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These Are The Top 20 Greatest Hip Hop Album Covers Of All Time, Ranked By Our Readership

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In the Land before time where album covers weren’t limited to a 1–by-1-inch digitized square, displayed on a quirky smartphone screen, they were admired by fans who took a record’s visual aesthetic almost as seriously as the music itself.

Picking the best album art ever created is a unnerving assignment, but that didn’t stop thousands of twitter users from taking a crack at it. From the instantly recognizable image of a baby Nas on Illmatic, to Kanye bear rocketing off to oblivion these album cover hold a special place in hip hops history.

20. Schoolly D, Schoolly D (1986)

Art Direction: Schoolly D
Illustrator: Schoolly D
Label: Schoolly D


19. Too $hort, Born to Mack (1987)

Art Direction: Mark Wholey
Photographer: Ann Flanagan Typography
Label: Dangerous/Jive/RCA

18. Kanye West, Graduation (2007)

Art Direction: Takashi Murakami
Illustrator: Takashi Murakami
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam

17. Master P, The Ghettos Tryin to Kill Me! (1994)

Art Direction: Uncredited
Photographer: Uncredited
Label: No Limit

16. Boogie Down Productions, By All Means Necessary (1988)

Art Direction: Douglas Rowell
Photographer: Douglas Rowell
Label: Jive/RCA

15. KMD, Black Bastards (1994)

Rapper: KMD
Art Direction: Zev Love X
Illustrator: Zev Love X

14. 50 Cent, Get Rich or Die Tryin’(2003)

Art Direction: Stang Inc.
Photographer: Sacha Waldman
Label: Aftermath/Shady/Interscope



13. Pharcyde, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde (1992)

Art Direction: Slick K2S
Photographer: Fuct
Label: Delicious Vinyl

12. Dr. Dre, The Chronic (1992)

Art Direction: Kimberly Holt
Photographer: Daniel Jordan
Label: Death Row/Interscope/Priority


11. Ice Cube — Death Certificate (1991)

Rapper: Ice Cube
Art Direction: Kevin Hosmann
Photographer: Mario Castellanos

10. Live Crew, As Nasty As They Wanna Be (1989)

Art Direction: Mac Hartshorn
Photographer: Mac Hartshorn
Label: Luke



9. Outkast, ATLiens (1996)

Art Direction: DL Warfield
Illustrator: Frank Gomez
Label: LaFace/Arista


8. DMX, Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood (1998)

Art Direction: Jonathan Mannion
Photographer: Jonathan Mannion
Label: Ruff Ryders/Def Jam


7. The Notorious B.I.G. — Ready to Die (1994)

Rapper: The Notorious B.I.G
Art Direction: The Drawing Board
Photographer: Butch Bel Air

Despite shamelessly jacking the transcendent artwork of an album released six months prior — Nas’ Illmatic — Ready to Die’s still an amazing piece of artwork even though the baby isn’t Biggie. It’s some random kid. Regardless, the cover’s simplicity, with its all-white background, positions the baby, who very much resembles a young BIG, at the forefront. The timelessness of the cover is in the image itself — that of an innocent baby looking content, above a headline that reads “Ready to Die.”


6.  Ol’ Dirty Bastard — Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version(1995)

Rapper: Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Photography: Alli
Art direction: Danny Clinch, Illustrator: Brett! (Design)


5.  GZA Liquid Swords


Rapper: GZA
Art Direction: Denys Cowan
Graphic Designer: Milestone Media


4. A Tribe Called Quest, Midnight Marauders (1993)

Art Direction: ZombArt
Photographer: TAR
Label: Jive/BMG


3. MF Doom Madvillainy 2004

Rapper: MF Doom
Art Direction: Jeff Jank
Photographer: Egon



2. Snoop Dogg — Doggystyle (1993)

Rapper: Snoop Dogg
Art Direction: Kimberly Holt
Illustrator: Joe Cool


1. Nas — Illmatic (1994)

Rapper: Nas
Art Direction: Danny Clinch
Photographer: Uncredited

“To every baby on the album cover existing’/This trend I was settin’ it came to fruition.” — Nas, “Nas Album Done,” on DJ Khaled’s 2016 album, Major Key

22 years later were still seeing artist put their baby photos on their cover… Long live Illmatic.