Music is an art and it’s not just conveyed through the auditory medium. Music is visual too. Before you even get to enjoy the songs in an album, you will have most likely interacted with the album’s cover artwork. I went on an Internet search for the ‘most controversial album art’ and as you can imagine, I was slapped with a list of bizarre images. Luckily, I also landed on ‘the greatest album art’. But why is album artwork important to artists?
I usually receive a lot of press releases for new music but to be honest, if an album artwork gets people talking without the usual push, then you’ve already won half the battle. Ice Cube’s second album, Death Certificate (1991) had one of the most head-turning artworks. It featured the artist next to a body covered with the American flag with only the legs shown, with a foot tag labelled ‘Uncle Sam’, code for the big bad USA. It got immediately banned in Oregon state. Kanye West’s artwork for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) was nothing short of controversial and yet the album instantly debuted at no.1 in the US and also got a Grammy Award. The Beatles pioneered the game of controversy on their Yesterday & Today (1966) album which went on to top Billboard charts.
Locally, Nyashinski managed to keep us guessing and in anticipation of his latest album Lucky You. He just used a series of a deck of cards which had an imprint of the words Lucky You. It sure got fans and the media talking prior to the stunning virtual debut.
A Window into the music
Album artworks communicate what you will likely find in the album. It’s kind of like a preview of what the artist intended for us to get from the album. I remember when I saw Blinky Bill’s cover for We’re All Just Winging It and Other Fly Tales, I just thought, “this looks very calm and colourful.” Ever seen a piece of art that made you ponder or feel something? That should be the goal of an artist.
Kenyan album artworks
Serro will be dropping her full album Kuwe on May 30th. The artwork is stunning. It actually looks like a canvas painting of the singer and she explained that it took work for her team to produce that kind of imagery. The image is self-reflective of her music and album; Kuwe is Zulu which means ‘for you’ which already tell us the album will have rich Afro vibes plus she already sings in local languages such as Kiswahili and Dholuo. King Kanja’s latest album Vibe Lord artwork, is more of a reflection of who he is other than his music. With hints of gold and black, legacy calligraphy and a map in the background, you instantly think royalty. I mean, very apt for a King!
Prolific singer Fena Gitu had one of the best album covers; I think the artwork for Unleashed truly captures her vision for her music and transformation; she’s untangling chains with funky hair and mad energy! What more speaks of ‘unleashed’ other than that? This also reminds me of Nicki Minaj’s PinkPrint cover which was just a pink thumbprint. Nailed it!
We spend a lot of time online, constantly bombarded by information and images. Artists now more than ever need to put more thought and effort into creating and investing in eye-catching artwork. Start building a conversation even before you release your music. But then again, there’s a very fine line between shock and thought-provoking imagery.