More than a great article, a witty headline, or an issue that breaks sales records, what people remember about any magazine is the cover. Before they can be cut out, pasted on bedroom walls, turned into T-shirts, or spray-painted onto murals, all magazine covers start as an idea. And much like an artist’s first album, the premiere issue of a magazine sets the standard for future releases. The first, and arguably most important step when launching a magazine is to create a dope cover.

That's even more crucial for publications covering rap music, an art form that's long been misunderstood and villainized by the mainstream media. The best rap magazines became an integral part of hip-hop culture. Decades before blogs dominated music media, legendary publications were launched from college dorm rooms and garages by publishing pioneers who had the foresight to take hip-hop from the streets to the printed page. With a pinch of experience and a huge dose of confidence, these classic rap mags found a way to seamlessly merge art and hip-hop. In later years major media corporations got into the game, raising the artistic stakes along the way. No matter if the images are hand-made or high-tech, when everybody does their job correctly, a great magazine cover can turn an MC into an icon.

We dug into the crates and worked the hip-hop grapevine to trace the humble beginnings of the covers that helped these rap mags, and the stars they covered, go down in history. To see just how far hip-hop has come, check out these Stories Behind the First Covers of Famous Rap Magazines.

As told to Imani Mixon (@ImaniMixon), Jaz T. Cuevas (@CueJT), and Rob Kenner (@boomshots)

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