An old adage goes that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Yeah, that's fine and all, but let's be real: We all do it. That's especially true when it comes to music. The artwork associated with a mixtape or album (or single for that matter) can make or break certain projects.
That fact has become more evident in 2013, when one particular creative agency put in some serious work on the artwork front. Similarly, a well-known ruckus-causing Los Angeles group released a pair of albums with some of the best art direction of the year. And then there's everyone's favorite chef-turned-rapper but ahh, we're giving away too much. Scroll down to peep the best artwork of the year and hit the comments with your own picks.
Few covers this year captured the feelings heard within the album like Earl Sweatshirt's 'Doris.' The stark photo of the young Odd Future rapper was taken by skate-photography veteran Jason Dill. He was able to harness the pain, don't-give-a-f--k attitude, and loneliness of 'Doris' in a single shot—a massive feat given the album's depth and layers.
'My Name Is My Name'Pusha T
The art direction of Kanye West's creative agency, DONDA, pervaded the releases on his G.O.O.D. Music label this year. That included Pusha T's long-awaited debut, which was (almost) as minimalist as it gets. It was crafted by Jesse Kanda, who used simplicity as a way to move a product. What other album cover looked this clean and allowed you to buy it instantly with a quick scan?
Every single element of Kanye West's latest album, 'Yeezus,' was polarizing. From the erratic production to the written-on-a-whim lyrics, each piece of the record was heavily scrutinized. And the same goes for the art—it was, of course, designed by his creative agency, DONDA—which some have called brilliantly simple and others have labeled as cheap. You can count us in the former category of thought.
During the promo/hype cycle for 'Indicud,' Kid Cudi said that he planned to be involved with every part of the artistic process. Sure enough, he extended his talents to producing and art direction. The latter coming into play when he unveiled the cover, which replaces the Cudder mug we're used to seeing with a blank, albeit fiery, slate inside of a baroque frame.
'Acid Rap'Chance the Rapper
Chance The Rapper kept it close to home with his breakout album, 'Acid Rap.' And that notion extended to the artwork, which was done by Chicago artist Brandon Breaux—he also did the cover for Chance's debut, '10 Day.' Even without its psychedelics-inspired title, the illustrated depiction of the Windy City rapper should tell you what to expect on this mixtape. Juicy J would be proud.
'Blue Chips 2'Action Bronson
Action Bronson is a colorful, quick-witted MC whose releases tend to appear on more than just year-end lists celebrating music. He's also got a great eye for artwork, which is made evident by the cover London artist Will Prince crafted for 'Blue Chips 2.' An irate Bronsolino getting into it with a referee like Nick Nolte in the actual 'Blue Chips' film? Yes, please.
As he does with every release, Tyler the Creator didn't limit himself when it came to the artwork for his third album, 'Wolf.' There are three vastly different covers: The standard is of Tyler in full school-picture-day mode with a wig-wearing version of himself in the right corner; the alternate is a close-up of him screaming; and the deluxe, which is the best of them all, is a piece done by pop surrealist leader Mark Ryden.
'Nothing Was the Same'Drake
Drake's decision to work with award-winning artist Kadir Nelson on 'Nothing Was The Same' happened by chance. As Complex reported, Drizzy saw one of the artist's paintings in the Marvin's Room studio and just had to know who did it. Upon learning that it was Nelson's work, he immediately reached out and the two began collaborating. The end result is a piece that connects Drake's past and present, which is apparent when you see the two covers next to one another.
'Love in the Future'John Legend
Like other members of the G.O.O.D. Music squad on this list, John Legend also utilized the talents of Kanye's creative house, DONDA. In particular, creative director Virgil Abloh was behind the art for the pianist/crooner's latest, 'Love In The Future.' It's in line with the simple-but-effective work that DONDA has become known for. In this case, Abloh captured Legend's beyond-in-love emotion with a nearly-pixelated side view of his then-fiance's wedding bouquet. He and Chrissy Teigen tied the knot in September.
With Joe Perez on art design, A$AP Rocky's 'Long.Live.A$AP' depicts a self-assured artist at one of his most vulnerable moments. He's still complemented by the American flag that adorned his 'Live.Love.A$AP' artwork, but this time it's draped over his body. And rather than look at the listener with blunt smoke coming from his mouth, Rocky is looking to the ground. It's indicative of the more contemplative, introspective moments of the album, including 'Phoenix.'