a near-empty room, covered in muck, accompanied only by a small table, a flower, and an old-school television set. If nothing else, this cover is cool and makes you think you’re about to be diving into a fun listening experience.
Redman delivers with an album that’s a tonal shift for the artist to bring him “back to the light.” Perhaps the simplicity of the cover suggests going back to basics.
11. KOD (2018) – J. Cole
J. Cole presents us with a rap album cover that’s full of colour. The rich reds and purples alongside the jewelled crown sitting upon the rapper’s head give an air of luxury. However, J. Cole’s white eyeballs and the children’s faces underneath his garment makes for a much more sinister image.
To me, this artwork suggests that those who struggle the most work their lives away for the benefit of the rich. The poor conditions that so many live in cause the children of those families to turn to other methods of having fun or making money. A direct and unflattering mirror to society.
10. The Bigger Artist (2017) – A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie
In 2017, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie released his debut album The Bigger Artist which debuted at number four on the US Billboard 200.
At first glance, you may not think that this is a rap album. Yes, the looming hand has the genre’s signature bling, but the artwork is so unique.
When you look back at the many rap albums that have been released, many contain a similar technique – the rapper(s) face looking straight into the camera or artistically reimagined. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie decided just his hand can do the job that many others’ faces did. A testament to his confidence.
9. Everybody (2017) – Logic
The Everybody cover is a personal favourite of mine and I highly recommend reading up about what went into it as it is without a doubt a piece of art in its own right.
The imagery comes from the painting The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese which the rapper was immediately drawn to upon visiting the Louvre.
For the cover, Logic wanted, you guessed it, everybody to feature on the cover. All his inspirations, all the people that matter to him are present – even his two adorable corgis. Each detail, down to the type of clothes worn, was deeply considered by artist Sam Spratt before the product was finished.
8. Doggystyle (1993) – Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle feels like an image taken straight from a cartoon. An adult cartoon, that is. The bright colours paired with the illustration style make this cover fun and engaging, standing out from Snoop’s contemporaries.
The three doggs watching the chaos ensue from over the brick wall aren’t having an existential crisis, but are instead reciting the lyrics to George Clinton’s ‘Atomic Dog,’ a track that discusses why men are always chasing women. Pretty apt.
Although the cover now feels a little dated, it’s undeniably cool and thanks to the record, cements it as a timeless classic.
7. Heroes & Villains (2022) – Metro Boomin
Heroes & Villains feels like a piece of contemporary art. Its minimalist design is deeply intriguing and dramatic with the flames drawing your eye immediately. The fire being the only light source of the piece creates an oppressive, unsettling atmosphere that feels almost hypnotic.
The cover is undoubtedly a reference to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here LP as the cover sees two of the same man shaking his own hand, one engulfed in flames.
Upon viewing Metro Boomin’s album art, you’re left with one question “Which is the hero and which is the villain?” Perhaps the answer is both.
6. Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde (1992) – The Pharcyde
For many, The Pharcyde were a breath of fresh air during the reign of rap in the early 90s. While you had various rappers explaining to you how tremendous they are, this group decided to mock themselves and be surprisingly vulnerable.
Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde sums up this group perfectly. Designed by graffiti artist Slick, the sexual cover art depicts the rap collective at the start of a roller coaster that looks moments from collapse. The colourful, tongue-in-cheek artwork appropriately matches the lewd contents of the album. All in all, it’s just a bit of fun!
5. Mm..Food (2000) – MF Doom
The cover for Mm..Food has the appearance of a video game. The character design with the style of buildings creates a world that you feel like you could jump right into.
The design of the album art captures the mood of the year 2000. When we look back on it now, some elements feel slightly dated and of the time yet there is still a sense of the future lurking underneath. Perhaps MF Doom’s expression paired with the metal-looking mask makes us feel like he knows something we don’t.
4. The Melodic Blue (2021) Baby Keem
The Melodic Blue signifies the start of something big for Baby Keem. While the artist is surrounded by the calm familiar waters of his usual sound, a jetty of rainbow-stained wood interrupts the tranquillity.
The rainbow signifies change. An exploration of new sounds and melodies that Keem is starting to incorporate into his work.
Right at the very centre of the image, we see the rapper himself perched almost at the end of the rainbow looking out into the still water. Maybe he’s reflecting on his musical journey up until this point and where it may take him still.
3. Flower Boy (2017) – Tyler, The Creator
Flower Boy is arguably Tyler, The Creator’s best album cover. With artwork designed by both himself and artist Eric White, Flower Boy was a labour of love for both creators.
The bee we see covering Tyler’s face is reminiscent of Magritte’s ‘The Son of Man’ painting where an apple covers the subject’s face. A design that alludes to the idea that there is always something hiding a part of who you are.
Most impressively, the bee doesn’t obscure Tyler. White has managed to capture the essence of the artist, allowing him to be distinguishable from behind the giant insect.
2. Aquemini (1998) – OutKast
OutKast will always reign supreme as one of the most entertaining rap duos of all time. I can’t think of a single person that doesn’t like at least one of their hits.
The cover for their third studio album Aquemini depicts the two rappers dressed to the nines in their finery, enjoying the lavish life they have created.
In their music, the pair dabble with science fiction ideas and mesh them with reality. This translates to the cover seeing both aspects of the past and future together. The two personalities within the group make themselves apparent with Big Boi as “the player” and Andre 3000 as “the poet.”
1. To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) – Kendrick Lamar
Are we surprised as to what is number one? No one can deny that Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly is one of the most striking and memorable rap album covers of all time.
Depending on your perspective, this artwork is either comforting or unsettling and this controversial bit of storytelling is what makes it so good. The picture tells the story of a social victory over the white house, a reminder of the broken system in which we reside.
According to Kendrick Lamar, he wanted to take a group of “homies who haven’t seen the world” and take them to places they may have only seen on TV. Lamar is sharing his success with those close to him, showing them the world outside of their neighbourhood. One they potentially would never have seen without him.
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