My love for music and album cover art began circa 1998 when you could still get your hands on eight CDs for a single penny (literally). Back then, I was notorious for pouring through my mom’s Ebony and Essence magazines in search of Columbia House’s music club mail-order forms. I must have mailed in every form I could find in her zine stash from ’98 to ’00. At the ripe age of ten years old, I ended up with a pretty robust CD collection—consisting of everything from TLC’s FanMail to Santana’s Supernatural. To this day, I still don’t understand the Columbia House business model, but I am forever grateful for it. Welcome to my top ten list of favorite album covers in random order.
10. Aquemini: Outkast
If you know astrology, you know that Andre 3000 and Big Boi are the epitomai of the zodiac signs Aquarius and Gemini—otherworldly, eccentric, ahead of their time, and unpredictable. This dynamic duo of pure genius can do no wrong in my book because they always keep it original and weird in the best ways possible, from the album art to the music.
9. The Legend of Johnny Cash: Johnny Cash
The black and white photography complements the no-nonsense, straight-shooting Johnny Cash and his music to the core. Just a man with his guitar and a story to tell—no fluff, just hard facts.
8. Perfect Angel: Minnie Riperton
So sweet, so angelic—just like Minnie’s voice. The soft colors, her glowing skin, the ice cream cone melting in her hand, and her innocent expression enjoying life’s simple pleasures all bring forth feelings of warmth and happiness.
7. Ritual Union: Little Dragon
Old-timey portraits have always intrigued me. I love how this collage of newlywed photos from the band’s relatives and parents captures the budding optimism at the beginning of marriage, while the album explores the painful lows of long-term partnerships or ritual unions.
6. Basement Seance: Dirty Art Club
Creepy and dark yet eerily serene at the same time. Listening to this heavily-underrated album will put it all into perspective. If you want something other than the “Monster Mash” to get you in the Spooky Season spirit, I highly recommend adding this to your rotation.
5. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below: Outkast
Of course, Outkast had to make the list twice. The concept of creating a dual but separate album together was yet another genius move by the two—and the perfect way to introduce the pair as individual artists. As a result, you were either team Speakerboxxx or team The Love Below (for me, it’ll always be team TLB, hands down).
4. Santogold: Santigold
The cover art is giving angst-filled, emotional vomit transmuted into pure gold, which is exactly what each track is. This album made me a forever fan of hers.
3. Amor Prohibido: Selena
Aside from the Queen of Tejano’s captivating natural beauty and feminine power, this album cover is mostly nostalgic for me. Every time I see it, I teleport to 1995, lip-synching to “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” playing on the radio in my grandma’s Station Wagon—a bittersweet time when Selena was nearing the pinnacle of her success but taken from us too soon.
2. Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager: Kid Cudi
Cudi’s lifelong battle with depression is ethereally depicted here as he sits confined to his chair and trapped inside the walls of his mind—blind to the beauty behind him.
1. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill: Lauryn Hill
There’s no way you can listen to this album and be the same person afterward. Truly powerful, deeply-felt lyrics direct from the heart and soul. An unfiltered coming-of-age story beautifully told in 16 life-changing tracks and interludes. Each interlude features audio clips from a high school classroom where the teacher asks his students a series of thought-provoking questions around healthy relationships. That day, Lauryn is absent from class—marking the origin of her learning those lessons later on in life the hard way.