Inside The Album Art: Designer Brent Rollins Talks Freeway, Black Star, Spank Rock & More

Inside The Album Art: Designer Brent Rollins Talks Freeway, Black Star, Spank Rock & More


In the age of 150 pixel images popping up in the corner of your iTunes window, it's safe to say that album cover design is a dying art form. Luckily there are a few designers are artists who are still committed to churning out memorable music packaging, and Brent Rollins is one of the best in the biz.

Best known as the designer behind ego trip, Brent has also created a number of memorable album covers over the years for artists like Black Star, Spank Rock, Gang Starr and others. Most recently, his packaging for Freeway & Jake One's The Stimulus Package (which hit stores yesterday) has been turning heads. Created in the style of a money clip/wallet, complete with custom dollar bills and credit cards, it's definitely the most detailed, creative album art we've seen in years. Complex recently asked Brent to give us some inside info on the project, and he was also kind enough to break down 5 other classic covers he's worked on in the past...

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Freeway & Jake One The Stimulus Package (2010)
Brent Says: "I can honestly say that this one had the internet going nuts. Seriously though, the response has been... unreal. Respect to Skye and Rhymesayers, Scott and staff at A to Z, and of course Jake and Free for bringing a stimulating project. I mean, thugs getting hyped off package design is like some kind of cool-ass dream from an alternate universe. Does it mean CDs are back? Probably not. It does however point out that people are not only thirsty for things to get excited about, but also want to actually experience something real. Here's to keeping it real!"

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Blackalicious_SpecialPackage

Blackalicious Nia (1999)
Brent Says: "Many people really love Nia and often tell me how much they love the cover art. It holds a place in my heart too. Chief Xcel from Blackalicious making something not only organic but something that didn't necessarily look like a rap album. But the collage is by nature, 'hip-hop.' So this was a breakthrough. Style-wise, this opened me up a lot and preceded the murals I did for UNDFTD years later.

"The domestic vinyl release came in a nice gatefold sleeve. The European release issued by Mo Wax went a step further and put the gatefold in a slipcase/box for that extra collectibility factor. Get a clue, America."

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Marcelo D2 A Arte do Barulho (The Art of Noise) (2008)
Brent Says: "You probably don't know this album, but thousands of Brazilians do. Marcelo D2 (the "D2" is pronounced in portuguese as "de dois") is superstar status like Jay-Z down there. This soul & samba hip-hop record was produced by the Beastie Boys' longtime collaborator Mario Caldato Jr.

"In case you are wondering what you're looking at, we came up with the idea of  Marcelo's appearing as 'audio terrorist.' The tee-shirt wrapped around his face is the same way Rio de Janeiro's infamous armed favela thugs disguise themselves. But he's got microphone plugs instead of bullets in his belt, and his gun is the elaborately decorated megaphone to illustrate literally 'the art of noise.' (Hats off to to B+ for the reliably incredible photos.)"

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Gang Starr Full Clip (1999)
Brent Says: "Okay. I admit it. I did their Moment of Truth cover... which I'm personally not really feelin' but, hey, DJ Premier LOVED it. I'm not gonna argue with him. But at least I could try to vindicate myself the next go around. And so I think this was a better design and better received for sure. The entire alphabet was stamped in aluminum and assembled in Photoshop. The European promo version really came correct by adopting the design to an actual aluminum tin case. I'd love to show it off, but I can't find the damn thing."

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Spank Rock YoYoYoYoYo... (2006)
Brent Says: "The first bonafide skinny jeans wearin' hip hop album? Like the Black Star record almost a decade before, this is another one of those recordings that announces a new generation. The label knew it. They actually discussed The Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks as a reference, in terms of how that LP ushered in a new sound and style. So I pushed them to use metallic ink to add to the specialness.

"This got a lot of design geek attention and hipster love, but it's a shame that Spank Rock got pegged with the hipster stigma to some people. The production is next level, and Naeem's lyrics are a rare combination of being dirty and clever and he's got an ill voice. I never get sick of this record. And I don't even wear skinny jeans."

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Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star (1998)
Brent Says: "This is one of those era-defining records. It was the end of the '90s when Rawkus and indie-hip hop was blowing up. I'm proud to be connected to it because people have strong memories over this album. Is it a popular cover because it was a popular record? Or did the cover art help make it popular? Obviously the music comes first. But I do think both factors worked in tandem to elevate each other.

"Despite the obvious Bob Marley Catch a Fire references, the original inspiration came from old worn-out hand painted metal signs that you might see in developing nations. And I only did the cover art. The rest of the package was done by Nobody (aka Tim Ronan)."

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Tags: album-art, black-star, brent-rollins, freeway, inside-the-album-art, jake-one
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