Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB

Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Miles Davis “On the Corner” (Columbia Records)

Another year, another Black History Month coming to a close. For the past 28 days, The Root has been celebrating Black Joy and how that looks—whether it’s through art, family, food or music. Panama Jackson, senior editor of Very Smart Brothas, has brought us all the joy through the most iconic and Blackest album covers of our time. Granted, there are probably more than 28 out there, but it would be hard to top this series in all of its Blackness.

A slew of my personal favorites made this list—Miles Davis in particular because Sundays were for jazz in my house and this particular album stayed on “heavy rotation.” On top of that, I’m sure many of them have played on repeat in Black households since they came out. Panama has done us the honor of making this list, to begin with, and I’m just here to put them together so we can look back and think, “ah yes, this is Black joy with some of the most iconic music moments to look back on.”

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.

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February 1: Al Green I’m Still In Love With You (1972)

February 1: Al Green I’m Still In Love With You (1972)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Al Green I’m Still In Love With You (London Records)

You probably know this album because it contains a murderer’s row of songs in “Love And Happiness,” “What a Wonderful Thing Love Is,” and “Simply Beautiful.” But you might ALSO know it because of the album cover. My man Al Green looked like a straight pimp.

From Al Green I’m Still In Love With You (1972)

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February 2: A Taste of Honey A Taste of Honey

February 2: A Taste of Honey A Taste of Honey

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: A Taste of Honey A Taste of Honey (Capitol Records)

First off, they outchea lookin’ fierce. Oh, who is they? “They” are the lead vocalists and guitarists featured on the cover, Janice-Marie Johnson and Hazel Payne. And there is NOTHING Blacker than the braids and cowrie shells combo that was so popular in the ‘70s. Even Rick James spent significant time with this particular hairdo. Hell, your cousin James probably did, too. Let us also talk about how badass they both look in the combo black-and-white motifs they’re sporting. I mean, if those two women stepped on stage ANYWHERE you’d pay attention. I’m paying attention now and well, they’re not stepping on any stage any time soon as a group.

From A Taste of Honey A Taste of Honey

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February 3: Big Bear Doin Thangs (1998)

February 3: Big Bear Doin Thangs (1998)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Big Bear Doin’ Thangs (Tru Game Records)

This shit is pure art and all of the best art is memorable, so does this make this like, real, art? I think so. I’ve never met Big Bear and have no idea if he’s still recording, alive or knows the whereabouts of his bear homies featured on the cover, but if I ever do meet him the first thing I’m asking is this: “Whose idea was this album cover? Did you bring the concept to the table or did Pen & Pixel send this to you and you were like, ‘nailed it.’”

From Big Bear Doin Thangs

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February 4: Black Ivory’s Don’t Turn Around (1972)

February 4: Black Ivory’s Don’t Turn Around (1972)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Black Ivory “Don’t Turn Around” (Today Records)

But the song of theirs that immediately landed on Panama’s List of Favorite Songs of All Time is “You and I, ” a 7-minute song with a whole jam session vibe (with Larry Blackmon getting some drum work in) in the last four minutes. And not the remastered version, but the original.

From Black Ivory Don’t Turn Around

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February 5: Betty Davis’ Nasty Gal (1975)

February 5: Betty Davis’ Nasty Gal (1975)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Betty Davis “Nasty Gal” (Island Records)

I love this album cover. It follows in the vein of her 1973 and 1974 albums—Betty Davis and They Say I’m Different, respectively—in showing how fly and rock- and funk-inspired she was. You have that amazing fro, perfectly coiffed with a whole lot of Black woman pizzazz and sass that jumps right off of the album cover. Fishnet stockings and stilettos make the cypher complete. She looks amazing and bad ass at the same damn time.

From Betty Davis’ Nasty Gal

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February 6: Queen Latifah’s Nature of A Sista’ (1991)

February 6: Queen Latifah’s Nature of A Sista’ (1991)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Queen Latifah “Nature of A Sista’” (Tommy Boy Records)

Nature of A Sista’ was simply a picture of Queen Latifah, the most mature looking 21-year-old of all time, wearing a crown, gorgeous jewelry and photographed in a manner that made her look like a queen. Let’s face it, Queen Latifah is hieroglyphics ready on this album cover. Even the lettering spoke to a diasporic and afro-centric Blackness that was very popular in the early ’90s.

From Queen Latifah Nature Of A Sista’

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February 7: Miles Davis’ On the Corner (1972)

February 7: Miles Davis’ On the Corner (1972)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Miles Davis “On the Corner” (Columbia Records)

This cover is for Miles Davis’ 1972 album called On the Corner, an album in the line of his jazz fusion works, executed by illustrator, Corky McCoy. And there ain’t much Blacker than a Black jazz trumpeter. A Black jazz trumpeter whose name is Miles. If that ain’t Black cool, I don’t know what it is.

From Miles Davis’ On The Corner

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February 8: Guy Warren of Ghana’s Afro-Jazz (1969)

February 8: Guy Warren of Ghana’s Afro-Jazz (1969)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Guy Warren of Ghana ‘Afro-Jazz’ (EMI Columbia Records)

My man looks like he’s ready to go to war. Look at those super fly kicks he’s sportin’. He looks like he used to live Uptown, 129th Street and Convent. I can’t stop making Kool Moe Dee references. The fact that this came out in 1969 also trips me out. It seems so ahead of its time even if it was right on time, similar to album covers by artists like Isaac Hayes, which feel both ahead of their time and entirely of their time.

From Guy Warren of Ghana’s Afro-Jazz (1969)

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February 9: Amii Stewart’s Knock On Wood (1979)

February 9: Amii Stewart’s Knock On Wood (1979)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Amii Stewart ‘Knock On Wood’ (Ariola Records)

Amii is giving so much style and grace in this picture. From the dress, adorned with all that accouterment to that absolutely fabo headdress. If the point of an album cover is to make you pick up an album, this is one album I’d have taken home immediately. She has the legs out lookin’ like Black fitness and that stance just screams “Pay attention to me, I just may change your life.” It also reads as “I do Tae Bo even if it hasn’t been invented yet.”

From Amii Stewart’s Knock On Wood

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February 10: The Brothers Johnson’s Winners (1981)

February 10: The Brothers Johnson’s Winners (1981)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: The Brothers Johnson ‘Winners’ (A&M Records)

Well, in a most literal album cover sense, the Brothers Johnson’s 1981 album Winners is literally them winning a race. I’m assuming it’s a 100-yard-dash because if this is my album cover, I’m not doing anything more than a 100. They look to tie because they’re brothers in real life and I can’t imagine either would be OK with the other winning.

From The Brothers Johnson Winners

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February 11: Kay-Gees’ Keep On Bumpin’ & Masterplan (1974)

February 11: Kay-Gees’ Keep On Bumpin’ & Masterplan (1974)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Kay Gee’s ‘Keep On Bumpin’ & Masterplan’ (Polydor)

You have seven gentleman in various states of fly with that sort of fishbowl view that you can get when trying to take a panorama shot with your phone. Rappers galore would use this angle and view on album covers far and wide in the ’90s. Project rooftops and liquor stores alike would be featured in this same visage. Then look at that ’70s AF color palette. You cannot tell me these cats aren’t killin’ the browns and neutral tone game.

From Kay Gee’s Keep On Bumpin’ & Masterplan 

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February 12: Diana Ross’ Diana (1980)

February 12: Diana Ross’ Diana (1980)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Diana Ross ‘Diana’ (Tamla Motown)

You know this album. I know this album. Your neighbor knows this album. Everybody knows this album by the Queen of Motown, Diana Ross, simply titled diana. Even if you can’t tell me what songs are on this album title, if you love Black music, I’m about 100 percent sure you know this cover.

From Diana Ross Diana

Correction, 3/4/21, 2:30 p.m. : The album cover was art designed by Rita Lewerke and was photographed by Francesco Scavullo. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the art designer and photographer. The story has been updated with the proper credits. 

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February 13: Preston Love’s Preston Love’s Omaha Bar-B-Q (1969)

February 13: Preston Love’s Preston Love’s Omaha Bar-B-Q (1969)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Preston Love ‘Preston Love’s Omaha Bar-B-Q’ (Kent)

For starters, Preston, who was a saxophonist from Omaha, hence the album title and, well, picture, was quite a solid sax player. But this Black man decided to play the sax while barbecuing and that’s pretty Black. I mean, on the list of Blackest things you can do, I’d wager that being ON the grill while playing a sax is pretty high up on the list.

From Preston Love Preston Love’s Omaha Bar-B-Q

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February 14: Marvin Gaye’s I Want You (1976)

February 14: Marvin Gaye’s I Want You (1976)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Marvin Gaye ‘I Want You’ (Motown)

The depiction of a bunch of Black folks jamming it up and moving speaks to our culture and community. It’s simply beautiful. It’s Black and beautiful. Ain’t no way you could have that album cover on this album and it not be one of the most iconic Black album covers ever.

From Marvin Gaye I Want You

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February 15: Minnie Riperton’s Perfect Angel (1974)

February 15: Minnie Riperton’s Perfect Angel (1974)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Minnie Riperton ‘Perfect Angel’ (Epic)

Once you consider that Minnie Riperton has a voice from the gawds—this album contains her biggest solo record, “Lovin’ You”—and you have the perfect storm of beautiful Blackness. Interestingly, the accent of melted vanilla ice cream just works.

From Minnie Riperton Perfect Angel

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February 16: Outkast’s Aquemini (1998)

February 16: Outkast’s Aquemini (1998)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Outkast ‘Aquemini’ (LaFace)

If you’re a fan of hip hop, and especially the “golden” era, then you probably both know and love Outkast. The group, comprised of Atlanta duo André 3000 and Big Boi, are legends in the game. They have classic, innovative albums to their credit and 3000 is even a frequent presence in GOAT rapper conversations.

From Outkast’s Aquemini

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February 17: Mystique’s Mystique featuring Ralph Johnson (1977)

February 17: Mystique’s Mystique featuring Ralph Johnson (1977)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Mystique ‘Mystique featuring Ralph Johnson’ (Curtom)

Friends, Romans, Countryfolks...this is one BlackAF album cover. The group, Mystique, signed to Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom Records, really came through with a cover that honestly sounds like the album. Mystique was an outfit that made funky-laden, lush records that were on the precipice of disco, you know, the kind of sounds cats who are floating from the sky wearing pastels, perms, afros and platform shoes would make.

From Mystique Mystique featuring Ralph Johnson

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February 18: Shut Up and Dance’s Dance Before The Police Come! (1990)

February 18: Shut Up and Dance’s Dance Before The Police Come! (1990)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Shupt Up and Dance ‘Dance Before the Police Come!’ (Shup Up and Dance Records)

This album is pretty socially conscious in a very early 90s way with danceable tracks about oppression and white supremacy alongside jams about being a Black man. Every song sounds like a sped-up version of some song that could have been on the Menace II Society soundtrack. With less baby oil, of course.

From Shupt Up and Dance Dance Before the Police Come!

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February 19: Mary J. Blige’s My Life (1994)

February 19: Mary J. Blige’s My Life (1994)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Mary J. Blige ‘My Life’ (Uptown Records)

She has on the leather hat and jacket. It’s very Donny Hathaway in it’s set up. But it’s the eyes, man. Her eyes are telling tales. She’s looking at us all asking us to hear her out—asking us to listen. The album’s title couldn’t have been more perfect. This album cover is basically asking for us all to take a look at her life.

From Mary J. Blige My Life

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February 20: Dee Dee Bridgewater’s Afro Blue (1974)

February 20: Dee Dee Bridgewater’s Afro Blue (1974)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Dee Dee Bridgewater ‘Afro Blue’ (Trio)

This is pure Black excellence and beauty. At the time of this album’s release, Dee Dee was 24, and I wonder if she had any idea of how amazing her career was about to be ahead of her.

From Dee Dee Bridgewater Afro Blue

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February 21: Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)

February 21: Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Kendrick Lamar ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ (TDE/Aftermath/Interscope)

To Pimp a Butterfly is one Black ass album cover.

From Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly

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February 22: Max Roach’s We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite (1960)

February 22: Max Roach’s We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite (1960)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Max Roach ‘We Insist!’ (Candid Records)

So he did, and he made a statement. And that statement starts with a cover that leads into a BlackAF album that could be used in any Spike Lee movie (if it hasn’t been used already), especially “Tears for Johannesburg.”

From Max Roach We Insist!

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February 23: Ohio Players’ Honey (1975)

February 23: Ohio Players’ Honey (1975)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Ohio Players ‘Honey’ (Mercury)

There is no discussion about Black album covers, iconic or otherwise, that doesn’t include the string of album covers the Ohio Players put together in the 1970s. I could have included any album cover from 1972's Pain to 1981's Everybody Up and it would be a worthy inclusion to the conversation. But 1975's Honey is some top-shelf album covering, if I do say so myself.

From Ohio Players Honey

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February 24: Leon Thomas’ Full Circle (1973)

February 24: Leon Thomas’ Full Circle (1973)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Leon Thomas ‘Full Circle’ (Flying Dutchman)

Essentially, Leon Thomas was a bad, bad mother...(watch yo’ mouth) and that is what this album cover reflects. His vocal stylings and the risks he takes put him in a league of his own.

From Leon Thomas Full Circle

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February 25: Sonny Sharrock’s Black Woman (1969)

February 25: Sonny Sharrock’s Black Woman (1969)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Sonny Sharrock ‘Black Woman’ (Vortex)

They’re together, chillin’, both lookin’ content in their own way. It’s definite album cover Blackness of the highest order. The black and white take it over the top. The regality is intoxicating.

From Sonny Sharrock Black Woman

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February 26: Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall (1979)

February 26: Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall (1979)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Michael Jackson ‘Off The Wall’ (Epic)

Ain’t no way in the world this monthlong series would pass without a nod to one of the greatest albums ever that also happens to feature Michael Jackson at his Blackest. 1979's Off The Wall is a certified classic.

From Michael Jackson Off The Wall

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February 27: Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)

February 27: Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Public Enemy ‘It Takes A Nation of MIllions to Hold Us Back’ (Columbia)

I don’t need a ton of words to describe the way I feel about the cover for Public Enemy’s sophomore album, 1988's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Mostly, I just need to say how bad ass it is. And especially how bad ass it was to a 9-year-old whose big sister was into Black Power and hip-hop with consciousness to it.

From Public Enemy It Takes A Nation of MIllions to Hold Us Back

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February 28: Wilson Pickett’s Pickett In The Pocket (1974)

February 28: Wilson Pickett’s Pickett In The Pocket (1974)

Illustration for article titled Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
Image: Wilson Pickett ‘Pickett In The Pocket’ (RCA Victor)

When I think Blackness I think this album cover. And there’s no better way to conclude a series on album cover Blackness than one that is so supremely Black that it should be committed to paintings during Black History Month featuring Obama and Malcolm X.

From Wilson Pickett Pickett In The Pocket

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Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.

All slides

  1. Recap: 28 Days of Album Cover Blackness with VSB
  2. February 1: Al Green I’m Still In Love With You (1972)
  3. February 2: A Taste of Honey A Taste of Honey
  4. February 3: Big Bear Doin Thangs (1998)
  5. February 4: Black Ivory’s Don’t Turn Around (1972)
  6. February 5: Betty Davis’ Nasty Gal (1975)
  7. February 6: Queen Latifah’s Nature of A Sista’ (1991)
  8. February 7: Miles Davis’ On the Corner (1972)
  9. February 8: Guy Warren of Ghana’s Afro-Jazz (1969)
  10. February 9: Amii Stewart’s Knock On Wood (1979)
  11. February 10: The Brothers Johnson’s Winners (1981)
  12. February 11: Kay-Gees’ Keep On Bumpin’ & Masterplan (1974)
  13. February 12: Diana Ross’ Diana (1980)
  14. February 13: Preston Love’s Preston Love’s Omaha Bar-B-Q (1969)
  15. February 14: Marvin Gaye’s I Want You (1976)
  16. February 15: Minnie Riperton’s Perfect Angel (1974)
  17. February 16: Outkast’s Aquemini (1998)
  18. February 17: Mystique’s Mystique featuring Ralph Johnson (1977)
  19. February 18: Shut Up and Dance’s Dance Before The Police Come! (1990)
  20. February 19: Mary J. Blige’s My Life (1994)
  21. February 20: Dee Dee Bridgewater’s Afro Blue (1974)
  22. February 21: Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
  23. February 22: Max Roach’s We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite (1960)
  24. February 23: Ohio Players’ Honey (1975)
  25. February 24: Leon Thomas’ Full Circle (1973)
  26. February 25: Sonny Sharrock’s Black Woman (1969)
  27. February 26: Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall (1979)
  28. February 27: Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)
  29. February 28: Wilson Pickett’s Pickett In The Pocket (1974)

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