Monday, October 31st, 2011

The American Flag On Rap Album Covers Throughout History

Here's the new track from ASAP Rocky, whose debut mixtape, Live, Love ASAP comes out today. The Harlem rapper recently signed a three-million-dollar deal with Sony subsidiary Polo Grounds Music and denounced homophobia in an interview with Pitchfork. That last part shouldn't be as newsworthy as it is. That's the cover of the mixtape there. It's a good cover, I think. What interests me most, though, is the use of the American flag in the image, which places ASAP Rocky in a long tradition in rap.

This past summer, Jay-Z and Kanye used a blurry, Jasper Johnsish flag as the cover for their single, "Otis."

But ASAP's cover is most reminiscent of the one Outkast used eleven years ago for the Stankonia album.

Originally an Outkast acolyte, the great Atlanta rapper Killer Mike used a black-and-white flag with skull-n-crossbone stars for his first independent album in 2006.

And for its sequel, two years later.

Also from Atlanta, also in 2008, Young Jeezy draped himself in a flag on the cover of his album, The Recession, which featured the celebratory single, "My President." ("My President" featured a guest appearance from Nas, who had posed in front of the stars-and-stripes for the cover of XXL magazine earlier that year.)

Ice Cube's usage of the flag was less reverent back in 1991. There was a recession at that time, too. But George H. W. Bush was in office, and the album included the song, "I Wanna Kill Sam."

The late Bay Area legend Mac Dre spoofed Bush's predecessor on the excellent cover to his 2004 album, Ronald Dregan. A single from album, "Dreganomics," espouses living life, "royal, spoiled, the American way."

Ten years earlier, in 1994, fellow Bay Area rapper Spice 1 had taken a more Ice-Cube like approach.

In 1998, the Geto Boys depicted a young person smoking crack in front of the White House, with Uncle Sam looking on and the stars-n-stripes adorning the album title.

That same year, New Orleans' Full Blooded, a "soldier" in Master P's No Limit Records "army," wore fatigues and dug up Arlington Cemetery with his hands on the cover of his Memorial Day album. (God, those Pen & Pixel No Limit covers were always so amazing.)

In '99, elsewhere in New Orleans, a teenage Lil Wayne wore patriotic underpants on the cover of his first solo album.

Master P himself used the flag to reference the famous "Say hello to the bad guy" scene from Scarface in 2006.

Tray Deee, of Snoop Dogg's East Sidaz, posed like Patton in 2002.

And of course, Harlem's Dip Set similarly saluted the following year. (Maybe that's really where ASAP took his inspiration from.)

Lately, in general, American flag imagery on rap album covers has been less overtly political than it used to be.

Seems like a million years since 1990. Uncle Luke placed fourth, with 11 percent of the vote, in this year's Miami-Dade County mayoral race.

And of course, even longer since 1976, when the late, great Gil Scott-Heron, who's as worthy of the title of the original rapper as anyone, set the tone in this regard, as well.

12 Comments / Post A Comment

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

"Lately, in general, American flag imagery on rap album covers has been less overtly political than it used to be."

No shit. It's because lately, rap, in general, has been co-opted by the opportunists just looking to make money in "entertainment biz", where it was originated by free thinking creative people who actually had something to say.

Matt (#26)

Thank you Based God.

deepomega (#1,720)

@Niko Bellic And the young people today! So disrespectful!

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@deepomega I didn't say that there are no free thinking creative people who actually have things to say (and are saying them) today. In fact, I think that thanks to internet, there are a lot more of them. It's just that "rap" can no longer be used as a valid shorthand for referring to any of them.

deepomega (#1,720)

@Niko Bellic As opposed to the glory days of the Sugar Hill Gang and the Fat Boys.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@deepomega Yes: as opposed to the glory days of the Sugar Hill Gang and the Fat Boys. Because those bands had nowhere near the power of the likes of Jay-Z and Kanye West to co-opt shit.

iantenna (#5,160)

"rap is dead" says 39 year old white person, again.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@iantenna If today's kids really can't come up with their own thing and have to recycle my generation's inventions, than that's the biggest problem (although, I don't think that's really the case, but hey… what do I know). Also, even if you aren't "hearing it" it's precisely the scale that rap has reached today (as opposed to what it had "back in the day") that should tell you that it's become too damn "white".

flossy (#1,402)

This kid's not bad. My first thought was "nobody who raps about wearing Rick Owens could be that homophobic" and then I clicked the interview link and yep, that's pretty much his rationale too.

Makes me think that for such a horrible sell-out of an apolitical corporate shill (ahem), Kanye West may have actually done a little bit to advance acceptance of teh gays in hip-hop by popularizing the appreciation of genuinely forward-thinking designers (Margiela, Raf Simons, Rick Owens etc.) who are gay rather than faceless brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton that really only stand for money.

Also, apropos the regional slang post from a few days back, A$AP Rocky is the #1 offender in terms of appropriating Texas slang (their whole musical aesthetic, really) for NYC hip-hop. But he does wear some nice shoes.

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