Our Top 10 Jay-Z Album Covers list will look at one of the most popular rappers in music today. He is a man who has done it all. He is a rapper, songwriter, producer, actor and entrepreneur. He is responsible for helping discover Kanye West, Rihanna and J. Cole. He has a head for business which made him one of the first billionaires in hip-hop history. He started his career in the 80s and has been unstoppable ever since. Jay-Z is a master of the versus flow. He can rap fast and slow. He has sold over 140 million records worldwide. He holds the record for the most number one albums on Billboard 200. He has won several awards throughout his career. He ties the record with Kanye West for winning the most Grammy Awards for a rapper.
Jay-Z knows how to command an audience with his music as well as his album covers. He keeps his album covers real the same way he does with the material of his music. He can look like he is in the mafia one minute and walking on your street the next. The photographers always create a story with Jay-Z’s album covers. Every look on the album cover fits with the album. There may not be much on the covers, but they will get you talking. Looking at his album covers is like an event. Fans anticipate what the album covers look like because they make a statement. Jay-Z may not be known for being a model and he never pretends to be. He does stand out on the album covers. Come find out which covers made our list. See how Jay-Z’s style has evolved over the years.
# 10 – 4:44
The first pick on our Top 10 Jay-Z Album Covers list is 4:44. 4:44 is Jay-Z’s 13th studio album. Jay-Z had nothing else to prove to the world. He accomplished everything possible in hip-hop music. He accomplished more than what most artists could only dream of doing in music. With that said, this album cover is simple and to the point. It has a peach background with the album title written at the bottom in big bold numbers. The top of the album cover lets fans know that this is his thirteenth studio album. He doesn’t have his name written on the album cover. He let the title speak for itself. Most people put their names on the album cover so fans would know who they are. Jay-Z is a legend whose name doesn’t need to be mentioned.
Brian Roettinger and Willo Perron came up with a great concept for the album cover. They chose an exquisite color for the background. The color helps it stand out. They also chose black lettering for which brings out the light color. They didn’t overdo it by using too much imagery for album. It was a bold move not to feature a picture of Jay-Z. They let the title do the talking for him. Speaking of the title, Jay-Z chose this title because it was the time he woke up and wrote the song. Brian Roettinger and Willo Perron have the album title strategically placed in the bottom middle of the cover. It will draw your attention to the title.
Brian Roettinger is a designer. He also runs a record label. Willo Perron is a creative director who has worked with Jay-Z, DJ Serious, Talib Kweli & Hi-Tek, Rise & Shine, Smut Peddlers, Bruno Mars, Marilyn Manson, Miguel. Florence and the Machine, as well as others. 4:44 was released in June 2017. The album peaked at number one on Billboard 200. 4:44 features the singles “4:44,” “Bam” and “Family Feud.” The album sold over one million copies.
# 9 – Kingdom Come
The next pick on our Top 10 Jay-Z Album Covers list is Kingdom Come. Kingdom Come is Jay-Z’s ninth studio album. This is considered Jay-Z’s comeback album. He had planned to retire from rapping after he did The Black Album. Kingdom Come was considered a rebirth of Shawn Carter. Shawn Carter is Jay-Z’s real name. The album cover features a head shot of Jay-Z. The shot is taken from his right side. He is wearing a Yankee hat with a black jacket with his collar flipped up. The photo is black and white with a red hue. The red hue makes the album cover stand out. Jay-Z has a menacing look on his face. He is ready to take on the world and remind them that he is not retiring from the business. He is back with a vengeance.
Photographer and filmmaker Anthony Mandler captured a serious side of Jay-Z . Anthony Mandler wanted the world to know Jay-Z was back in business. Anthony Mandler did a great job with this picture. He gave a black and white photo some color by giving it a red hue. The red hue will draw your attention to the album cover. Anthony Mandler took a close shot of the rapper so you can look into his eyes. Anthony Mandler has worked with Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Beyonce, Eminem, Usher, Drake, The Weeknd, The Killers, Shakira, The Spice Girls, Lana Del Ray, Snoop Dogg, as well as others. Kingdom Come was released in November 2006. The album peaked at number one on Billboard 200. Kingdom Come features the singles “Show Me What You Got,” “Lost One,” “30 Something” and “Hollywood.” The album sold over two million copies.
# 8 – The Black Album
The eighth pick on our Top 10 Jay-Z Album Covers list is The Black Album. The Black Album is Jay-Z’s eighth studio album. The Black Album was supposed to be Jay-Z’s last studio album. He planned on retiring after the release of this album. He worked with different producers for this project. This is a monochrome album cover. It features a picture of Jay-Z. He is wearing a black hat that covers his eyes. He is wearing a black shirt. The album cover is mostly black. There is a gray light in the shape of Jay-Z’s body. There is a method behind the madness of this album cover.
Jonathan Mannion, Lenny Santiago and Walik Goshorn created a unique album cover. They wanted everything to be black on the cover. They wanted the hat to be in the right position on the cover. The photographers felt like this was an iconic shot of the legendary rapper. Jay-Z wanted to fade into the background because he was leaving the business. He wanted the world to see the music industry without him in it. The photographers captured what Jay-Z wanted and had him fade into the background. This isn’t like Jay-Z’s other album covers. His face is on it but it doesn’t dominate the cover. He appears to be hiding his face on this cover.
Jonathan Mannion is a hip-hop photographer who has shot over 300 album covers. He has worked with Jay-Z, Dr. Dre, Outkast, Aaliyah, Nas, Nicki Minaj, Brandy, Kendrick Lamar, Beenie Man, D.J. Khaled, as well as others. Lenny Santiago is a photographer who has worked at Roc Nation. He has worked with Jay-Z, Rihanna, Kanye West, D.J. Khaled, Fabolous, Mack Wilds, Justine Skye, Vic Mensa, as well as others. Walik Goshorn is a celebrity photographer. He took a picture of Jay-Z and Michael Jackson backstage at Summer Jam for Hot 97. He is best known for working with Jay-Z. The Black Album was released in November 2003. The album peaked at number one on Billboard 200. The Black Album features the singles “Change Clothes,” “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” and “99 Problems.” The album sold over three million copies.
# 7 – Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter
The seventh pick on our list is Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter. Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter is Jay-Z’s fourth studio album. Jay-Z wanted to go back to the basics with this album. He wanted the album to sound similar to his first album. Critics considered this one of his strongest albums. The album cover features a black and white picture of Jay-Z standing outside of his car. He has one arm on the roof and the other on the door. He is strategically placed in between his office buildings in Manhattan. He is sporting his Rocawear fashion line.
Jonathan Mannion wanted to show Jay-Z’s dominance over the world, by having him pose between the two buildings. Jay-Z looks larger than life in the photo. Jay-Z has a lot of style and swag in the picture. He is displaying the right amount of attitude for the picture. Jonathan Mannion captured the right look for the album cover. Jonathn Mannion seems to favor taking black and white photos of the legend. It was a good decision because it makes the picture look more powerful. The album title isn’t featured on the album cover, but Jay-Z’s name stands out just like he does. Vol.3… Life and Times of S. Carter was released in December 1999. The album peaked at number one on Billboard 200. It features the singles “Do It Again (Put Ya Hands Up),” “Anything” and “Big Pimpin’.” The album sold over three million copies.
# 6 – Reasonable Doubt
Reasonable Doubt is Jay-Z’s debut studio album. This is the album that introduced the world to Jay-Z. The album has a mafioso rap motif. Jay-Z wanted to talk about being a hustler and maintaining that lifestyle. The album cover is a black and white picture of Jay-Z. He is wearing a Versace suit. He has on a black fedora with a white strip on it. The hat covers most of his face. Jay-Z is looking down in the picture. He is holding a cigar in his hand. He is dressed like a mafia man. It was the look he was going for with this album. Jay-Z wanted to look like a wealthy boss.
Jonathan Mannion wanted to create a mafia and Brooklyn style theme for the album cover. He used that mentality to design the album cover. He wanted to create the look of Jay-Z being a hustler. Jonathan Mannion came up with a great look because Jay-Z looks like a hustler as well as a mobster. Jay-Z looks stylish. This is Jay-Z’s debut album so it was strange that he would cover his face. There is no mistaking Jay-Z’s swag, but he could have been anyone on the cover. Reasonable Doubt was released in June 1996. The album peaked at number three on the hip-hop charts and number 23 on Billboard 200. Reasonable Doubt features the singles “Dead Presidents,” “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” “Bring It On” and “Feelin’ It.” The album sold over one million copies.
# 5 – In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
The next pick on our Top 10 Jay-Z Album Covers list is In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 is Jay-Z’s second studio album. Jay-Z changed his style for this album. He wanted to get away from the mafia lifestyle and make people dance. The album cover features a picture of Jay-Z. He changed up his image from his debut album. On his debut album (Reasonable Doub) he was dressed as a mafia king. On this project, he has a casual look. He is standing in front of a white background. He is wearing a black coat and a white shirt. You can see his gold watch. He has his hands on top of each other and they are balled into fists. He looks as if he is ready to take on all comers. He looks more like your next-door neighbor than a hustler.
Jay-Z worked with Jonathan Mannion on this cover. Once again Jonathan Mannion took a black and white picture of Jay-Z. Jonathan Mannion did a 180 with Jay-Z’s look. Jonathan Mannion wanted Jay-Z’s look to reflect the songs on the album. Jay-Z may not look like a mafia man on this cover, but he does look as if he is about to take on the world. You can tell he was going to be a star with just his look alone. Jonathan Mannion did a simple cover and allowed Jay-Z to be the star. There is nothing in the picture to distract you from looking at Jay-Z. In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 was released in November 1997. The album peaked at number three on Billboard 200. In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 features the singles “(Always Be My) Sunshine,” “This City Is Mine” and “Wishing on a Star.” The album sold over one million copies.
# 4 – The Blueprint 3
The Blueprint 3 is Jay-Z’s 11th studio album. Jay-Z changed his musical style for this album. He wanted to include more pop music in his songs. This album is Jay-Z’s eleventh number one album. He had previously shared the record with Elvis Presley until he broke the record. The album cover features pictures of white instruments stacked on top of each other. There are three red stripes in the middle of the instruments. The instruments weren’t photoshopped into the picture. They were stacked on top of each other the way they appear on the album cover.
Jay-Z wanted listeners to know that instruments are forgotten in hip-hop music. He wanted to pay homage to the forgotten instruments. He wanted to symbolize that music wasn’t dead. Photographer Dan Tobin Smith gave Jay-Z the look he wanted for this album cover. Dan Tobin Smith and his team painted three red lines in the middle of the instruments. It was to symbolize the number three for the album. It looks like a difficult shot because all the instruments could have collapsed. This album cover could have been featured in an art gallery. We have never seen a photo like this, so we had to include it on our list. Dan Tobin Smith is known for doing still life pictures. His style is creating pictures you have never seen before. The Blueprint 3 was released in September 2009. The album peaked at number one on Billboard 200. The Blueprint 3 features the singles “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune),” “Run This Town,” “Empire State of Mind,” “On to the Next One,” “Young Forever” and “A Star Is Born.” The album sold over one million copies.
# 3 – American Gangster
Coming in at number three on our list is American Gangster. American Gangster is Jay-Z’s 10th studio album. This album was inspired by the movie of the same name. Jay-Z went back to mafioso rap. The songs have a 70s soul and funk instrumentation. The album cover features Jay-Z walking into a closed restaurant. He is dressed in a three-piece suit. He is wearing a long trench coat. There are chairs on top of the tables which indicates that the restaurant is closed. There is a light shining behind the star. It gives the room a smoky look. Jay-Z’s name is written in red letters. The title is written in gray letters.
Photographer Arthur Elgort wanted to recreate a scene from the movie. He wanted Jay-Z to look like a mobster. Jay-Z commands the room. Arthur Elgort didn’t take a close shot of Jay-Z. His face blends in with the light coming from behind him. Jay-Z was reluctant to take pictures for his covers because he was tired of having his face on the album covers. He has trouble making the same face. Jay-Z looks sophisticated on the cover. You would never know that he was reluctant to take the picture. Arthur Elgort is a fashion designer and photographer. He has worked with Jay-Z, Paul Simon, Steve Winwood, Ric Ocasek, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Debbie Harry, Dexter Gordon, Javon Jackson, The Rolling Stones, as well as others. American Gangster was released in November 2007. The album peaked at number one on Billboard 200. American Gangster features the singles “Blue Magic,” “Roc Boys (…And the Winner Is” and “I Know.” The album sold over one million copies.
# 2 – The Blueprint
The Blueprint is Jay-Z’s sixth studio album. This is considered one of Jay-Z’s best albums. It has also been considered one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. The album cover features a picture of Jay-Z sitting on a desk. He is wearing a black Rocawear jacket and jeans. He is wearing black sunglasses. He is smoking a cigar. The shot is taken from above. You can see the top of his head. His back is facing the camera. It is also taken from his right side. You can see a microphone, ashtray, cigar cutter and cigars on the desk. You can also see a shot of men’s feet on the right side of the cover. There is a blue tint on the photo.
Jonathan Mannion made Jay-Z look like a boss. He looks like he is running the show. Jonathan Mannion wanted to make Jay-Z look like he was taking charge of the room. He wanted it to appear as if the people in the room were waiting for Jay-Z to speak to them. This is a shot that Jay-Z would have wanted since he doesn’t like posing for pictures. This shot was taken from above him so there is no close shot of his face. It looks like a candid shot instead of a posed one. The picture will give you a lot to observe while you are looking at it. It makes you wonder what he is talking to them about on the cover. The Blueprint was released in September 2001. The album peaked at number one on Billboard 200. The Blueprint features the singles “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” “Girls, Girls, Girls,” “Song Cry” and “Takeover.” The album sold over two million copies.
# 1 – Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life
The number one pick on our Top 10 Jay-Z Album Covers list is Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life. Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life is Jay-Z’s third studio album. This is one of Jay-Z’s biggest selling albums. He wanted to be a voice for people who didn’t have a platform to speak their minds. He wanted to share the stories about what people have been dealing with in their lives. Jay-Z knew people were going through the things he was talking about or knew someone who was dealing with problems. The album cover features JJay-Z standing outside of a Bentley. He is wearing all black in the picture. Jay-Z has one hand in his pocket while the other hand is on the car. The album cover has a white background.
Jonathan Mannion did a great job making Jay-Z look like a successful businessman. Jay-Z looks like a businessman who hasn’t forgotten how he grew up. Jay-Z has a serious look on his face as if he is ready to challenge anyone who wants to take over his reign as a rap superstar. This is a different picture for Jonathan Mannion. He doesn’t always take color pictures of Jay-Z. He usually takes black and white shots. He does use black and white in the picture, but it is a color shot. Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life was released in September 1998. The album peaked at number one on Billboard 200. Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life features the singles “Can I Get A…,” “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” “It’s Like That” and “Jigga What, Jigga Who.” The album sold over five million copies.
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