To launch their albums, which in many cases have become milestones in music history, major rap artists have collaborated with top photographers, already famous in some cases or launched by these very collaborations and the ability to represent an imagery of specific places and themes.
Collater.al asked ESSE Magazine to point out five of the most prominent names capable of encapsulating the entire design of an album in one shot. From Kendrick Lamar to Tupac, five covers will make even clearer the talent and vision of these artists and the link between the photographic lens and some of the most brilliant record releases of recent years.
Michael Lavine – The Notorious B.I.G. “Life After Death”
Michael Lavine is the photographer of so many superstars, from pop to rap. He is credited with shooting the cover of one of the best rap albums ever, “Life After Death.” Lavine talked about how difficult it was to take the photo in an interview in 2017: everything was studied down to the last detail, from the choice of the cemetery to Biggie’s expression, neither happy nor angry. His intention was precisely to show the state of mind of a complex character like Biggie.
Jonathan Mannion – Jay-Z, “Reasonable Doubt“
All of rap’s greatest legends have been photographed by Jonathan Mannion, author of more than 300 covers for artists such as Dr. Dre, Nas and Nicki Minaj. He is credited with shooting the cover of Jigga’s iconic first album. It is a photograph capable of perfectly telling what rap and its imagery was at the time when Jay-Z released this record (1996), very much linked to gangsta imagery, especially Italian.
A very close-up on a few clear and defined details: a cigar, fedora, dark coat and white scarf. Contribution to one of the biggest hits ever.
Danny Clinch – Kanye West, “808s & Heartbreak“
Getting Kanye’s approval during such a sensitive time as his mother’s death is a difficult feat. Danny Glinch has succeeded with a minimalist shot that fully captures the spirit of the album and the artist: from the garish colors of “Graduation” we move to a deflated heart-shaped balloon, depicting Kanye’s emotionality of the period.
A capacity for synthesis and visual power that Clinch learned in his years as a student of Annie Leibovitz and David Hockney and then moving on as an assistant to Steven Meisel.
Chi Modu – Tupac, “Better Dayz”
When we talk about Chi Modu, we are referring to a true legend in the hip hop world. He is credited with the most iconic shots of the American rap scene – including those of Biggie with the World Trade Center on his back, to name a few. Chi Modu is the photographer who took the beautiful photo used for “Better Dayz,” one of Tupac’s several posthumous albums. The photo, taken in Atlanta in 1994 is still the first in his web portfolio.
Denis Rouvre – Kendrick Lamar “To pimp a butterfly”
So many people have talked about the significance of the cover of one of Kendrick’s most important albums, just as there are so many details (did you notice that the shot also features the artist holding a baby?) and symbols put forth by a master of photography like Denis Rouvre.
The French photographer who specializes in portraiture has immortalized a large number of celebrities over the years, and his reportages have earned him international awards and publications, thanks to the power of his point of view and energy that are also condensed in the cover of the album elected “Best Rap Album” at the 2016 Grammys.