This week's celebration of 30 years of Def Jam has been a reminder of how much the landmark hip-hop label has meant to all generations of hip-hoppers who've been turned on to their output in its wake. The last three decades of record stores would look quite different without Def Jam releases on their shelves. While the standard maroon Def Jam sleeve has been a source of comfort for rap fans over the years, the label's also been responsible for some of the most unforgettable album arts in the genre's history. Here's our picks for the top five Def Jam album arts of all time.
See also: Def Jam's 5 Most Iconic videos
5) Onyx – Bacdafucup
At the time Onyx first broke nationwide, critics couldn't wait to hail them as "punk rap." It's an easy label to throw on the group as the screaming verbal onslaught sounds like one big mosh pit on wax. It's perfectly fitting that the cover resembles the sight of you having just been beaten down by the group because, truthfully, you just were.
4) Slick Rick – The Great Adventures of Slick Rick
A quintessential New York album with a quintessential New York cover art, Slick Rick's The Great Adventures of Slick Rick makes the city that doesn't sleep seem like the perfect never-neverland for all his classic stories to take place. All five boroughs become the Ruler's magic kingdom, and captures exactly why hip-hop could have only started in New York.
3)LL Cool J – Bigger And Deffer
Released a solid month before Michael Jackson's Bad, LL Cool J's Bigger and Deffer was a career highlight that solidified his place not just as a rap icon, but a force in pop culture as well. Given how diverse the songs on Bigger and Deffer were, it's important that the undeniably cool cover reflects just how much mass appeal Cool J had at that point in his career. An eye-catching color scheme and photogenic charisma helped continue Cool J's reign as one of rap's most important figures.
2) Redman – Dare Iz A Darkside
A tribute to Parliament Funkadelic's classic Maggot Brain cover, the image at the front of Redman's Dare Iz A Darkside takes the sinister lush Funk overtones and filters it through a gritty New Jersey desolation. Redman's always worn his heart on his record sleeve, and few, if any, other artists in rap have ever reflected the sound of their albums so accordingly with their covers. Added to the art are the legendary red plastic jewel cases the record would arrive in.
1) Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet
Nothing has resembled the cover of Fear of a Black Planet before or since its release in 1991. An uncompromising title for an uncompromising group, the bold logo and science fiction-esqe font parallels the group's revolutionary message with the subversive sci-fi of the 60s. Seeing it blown up on a full 2012-inch vinyl remains one of the strongest statements in hip-hop history.