Hip-Hop, a music and culture that prides itself on repurposing and reconstructing things from the past, often finds itself looking back, even as its gatekeepers continuously debate over what is or isn’t “relevant” in the present.
For the album artwork of his third solo album “Nothing Was The Same” Drake enlisted artist Kadir Nelson to immortalize his current back to the future obsession (his video for “No New Friends” where he played dress up in Dada as 1996 Aubrey) featuring renderings of his childhood self and his 2013 profile.
Almost immediately fans began speculating that Drake was subconsciously planting the idea of his album being a classic in their minds because the childhood theme was started on Nas’ “Illmatic” and Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ready To Die” in 1994.
When you stop laughing at the Blue Ivy jokes, check out the timeline of rappers and their underage album covers.
Nas “Illmatic” (1994)
For his debut album Nas superimposed a photo of his childhood self at age seven against a backdrop of The Queensbridge Projects. However, some speculate that the 1974 jazz album by the Howard Hanger Trio, “A Child Is Born,” was the likely influence on the album cover.
“That was the year I started to acknowledge everything [around me],” Nas says of the photo taken by his father Olu Dara. “That’s the year everything set off. That’s the year I started seeing the future for myself and doing what was right. The ghetto makes you think. The world is ours. I used to think I couldn’t leave my projects. I used to think if I left, if anything happened to me, I thought it would be no justice or I would be just a dead slave or something.
Honorable Mention: N.C. rapper J. Cole paid tribute to the “Illmatic artwork with his single artwork to “Villematic”
Notorious B.I.G. “Ready To Die” (1994)
The late Christopher Wallace’s debut album featured a baby sporting one of the tightest afros ever. Over a decade later it was revealed that a young man named Keithroy Yearwood was the model for the now iconic album cover. He was paid $150 by a modeling agency for the shot.
Having come out just months after Nas’s “Illmatic,” Biggie and crew drew some criticism for biting. Nas addressed the controversy on the 2002 Track “Last Real Nigga Alive” :
“B.I.G. was ahead of his time / Him and Raekwon my niggas / But dig it / They couldn’t get along / That’s when Ghostface set it on the purple tape / Bad Boy biting Nas album cover wait ..“
Common, “One Day It’ll All Make Sense” (1997)
The follow-up to his 1994 debut “Resurrection” featured a more mature, pensive Lonnie Lynn who was adjusting to life as a new father. For the cover he used a picture of his 8-year-old self with his mother, Dr. Ann Hines, at an airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica in 1980.