Is A Tribe Called Quest's 'The Low End Theory' the G.O.A.T. Hip-Hop Album Cover?
Photo: Jive Records

Is A Tribe Called Quest's 'The Low End Theory' the G.O.A.T. Hip-Hop Album Cover?

A recent ranking of classic album artwork is stirring up debate

Hip-hop has a rich history of album artwork—visual pieces that depict the beauty and struggle from which the culture was born. In the genre's 50 years, artists have delivered imagery that ranges from bold and arresting, to stark and shocking, to explicit and provocative. With such a wealth of album covers over the years, choosing the greatest of all-time seems like an impossible task—but that doesn't make it any less fun to try.

Hip-Hop Wired was up for the challenge. The site joined forces with HipHopDX to compile the 50 greatest album covers, ranking the top 10 and compiling 40 more iconic honorable mentions. And they rounded up many of the classics: DMX drenched in fake blood for the cover shot of Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood; Boogie Down Productions updating an unforgettable Malcolm X photo for the cover of By All Means Necessary; Lil Kim straddling the luckiest bearskin rug ever on Hard Core. These are unimpeachable—no debates to be had.

The number-one stunna, though, belongs to A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory. Now look: You can't go wrong with ATCQ. The funky Queens crew has always brought the heat when it comes to album covers. But for as beautiful as The Low End Theory's artwork is—the painting of Bonita Applebum in red and green recalling jazz and soul vinyl art from back in the day—there's just as strong of a case to made for Midnight Marauders. Bonita appears here, too, but she's backed by floating-head portraits of a who's who of hip-hop luminaries of the era: Chuck D, MC Lyte, Too Short, Beastie Boys, a young Puff Daddy. Seventy-one photos in all. Yes, 71!

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Anyone who was outside in 1993 knows this was a whole moment—which is exactly why, ahem, LEVEL ranked it as the best album cover of Tribe's discography. But The Low End Theory art is iconic, just like the many wonderful works of art included in Hip-Hop Wired and HipHopDx's list. Check it out for yourself—and come back with your own arguments.