10. 1982 (Statik Selektah & Termanology) – “2012″ – Sheer brilliance as Stat and Term neglected employing the overused Busta Rhymes’ “end-of-the-world” concept for their 2012 LP, and instead based it around the presidential election. A commemorative plate, with Term for president with Statik Selektah as his running mate (or the other way around), as Obama looks on, slightly out of frame. Nice job, gentlemen.
9. Ryan Leslie – “Les Is More” – In an age where most can hardly afford to press up physical copies of their albums, Ryan Leslie took things much further with his Les Is More cover. The all-black-everything, stitched in fabric cover, embroidered by The Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace is a reflection of Leslie’s appreciation for the finer things. Lupe got it wrong, Leslie got it right.
8. Game – “Jesus Piece” – Jesus rocking the Jesus piece? Game’s controversial stained-glass cover didn’t quite make it to retail, and was saved for the special edition, but was definitely one of the most talked about covers of the year.
7. T.I. – “Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head” – For a while, it looked as if this album would never see the light of day, with numerous push-backs and delays. Not only did it drop – it was good – and it was wrapped in a gorgeous 70′s, Black western-style painted cover to boot. Hook, line, and sinker.
6. Lord Finesse & Mike Smooth – “Funky Technician” Instrumentals – Slice Of Spice pulled this trick on their 2011 unearthing of LL Cool J’s “Year Of The Hip-Hop” single, but used it to even greater effect on this Joe Buck re-imagining of Lord Finesse and Mike Smooth’s Funky Technician LP. This seminal 1990 Wild Pitch album looks cooler than ever before, with notable names, songs, and quotes scribbled all over the cover.
5. Freddie Gibbs – “Baby Face Killa” – Gangster Gibbs as interpreted as a faux-Leroy Neiman. Fine art rap.
4. Brother Ali – “Mourning In America, Dreaming In Color” - Another highly controversial cover, and easily the most thought provoking of the year. Brother Ali is a white Muslim living in America, with this cover portraying his sometimes conflicting points of view. It is designed to draw a reaction, as traditionally the American flag is not supposed to touch the ground, much less be used as a Muslim prayer rug. Ali means no disrespect, as he sums it up on the first line of the album’s opening track, “Letter To My Country Men”: “I used to think I hated this place / couldn’t wait to tell the prez straight to his face / but lately I changed, nowadays I embrace it all / beautiful ideals and amazing flaws.”
3. Action Bronson & Alchemist – “Rare Chandeliers” – This album cover pretty much sums up Al and Bronson’s sense of humor in a nutshell, presenting their collaborative album as a sort of Cannonball Run-esque, 80′s action movie. The fact that it was released as an animated gif makes it even more ridiculous. Non stop excitement, which includes police chases, shotgun blasts, wizardry, and jiggling booty.
2. Nas – “Life Is Good” – After reports of Nas’ ex-wife, Kelis, making his life a living hell by demading exorbitant child support sums, Nas got the last laugh with his Life Is Good album cover, which features him holding a piece of her wedding dress. Bye bye, baby.
1. 2 Chainz – “Based On A T.R.U. Story” – For the record, we hated this album. As a matter of fact, we even voted 2 Chainz’ T.R.U. Religion mixtape as one of our worst album covers of 2011 (which features him taking a piss and texting at the same damn time). But, there wasn’t a sleeker, more eye-catching cover than this one, as designed by Kanye West’s DONDA firm, which bucked the major label trend of “photo + fonts” for an album cover. Tity Boy didn’t need to appear on the cover, the extra-sleek imagery speaks for itself.