Justin BUA's Top Five Illustrated Hip-Hop Album Covers

"Historically, artists painted the court and the aristocracy. I'm the court painter of hip-hop -- the artists are that important." So says Justin BUA, the hip-hop generation artist who celebrates the release of his new book The Legends of Hip-Hop with a signing session at Booksmith this Friday starting at 6 p.m. The scratch wizard Qbert will also be in attendance, providing the sounds to accompany BUA's art. So ahead of BUA's book launch, we got him to run down his five favorite illustrated hip-hop album covers.


5. Snoop Doggy Dogg, Doggystyle
"I think this album cover was actually done by his cousin. For me, obviously it's not a great painting, and it's super obvious that the guy is definitely not a great artist -- but it's iconic. It's naive, super simplistic, not painterly, and there's no control of temperature, but the illustration just felt right to me. My first reaction when I saw it was, first, jealously, like, 'How come I didn't get to do that cover art?' Then it was, 'What, is this done by a four-year-old?!' The third, though, after time went on, was, 'Okay, this just feels right.' It fits the vibe."


4. N.W.A., 100 Miles And Runnin'
"This was very cool, very N.W.A. in the concept. N.W.A. is one of my top three artists of all time. I remember a friend introduced me to them when I was listening to E.P.M.D. and Rakim and he was like, 'This shit is soft!' He was from the punk rock world. It was the start of a new era, and then you heard Ice Cube and Eazy-E's crazy voices!"


3. A Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory
"Tribe is always that red, green and black African colors. In my book I actually used the colors in The Low End Theory and that's how I painted the group: Basically, it's all four of them wearing the same garb and it's red, black and green, like the album art. When I first saw the album, I was coming off listening to Rakim, Melle Mel, all this very macho rap, and then Tribe were these whimsical poets. But it was beautiful, and the cover works."


2. Boogie Down Productions, Sex And Violence
"This was really interesting, because it was done by the famous artist Robert Williams, who is the father of low-brow art. I was already a fan of Boogie Down Productions and KRS-One, but I was also a fan of Robert Williams. It was like, 'Oh, they're actually using this white artist who comes from this whole hot wad culture!' It's the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll thing -- in a lot of ways that's what KRS-One was doing, but from the inner city, talking about chaos and violence and mayhem."


1. The Beastie Boys, Licensed To Ill
"That album cover, I'd put that right at the very top. First of all, the album is one of my favorites of all time. The Beasties weren't a ripple -- they were a wave. What they brought to hip-hop was the execution of rock 'n' roll, and this cover was kind of a throwback to one of the old vinyls like a real record cover piece of art: The Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin... That cover threw me back to way back then. But then that's what their influences were. And then you see the other part of the cover, with the plane crashing? That was the vibe: Flying high, then crashing, rock 'n' roll!"

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