9. Juvenile, 400 Degreez (1998)
Art Direction: Pen & Pixel
Label: Cash Money/Universal
The history of music is littered with iconic graphic designers who brought a common sensibility not only to single releases or artists, but across entire genres and eras of music: Reid Miles with Blue Note, Peter Saville with Factory, Tony McDermott with Greensleeves. For all of rap's great covers, though, the egos of hip-hop rarely allow for such brand building on the part of any one art staff. The one obvious exception, of course, is the Pen & Pixel dynasty.
Rising to prominence in the late '90s, the Houston firm became the go-to design team for Southern rap empires Cash Money, No Limit, and Suave House—and, by extension, the throngs of mediocre rappers who wished they could sign to those labels. Their low-budget, high-content Photoshop gloss suited the sound of the era well: It was loud, shiny, and often hastily constructed, but knowingly (and lovingly) so. While we considered many of the memorable covers from this era, we ended up with one great Juvenile album to represent the entire oeuvre.