Hip hop has explored countless themes and subgenres since its inception, and rappers have found just as many ways to share these on their album covers. These top rap album covers are so iconic that many of them have gone down in history.
1. Life Is Good — Nas
Nas released his 11th studio album, Life Is Good, in 2012. The album was released in the months following the rapper’s divorce from singer Kelis, which was extensively covered by the media. The album cover depicted him sitting in a white suit in the VIP lounge of a club. His ex-wife’s green wedding dress lies over one knee. Nas has said the dress was the only thing Kelis left in his possession.
2. Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ — 50 Cent
Rapper 50 Cent released his debut album, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, in 2003. It was an instant success, featuring collaborations with rap royalty such as Eminem and Dr. Dre. The album makes a pointed reference to an incident in May 2000, where he was shot nine times in Queens, New York. Though the rapper survived, the occurrence caused his label to drop him, delaying the release of his first album. Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ depicts 50 Cent staring through a bullet hole in a windshield.
3. good kid, m.A.A.d city — Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar’s album good kid, m.A.A.d city focused on his experiences growing up in Compton, so it makes sense that the album cover is from his personal life as well. The cover is a polaroid of Lamar as a child, sitting at a kitchen table with three family members. On the table is a beer bottle and a baby bottle. A scrawled caption at the bottom says “a short film by Kendrick Lamar.”
4. Schoolly D — Schoolly D
Schoolly D released his debut album in 1985 when hip hop was in its infancy. The rapper designed the album cover himself, a haphazard conglomeration of old-fashioned scribbled comics in black and yellow. The art style, combined with the self-censoring of curse words in the speech bubbles with juvenile nonsense words like “flucking,” gives the impression that the cover was lifted straight from a schoolboy’s notebook.
5. Wu-Massacre — Method Man, Ghostface Killah & Raekwon
The 2010 album Wu-Massacre features each of the collaborating rappers as Marvel comic villains. In fact, the cover artwork was actually done by Marvel illustrator Chris Bachalo. Three individual covers were also released featuring fuller, more detailed portraits. Ghostface Killah’s cover features the rapper in a Michael Myers-style hockey mask, surrounded by women on a mountain of money. Raekwon’s cover depicts him as a hulking, heavily-tattooed man wielding two butcher knives, while Method Man’s cover shows him wielding a ball of fire and surrounded by skulls.
6. Acid Rap — Chance The Rapper
Chance The Rapper has released many great albums, but one of his most acclaimed is the 2013 mixtape Acid Rap. The cover was adapted from a picture taken of the rapper at South by Southwest that same year. In it, he stares the camera down while wearing a pink- and purple-stained tank top. The colors are reflected in the background, which features a sunrise or sunset and a line of pine trees.
7. Life’s a Trip — Trippie Redd
Rapper Trippie Redd certainly committed to a theme with his 2018 album Life’s a Trip. True to both his name and the album’s title, the cover artwork depicts the rapper caught in a hallucinogenic miasma. Trippie Redd floats in the sky as just a head with arms, holding an ice cream cone. With milky eyes and a third eye protruding from his hair, the rapper is surrounded by ghoulish characters with exaggerated features, including a unicorn with a steak impaled on its horn and a crescent moon smoking a blunt. Disturbing and strange? Absolutely. But also extremely eye-catching.
8. Magna Carta Holy Grail — Jay-Z
Jay-Z’s 12th studio album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, was produced in 2013. The cover art depicted two statues by the Italian sculptor Battista di Domenico Lorenzi, both a part of the piece Alpheus And Arethusa. The piece, displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, depicts the Greek myth of the nymph Arethusa, who turned herself into a stream to escape the god Alpheus. The cover showed the figures with their bodies overlaid by a black bar and the word “JAY-Z.”
9. o.n.i.f.c. — Wiz Khalifa
o.n.i.f.c. was one of Wiz Khalifa’s best albums, and the rapper certainly knew how to make an impression for it. The cover features Khalifa lounging on a chair as though it was a throne, staring directly into the camera. He wears a leopard coat with no shirt, a gold chain, and colorful red and white-striped pants. It’s almost impossible to look away from his gaze.
10. Man On The Moon: The End Of Day — Kid Cudi
For his 2009 album Man On The Moon: The End Of The Day, Kid Cudi decided to take the phrase as literally as possible. He commissioned Marvel illustrator Bill Sienkiewicz to create the artwork. It took Sienkiewicz a while to complete the project—even delaying the album’s release—but the resulting illustration of Cudi’s face melded with the lunar surface is mesmerizing.
11. Music To Driveby — Compton’s Most Wanted
Compton’s Most Wanted certainly caught eyes with the cover of their album Music To Driveby. As the spelling of the album title suggests, the gangsta rappers weren’t referencing a pleasant drive, but rather a drive-by shooting. The cover depicts a bird’s-eye view of them in their car, a gun in the backseat—clearly a hint at what is to come.
12. Lord Willin’ — Clipse
Something is charming about the album art of Clipse’s 2002 debut album, Lord Willin’. The simple, bright cartoon shows the rapper brothers driving in an open-top car with none other than Jesus Christ in the back seat. They are passing a sign welcoming them to Virginia Beach, suggesting they are taking Jesus to visit their hometown.
13. Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star — Black Star
The cover of Black Star’s debut album is saturated with the color red, featuring a picture of the rappers staring off into the distance over a boombox filled with stars. It is eye-catching purely for its artistry, but knowledgeable fans will know that the title and album cover are a nod to the Back To Africa movement.
14. Doggystyle — Snoop Dogg
There is more than one way to make people look at your album, and Snoop Dogg—known in those days as Snoop Doggy Dogg—went with the most basic. The cover of his debut album, Doggystyle, was shocking due to its borderline obscene depiction of two vaguely-humanoid dogs, one of whom was in lingerie. The outrage only helped increase the album’s popularity and it is now considered one of the most infamous album covers in history.
15. Nothing Was The Same — Drake
Rappers putting their childhood photos on an album cover since hip hop itself was a baby, but Drake took it in a new direction. For 2013’s Nothing Was The Same, he chose a picture of himself as a baby staring into the clouds, a pick in his hair. The simple but striking cover art seems to suggest that even as a child, Drake’s head was full of grand dreams.
16. Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World — Lil Uzi Vert
Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World had a signature art style that quickly became famous, sparking hundreds of redesigns and adaptations. It was strongly influenced by graphic novels, particularly Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which is also referenced in the album’s title. The cartoon version of the rapper stares at the woman lounging on his head as other characters gather in the background.
17. Ready To Die — The Notorious B.I.G.
Ready To Die was released in 1994, a somewhat eerie title as the rapper would be shot to death three years later. The album, which has come to be viewed as one of the best hip hop records ever made, features a baby wearing only a diaper. He sits in front of a white background, the only other element the title beneath him.
18. because the internet — Childish Gambino
Childish Gambino, the rap persona of actor Donald Glover, released his album Because the Internet in 2013. The cover art depicts Glover staring intensely down the camera, washed in soft shades of orange and red that evoke the feeling of a sunset. The physical album includes a special effect that makes the picture seem to move.
19. For Your Pain & Suffering — De La Soul
De La Soul’s 2016 EP For Your Pain & Suffering depicts a cartoon of a boy running by a crowd of other children. Some jeer at him, some are clearly shouting, one makes an obscene gesture, and one even throws a crumpled can at him. Nevertheless, he leaves a speech bubble behind as he runs, with the words, “It’s coming August 26th!”
20. Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood — DMX
DMX’s album Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood took its title from a passage in the Book of Genesis, but the album cover interpreted it a bit more literally. The rather shocking image of the rapper standing shirtless, calming, gazing into the camera as blood drips down his face and body was bound to catch your eye.
21. Do You Want More?!!!??! — The Roots
Hip hop group The Roots’ second album, released in 1995, featured album art that might be considered cliched these days: the group members in monochrome, staring aggressively down the camera lens. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. The bright blue color, for example, was a nod to old jazz albums, whose style was emulated in The Roots’ own music.
22. Mic Tyson — Sean Price
Rappers have found many ways to communicate the message “I’m tough,” but few are as striking as Sean Price’s cover art for Mic Tyson. The illustration depicts the rapper styled like a classic comic book hero, surrounded by a gang of defeated gorillas. His clothes are torn and he holds a bloodied microphone in his hand like a weapon.
23. The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill — Lauryn Hill
Lauryn Hill, formerly of Fugees, began her solo career in the late 1990s with her debut album, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. The history-making neo-soul album featured a deceptively simple cover, Hill’s own face etched into the wood. Its simplicity and artistry are exactly what makes it so evocative, with the singer’s quiet stare pulling you in.
24. Stress: The Extinction Agenda — Organized Konfusion
Organized Konfusion’s cover for the 1994 album Stress: The Extinction Agenda might be the most chaotic album cover of all time. You might find yourself staring at it for a long time, unraveling the details—they go on for miles. The cover, designed by illustrator Matt Doo, depicts the rappers in their native Queens. It has the detail level of a Where’s Waldo? book that will keep you noticing new details every time you pick it up.
25. Rare Chandeliers — Action Bronson
The cover art of 2012’s Rare Chandeliers has all the retro cheesy movie poster elements you’ve ever dreamed of: cars, explosions, weapons, and the classic femme fatale. There are also some things that no one has ever imagined on a movie poster, such as a wizard overlooking a martial arts brawl and a crocodile with a machine gun. In the middle is Bronson himself, shooting a gun while wearing a wolfskin. We can’t even try to explain it, but there’s no denying that it’s cool.
26. The Never Story — J.I.D.
J.I.D.’s debut album, released in 2017, was intended to evoke the feeling of Atlanta, where the rapper grew up. It uses a basic black and yellow palette and a sketch style for the countless figures on the front, each offering a fascinating untold story. Among the figures are a man in cartoonish prison gear, a gangster in 1970s-style clothing, several scantily-clad women, and a shirtless figure seemingly drawn from religious imagery.
27. The Chronic — Dr. Dre
Dr. Dre is widely considered to be one of the founding fathers of modern hip-hop, and his debut album The Chronic is just as iconic. Its simple cover depicts the rapper staring the camera down from a gold frame, which is hung with gold chains. It is actually an homage to Zig-Zag rolling papers, a theme that goes along with the title of the album (for those of you who don’t know, “chronic” is a strain of high-quality cannabis).
28. It Takes a Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back — Public Enemy
Public Enemy didn’t shy away from rapping about some of the most important social issues of the era, including racism, violence, and police brutality. Their second album, It Takes a Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, was released in 1988. The cover art featured the duo staring through the bars of a prison cell. Considering the topics they covered in their music, it isn’t hard to see the parallels.
29. Tha Carter III — Lil Wayne
Putting baby pictures of oneself is a time-honored tradition in the world of hip hop (why? We couldn’t tell you). But no one has ever done it quite like Lil Wayne on his 2008 album Tha Carter III. It features a baby version of Wayne sitting for a formal portrait, complete with a small suit. But he already has the pinky ring and even a few tattoos on his face, suggesting his own future.
30. Run The Jewels — Run The Jewels
Run The Jewels launched in 2013 with their eponymous debut album. The simple but attention-grabbing cover featured an illustrated pair of hands, one of which grasps a gold chain while the other points a gun motion at it against a black background. The “pistol and fist” have become a symbol of the group; the album launched with a social media campaign inviting graffiti artists to turn it into a tag.
31. The Fix — Scarface
Even if you’re not a hip hop fan, it’s hard not to stop at the cover art of The Fix. The album, released in 2002, gives the nod to the rapper’s famous gangster namesake. It also suggests that he himself might be following in those footsteps. It depicts a shot glass and a cocaine mirror, the latter of which reflects the rapper’s face.
32. Reasonable Doubt — Jay-Z
Jay-Z’s 1996 album Reasonable Doubt was his first release under his own independent record label. It was a bold move, and the confidence is reflected in the album’s cover art. It depicts Jay-Z as a mob boss, complete with the classic regalia—fedora, suit, rings, and a giant cigar. The photo is in black and white, making it seem even more intimidating.
33. Liquid Swords — GZA
Comic book art styles have been popular in hip hop art for many years, but it’s rarely been done like it was on GZA’s 1995 album Liquid Swords. The scene depicts a battle atop a chess board, with one fighter already lying defeated. As a nod to the album title, the players are fighting with swords in a scene that is both attention-grabbing and evocative of the classic comic book styles.
34. Funcrusher Plus — Company Flow
Funcrusher Plus was released in 1997 and is considered a fundamental album in the rise of East Coast indie rap. The album cover, at first glance, looks like a page from a comic book about human-sized ants, but it is actually intended to depict the group members in alien form. The vast emptiness of their strange planet, meanwhile, is a metaphor for the strangeness and hugeness of New York City.
35. No Poison No Paradise — Black Milk
Black Milk’s 2013 album No Poison No Paradise goes in the direction of the creepy and the chaotic. The crowded illustration on the cover depicts a variety of monsters floating through space. Around them are a series of symbols, including a rose, a rising sun, an hourglass, a cross, an open book, and a snake. It’s eerie and fascinating all at the same time.
36. Flower Boy — Tyler, The Creator
Tyler, The Creator, caught everyone’s attention with the cover art of his 2017 album Flower Boy. On the most basic level, it was a simple matter of color: the artwork is drenched in bright oranges and yellows that are impossible not to notice. It depicts the rapper standing in a field of sunflowers, surrounding by larger-than-life bumblebees. We can’t tell what his expression might be as he stares over the scene, as one of the bees flying by obscures his face.
37. Food & Liquor — Lupe Fiasco
Lupe Fiasco’s 2006 album Food & Liquor was a collaboration with some truly big names in hip hop, then mostly rising stars. The album’s massive success was reason enough to pick it up off the shelf (it was nominated for three Grammy Awards), but its artwork is eye-catching too. It features the rapper floating through space, surrounded by a variety of items, including a boombox, Nintendo DS, and other rap albums.
38. Licensed To Ill — Beastie Boys
The Beastie Boys aren’t widely known for their ventures into hip hop, except for their 1986 album Licensed To Ill. There’s no doubt that the trio stood out in the world of gangsta rap at the time, but the album made waves—largely because of its iconic cover, which depicted a jumbo jet turned into a used joint.
39. Watching Movies With The Sound Off — Mac Miller
The late rapper Mac Miller certainly knew how to catch people’s attention with his cover art. His 2013 album Watching Movies With The Sound Off featured a picture of Miller sitting at a table, staring into space while completely nude. The room is sparse, with only a few decorations that barely distract from the vast expanse of blank wall behind him. In a humorous bow to the censors, Miller is shielded from total nudity by the strategic placement of the “Explicit Content” warning.
40. The Slim Shady LP — Eminem
Eminem’s 1999 album introduced his alter ego Slim Shady, a violent and sadistic criminal who lived out the rapper’s darkest fantasies. It’s impossible not to be caught off-guard by the cover, which depicts Eminem and his then-toddler daughter standing on a dock, gazing into the water. Beside them, their open car trunk reveals the legs of Eminem’s murdered wife (a reference to the album’s track: 97 Bonnie & Clyde).
41. LONG. LIVE. A$AP — A$AP Rocky
A$AP Rocky released his debut album in 2013, debuting at the top of the Billboard charts. The cover featured a black and white photo of the rapper staring at the ground, draped in the American flag. It clearly references the movie from which he took his stage name, in which Sylvester Stallone is draped in the flag after his big fight.
42. Return To The 36 Chambers — Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Return To The 36 Chambers features an album cover that immediately catches your eye—for some people because they recognize it. The 1994 album styles its cover as a New York City food stamp card, with the rapper himself as the recipient. However, the location on the card isn’t NYC, but rather the Brooklyn Zoo. It’s a strong nod to the group’s start on the NYC streets.
43. Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde — The Pharcyde
The Pharcyde habitually created album covers that were both attention-catching and disturbing. In this case, the cover depicted a group of people heading out on a roller coaster, one of them clearly unconscious. With ghoulish figures in the background and the sky a thunderous green, it’s clear that whatever ride they’re in for will be unlike any other.
44. Aquemini — OutKast
OutKast’s Aquemini may have been released in 1998, but the album style suggests that it’s straight from the 1970s. The artwork gives a nod to the black culture of that decade, incorporating retro symbols of black power and the major musical styles of the era. It’s instantly eye-catching, with a colorful style that stands out from the crowd.
45. KOD — J. Cole
J. Cole’s hard-hitting album, KOD, was released in 2018. The album was heavily focused on themes of drug abuse and its central position in the world of hip hop. The chilling cover art illustrates J. Cole himself rising into the sky like a Renaissance painting; a crown and robe show that he is the king. However, his eyes are blank and milky. Under his robe are six children, one of whom is dead. The remaining five use various drugs in an eerie and poignant illustration.
46. The Bigger Artist — A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie
The Bigger Artist’s title is a subtle nod to the real name of rapper A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. The theme of art and artistry is also shown on the album cover, which depicts a person’s hand manipulating a schoolish sketch. The sketch depicts five stick people, each of whom represents a unique quality.
47. The Marshall Mathers LP — Eminem
For such a simple cover, The Marshall Mathers LP really makes an impression. The cover—one of two that were released for the 2000 LP—shows Eminem sitting on the steps of his childhood home. A second version showed him curled up in a dilapidated building, a possible reference to his origins in poverty.
48. The Low End Theory — A Tribe Called Quest
The Low End Theory is the second album of A Tribe Called Quest, an exploration into Afrocentric musical styles that included jazz and hip hop. These styles were reflected on the album cover, which aimed to depict the African American experience in early 1990s New York City.
49. Straight Outta Compton — N.W.A.
N.W.A. has been considered the founding fathers of modern gangsta rap, changing the course of hip hop through the end of the 20th century. Their debut album Straight Outta Compton was released in 1987 and is widely called one of the most influential rap albums of all time. The album’s themes are unapologetically gritty, as indicated by the cover; it depicts the group members staring the camera down as rapper Eazy-E points a gun directly at the viewer.
50. Dare Iz a Darkside — Redman
Redman’s 1994 album Dare Iz a Darkside is definitely a bit disturbing when you first look. It depicts the rapper buried up to his neck in the dirt, his mouth open in a terrified scream. But fans will recognize Redman’s homage to George Clinton and P-funk, particularly the 1971 album Maggot Brain.
51. Death Certificate — Ice Cube
Ice Cube’s second solo album was Death Certificate, released after his break off from N.W.A. The rapper had been the subject of controversy over the last few years, but he wasn’t shy about his album cover. It depicted Ice Cube staring critically down at a dead body wrapped in an American flag; a toe tag identifies the dead man as Uncle Sam.
52. Midnight Marauders — A Tribe Called Quest
A Tribe Called Quest had an idea for the cover art of their album Midnight Marauders, and it all centered around a naked model. More accurately, it centered around a naked model against a backdrop of the most iconic names in hip hop. Three versions of the cover art were released, each featuring the “painted lady” in a different pose or setting. Behind her were headshots of artists such as Busta Rhymes, De La Soul, Dr. Dre, Ice-T, the Pharcyde, and dozens more.
53. The Blueprint — Jay-Z
Jay-Z’s 2001 album The Blueprint was released during a turbulent time in the rapper’s life, as he was awaiting a criminal trial for assault. The cover art of the album can either be interpreted as tongue-in-cheek or boldly defiant. It depicts the rapper seated, wearing sunglasses and smoking a cigar. Unseen henchmen stand in front of him. On the table beside him are an ashtray, cigar cutter, and a microphone. The implication is that he’s not just a criminal, but a crime boss.
54. Operation: Doomsday — MF Doom
MF Doom released his comeback album Operation: Doomsday in 1999. It has been praised as one of the best hip hop albums in history, with cover art to match. Taking the lead from the rapper’s stage name, illustrator Lord Scotch created a cover that reimagined him as Marvel’s Doctor Doom. The album art seems to have come straight off the pages of a comic book cover, appealing to every Marvel fan that walked by.
55. Wolf — Tyler, The Creator
Tyler, The Creator, knows how to make an amazing album cover (though to be exact, he wasn’t the one who actually created the artwork). Illustrator Mark Ryden designed a simple but evocative cover that showed the rapper sitting on a bicycle in the woods. The scene behind him includes a snowy mountain, pine trees, and a lake. It’s a strikingly simple but beautiful illustration, and one that jumps out at you immediately.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.