It’s quite an interesting phenomenon, how an enormous amount of the things we know, or think we know, are understood through cross-referencing between our 5 senses, smell, taste, hearing, sight and feel, and also via our own imagination.
Take music for example, how we are able to understand the mood, the atmosphere, aura and ambience of a particular song, the phenomenon exists in our ability to then translate what we hear and feel into something we can see and feel, through modes such as album/cover art work, music videos and short films.
The relationship between music and cover art work intrigues me a lot. The conversion process from audio to visual, what exactly happens between point A and point B? What goes through the mind of the designer? What has influenced his or her decision? What existing ideas influenced such a decision? What visual motifs have been established in each particular genre of music, that have formed part of the identity of a genre?
How is it almost so easy for us to identify the genre of a music compilation or album on the shelf in a music store, by simply looking at the cover art? What ties everything in? What are these elements? Who pioneered this style? What was their train of thought like? Were they both designer and musician or separate entities?
These are questions I often ask myself when I’m not thinking of how to get my music out there without compromising my art. Very few artists understand or value cover art for anything more than just having their younger brother’s friend play on ‘photoshop’ and crap out some cover art, particularly down here in SA Hip Hop, it’s sad.
I found myself genuinely caring about something Frank Casino released the other day because he cares about the visual representation, he cared about what I care about and I appreciated it, so with that said, I have a list below of music releases I cared about more because they care about cover art, and not just the design, but the function of it, because functionality > beauty.
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantas
Out of all the lists I’ve seen Kanye’s name appear on, despite not having physically designed this piece, he’s one of the few artists who deserves to be on this list the most.
Mr. West enlisted contemporary visual artist, George Condo to design the controversial twisted fantasy visual. I read somewhere that the function Kanye imagined for this artwork was to spark controversy, a cover art so crass that it would be banned, and banned it was, in the US which prompted several variations of the cover art, I’m sure some of you have seen the one with a headless, crowned, stabbed Ye, or the one with the ballerina, and a pixelated version of the original.
The cover art was banned because it was controversial, making it a brilliant design piece because it was successful in it’s function, Kanye West wanted something controversial, he was well aware of what that entailed, and he got exactly what he wanted, mission accomplished, sentence served. Success.
Controversy aside, the MBDTF cover art was beautiful to look at, the use of a flat red and the minimalist layout, with the illustration contained by a gold/mustard outline, almost as if it contained that beautiful dark twisted fantasy inside, I appreciated that, but you won’t truly understand until you’ve unpackaged the actual hard copy and understood that the designer(s) were actually a bunch of show offs.
MF Doom & Madvillain – Madvillainy
Before actually lending the album an ear fairly recently, the cover art had already found a special place in my heart.
The Jeff Jank designed and Eric Coleman photographed artwork didn’t communicate nothing more than simply, “this is MF DOOM”, and I really appreciated that, because Doom is a gentleman with a mask on, who is he? Who is under that mask? So in a way it was very paradoxical to have a masked man in such a striking composition, but I loved it.
The nonchalance in his eyes framed by his signature face piece, the thick shadow cast from his upper body to just below his nose – but seeps subtly underneath the mask and somehow his eyes still manage to slightly remain visible, all these elements make the Madonna inspired artwork one that could never fade from memory.
Yes, I said Madonna inspired, Jeff Jank sites Madonna’s ‘Madonna’ album as an inspiration for the cover art for the Doom x Madvillain collaborative effort, it also happened to be grey scale and had orange as the spot colour (in the typography, whereas it’s in the top right-hand corner on Madvillainy).
It’s probably my all time favorite.
Kanye West – 808s and Heartbreak
I could easily copy and paste the first paragraph of the first mention of Mr. West in this here article, because that’s how I still feel.
Brian Donnelly championed minimalism with this design for Kanye, but more than just a design piece, this was a very clear collaborative effort between the music and visuals, and what I mean by that is, what I see and hold in my hands is exactly what I feel like I hear when I press play.
Minimalism was not simply a visual art direction here, but rather the overall art direction for the entire musical offering, Kanye himself says it in the title of the project, ‘808s’, he built the album’s instrumentation using the Roland TR-808 drum machine which offered very distinctive and minimal sound elements.
The use of a cold pastel color palette further emphasizes and communicated the aura of the album carried by a minimalist approach to production, it’s beautiful how it all fits well in the greater scheme of things, don’t even let me begin on the music videos that accompanied the album’s release.