YKFS ranks the top 10 freshest and flyest and dopest and illest graffiti art record covers

Remarkably, despite its assumed importance in hip-hop culture, not very many record covers from hip-hop's golden age featured graffiti art. Those that did, though, offered fans of this art form living beyond New York's five boroughs some jaw-dropping glimpses into the amazing aerosol and pen & ink art being committed to the pages of black books, and to the surfaces of trains and walls during the early days of hip-hop. Ranked here for your perusing pleasure are 10 of the freshest and flyest and dopest and illest examples of "graff" on record covers.  

10. Sleeping Bag Records' Greatest Mixers Collection (LP)
Cover art by Gnome & Gemini/Gem7, 1985

09. Rock Steady Crew - Uprock (12" Single)
Cover art by Doze, 1984

08. B-Girls Live And Kickin' (LP)
Cover art by Akiem Irish, 1987

07. Rap's New Generation (LP)
Cover art by David Sims (Dawud Anyabwile), 1988

06. Mantronix - Needle to the Groove (12" Single)
Cover art by Gnome & Gemini/Gem7, 1985

05. Just-Ice - Back to the Old School (LP)
Cover art by Gnome & Gemini/Gem7, 1986

04. Kickin' Live Productions - The Brothers (12" Single)
Cover art by Akiem Irish, 1987

03. Jellybean - Wotupski!?! (LP)
Cover art by Seen, 1984

02. Wild Style Original Soundtrack (LP)
Cover art by Zephyr, Revolt & Sharp, 1983

01. Rammellzee vs. K-Rob - Beat Bop (12" Single)
Cover art by Jean Michel Basquiat aka SAMO, 1983

Finding yourself disagreeing with the order of these rankings? Some classical-leaning graffiti heads will probably balk at my pick for the #1 spot. Puh-leeze do feel free, though, to post your thoughts in the comments box and let St. Paco know how you would have ranked these classics. Or feel free to drop a line simply stating that this is really just the illest list ever (because it really, really is). Haha.


darrell d said...

this list is dope and right on point. i own all of these except "beat bop". i'm not much of a Jean Michel Basquiat fan so i wouldn't put kammelzee vs. k-rob on my personal list. instead i would have put THE RAT PACK on fresh records. Sleeping Bag records and Fresh records put out some dope graffiti covers as well as a few other labels. some others worth mentioning are:

sleeping bags greatest mixers 2
tony touch-power cypha 2
tuff city old school classics
dj charlie chase-harlem world
sleeping bags greatest mixers 3
the rap pack 2
rock steady crew-hey you

St. Paco said...

I was really tempted to include the "Rap Pack" joint, but since I had FOUR to choose from by Gnome and Gemini, I went with the three shown in the list. The Just-Ice cover is a *serious* sentimental favorite for me.

For a long time I've wondered what happened to Gnome. Working on these rankings led me to read that he passed away. Bummer.

Rock Steady's "Hey You" cover was actually up for consideration, since Doze rocked the characters. But didn't make the cut for me.

Tuff City's "Old School Classics" is one that I'd never seen. Just checked up on it at Discogs after reading your mention. It was originally released in '89, which was my cut off point, so that one would definitely have been up for consideration. Tons of old school flavor there.

Good lookin' out, DJ Darrell D!

djmaneone said...

"despite its assumed importance in hip-hop culture" Oh, brother. Haha.
You know Flash is one of the creative consultants for that new netflix show, The Get Down. Jaden Smith plays a 70's graffiti writer. I wonder what Flash's reasoning behind having a writer in a hip hop show. He might've just said that if it's a show about NYC in the 70s, then you have to include the writers. Who knows.

Thanks for this post Paco. I've never seen that Brothers LP before. Good shit. I agree with Darrell D. I wouldn't put "Beat Bop" on my list. "Hey, You" by Rocksteady would be my #1, with "Needle to the Groove" being #2.

St. Paco said...

You already know that I'm firmly in the Flash school when it comes to graff's place, or lack thereof, in early in hip-hop. Heh.

"He might've just said that if it's a show about NYC in the 70s, then you have to include the writers."

Word. Despite the recently discussed schism, to have a writer involved would still be an accurate reflection of what was also going on with kids in NYC at the time.

"The Brothers" was the third record I ever bought that had crazy graff flavor on it. Found it at Hyde Park records in 88. Aside from the cover, this one is all about the b-side for me: "I Got Rhythm." This track is *still* a beast. I was even listenin' to it on repeat (x12!) last night, while bloggin' this.

The other really dope thing about the cover art for "The Brothers" single is that it was rocked by "Akiem Love Allah" aka "Akiem The Rhythm Maker", the MC in the three-man Kickin' Live Productions crew. Crazy skills, that guy.

Oh, and the first time I saw the "Needle to the Groove" cover, my brain almost oozed outta' my ears. So much flavor.

Appreciate the comments, DJ Mane One!

darrell d said...

My first 2 would be the Just Ice and the Mantronix with the Rap Pack coming in at #3.

I copped(stole/took with use of force/borrowed) the Brothers Lp from the homie Chino D who is from the bronx. that was about 8 years ago. i still have yet to listen to it.

I had one of the illest digging experiences at Hyde Park records in Chicago back in 2009. one of the illest record stores i've ever been in. I covered that store in the first "Red Beans and Rice" video.

darrell d said...

oh yeah, you need to explain why you chose the Basquiat cover. i know dude is heavy to a lot of folks but that cover sucks.

St. Paco said...

LOL @ I copped/stole/took with use of force/borrowed the Brothers..from the homie Chino D

Yeah, man. I miss those good ol' days of hittin' up Hype Park Records. Scored some serious gems there back in the day. My father hooked me up on that spot around 85 or 86. Of course, I recall seeing it in the Red Beans & Rice documentary.

"...you need to explain why you chose the Basquiat cover."

My rationale behind the #1 pick is due to the way Basquiat was "writing" graff in its purest, most basic form. But clever sayings that often went along with the SAMO tag (shared with his partner in crime) brought depth to that very basic writing; substance over style. As such, SAMO got mad fame for being different than the typical taggers.

And you can say that the art sucks (to each his own, right?) but that joint is mad iconic. There's even a limited edition record case that came out last year, featuring graphic elements from this cover image. And you’ve probably seen the re-release of the actual record itself...

Now, the cover image is very abstract, which throws folks who aren’t into abstract art. I actually like abstract art (heck, a lot of MY work is abstract), so I can dig it on that level.

It just now occurred to me, but if you look at some of the classic jazz records of the 1960s, many had abstract art on the covers. The records by Stan Getz immediately come to mind. This piece is quite comparable, I think, to that flavor.

As you prolly know, this record is a "Holy Grail" record for folks, too. Like Baquiat's art, but really because of it, that 12-inch transcended the DJ crate to become a collectible, desired by even non-deejays.

On top of all that, the "Beat Bop" track itself is classically dope and has a place of influence in the history of hip-hop music.

A final thing that's ill about this record, in a geeky, historical sense, is that Basquiat paid for the studio session. He had blown up in the art world and had the cash, and had apparently intended to spit on the track as well, but Rammellzee and K. Rob aced him out. Heh.

So, yeah, the #1 spot for a several different, and also maybe deeper reasons.

Glad you asked!

darrell d said...

i can dig it.

i wish i did own that record. it used to be the #1 sought after rap record until a few years ago and i did hear that cats outsie of hip hop were looking for it. i have a buddy back in milwaukee who has a sealed copy of it.

i'm sure i saw the record case as well. i think it was a 45 case.

Luis Martinez said...

Haha, I went over to get a couple records TONIGHT that Darrell D was gifting me and also got BACK my “The Brothers” 12” inch (not lp). He was like you got time to wait? I was like “Hell yeah, I already waited this long. Lol I thought someone stole it lol...

St. Paco said...

Word. The wait is over! Biggups to the home, DD!

Thanks for taggin' the comments, Luis!

darrell d said...

This Chino D dude NEVER comes to my crib and I was sure I was gonna keep that record forever. Oh well, it was a good run. Let this be a lesson to you kids out there, when you borrow something from someone, they usually want it back. (Damn!) (man, I STILL never got a chance to listen to it.)

Luis Martinez said...


Luis Martinez said...


St. Paco said...


That's cold, Chino!

St. Paco said...

"And that's one to grow on!"