I had a pleasant evening yesterday; I spent a couple of hours geeking out over the hashtag #BestBlackAlbumCovers. (As an aside, Topsy, one of my favorite tools to quickly discover who created a hashtag has ended; bummer; I am not sure who created this one.) I love Black music and I love great photography, design, makeup and/or costumes, so this definitely was the right hashtag for me. Creative album covers (and liner art too) inspire me in the same way that looking through large books of other photographers' work and reading other writers' writing does; it is entertainment and it is homework, so to speak. If an album is like a book where each song is a chapter, then the liner art is the illustration and the album cover is the book cover. It has to pull the person in. It has to connect to the entirety of the creation. It too can be an additional visual story that compliments the auditory one. Beyoncé proved this with the liner art and videos for her self-titled album, though she went with impactful minimalism for that cover. On the surface, it may seem like people are no longer interested in album cover art and liner art since so many people access music digitally. Long gone are the 90s days where I would bring a CD to one of my high school classes, memorize song lyrics and gaze at neat images within that liner art. But if people's heavy participation in this hashtag is a clue, the art of appreciating album covers is not completely left behind in the analog age, but something to talk about now in the digital one.
Some people shared rather iconic ones; Michael's and Janet Jackson's album covers; Prince's album covers; Grace Jones' album covers. (I am listening to Grace Jones right now as I write this.) To be clear, it is not only Black artists with album covers that I love. Dream Theater, Journey and Black Sabbath—bands that I really enjoy—have some great album covers. Instead, I shared the ones that I did as it was specific to the hashtag. I love and am inspired by some of the album covers that I shared. Of course I enjoy more than the ones I tweeted about—I retweeted other people's interests as well—but it was pretty fun to discuss the ones that I did share.
From participating in this hashtag, I noticed that the album covers that I am most drawn to tend to reveal four themes. 1) Close-up portraiture. I think that I am attracted to such album covers since I love the variety of ways that people can look and convey emotion and though my current photography work is in food, travel, lifestyle and macro photography, I have a past in professional photography, primarily portraiture. I am in love with Beyoncé's and Erykah Badu's album covers for this reason. 2) Futuristic. I am fascinated by astrophysics, Afrofuturism, certain aspects of occult, and visual themes that merge something ancient, something present and something futuristic. Artists such as Earth, Wind & Fire as well as Janelle Monaé have visuals that are like this. 3) Cinematic. I love when an album cover looks like a still image from a great film with nice cinematography. Jay Z's album covers appeal to this desire, for example. And being that I am a cinephile and enjoy writing about and watching films (as well as learning a few things here and there about filmmaking itself), album covers like his are so interesting to me. He participated in a commercial where he reenacted his album covers. Great stuff. And finally, 4) street photography. I love viewing and creating street photography; album covers with such an aesthetic can be so powerful; I mean, the album cover for Black Messiah really inspires me. The texture. The contrast. Beautiful and powerful Blackness. It made me think of the late Gordon Parks or Roy DaCarava's work.
I also mentioned on Twitter that to see all of the artists involved in creating spectacular album covers, check out the "Personnel" section of any Wikipedia page for any album. Since I posted so many album covers, I did not tweet the entire creative teams for each album cover, but I think it is worth mentioning that there is a place to find out who should be credited for what. It is not only the talented and creative Black musicians, vocalists, rappers and their personal stories that make the album cover what it is, but also the creative people of any background who work with them. Few "authors" design their own "book covers" if their work is accessible mainstream; even so, artists being able to come up with visuals that speak to what a "storyteller" wants to share is incredible.