The great rap logos from the history of hip-hop acted as cultural co-signs, and for every great rapper and label there is a memorable stamp of approval. A lot of the great ones were created in the labels' art departments by a few notable designers, who at the time probably didn’t know that they were penning what would become cultural iconography. Sometimes, the logos went beyond the group or the label itself—marks like the Wu-Tang “W” and Tommy Boy logo had moments where the image itself stood on its own. We made a list of The 50 Greatest Rap Logos of all time. Click on to see what made the cut.
50. Rawkus Records
Rawkus marketed and promoted itself so incredibly well in the late-'90s that its razorblade logo became a ubiquitous presence. It was ingenious for assigning itself a literally edgy symbol, catalyzing then-swelling purist hip-hop populism.
49. Dead Prez
This politically charged duo's logo merges visuals from wholly disparate sources for maximum revolutionary effect. The classic typewriter font in which the group's name appears suggests old school institutional oppression, the sort of typeface you imagine COINTELPRO reports being filed in. The shih hexagram symbol of the I-Ching sandwiched in between represents "army" and the need for perseverance. Yup, way bigger than hip-hop.
48. Octopus Breaks
The precursor to the Ultimate Breaks and Beats series, the Octopus Breaks break-beat compilations featured one of the greatest logos in original school history: a mix-master squid ripping it up on two turntables, its tentacles simultaneously cueing, cutting, and catching wreck. The Octopus' garden has never been the same since.
Granted, the Dipset logo is essentially a derivative of a derivative, being conspicuously similar to the co-opted presidential seal of All-American punk pioneers The Ramones (as a 2006 Reason-designed T-shirt fusing both memorably demonstrated). Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Marky may be forever. But for a whole generation of young'uns, Cam, Jimmy, Juelz, and Freaky own this imagery.
46. Ice Cube
Debuting on Cube's Death Certificate LP cover, this black and white logo cleverly modeled its design after the hospital ICU machine used to monitor a patient's vital signs... Dead serious.
45. Ruthless Records
Eazy-E's pioneering West Coast indie label brandished a logo worthy of its iconoclastic gangsta ways. Grimy, mismatched letters incongruously grafted onto a staff, you won't find any of these notes in traditional sheet music, only shit-starting music.
44. Hypnotize Minds
Great logos sometimes adhere to their own special internal logic. Case in point, Three 6 Mafia's label's art, which doesn't just feature the ominous specter of the Grim Reaper, but the Grim Reaper hypnotizing you with a pocket watch dangling on a chain (time shown: past midnight—party's over). On the one hand, seems like kind of an inefficient use of the Reaper's energy, no? In theory, he could drag you to Hell and possess your soul for eternity just on GP, yet here he is trying parlor tricks to get you to sleepwalk there. On the other hand...how cool does that shit look!
43. Dilated Peoples
Created by Brent Rollins for Dilated Peoples' scrapped early '90s Sony/Immortal debut LP, this illustrated stick figure (later dubbed the "Expanding Man") is an instantly recognizable representation of the L.A. trio's hip-hop ethos: simple and back to basics yet with a literal eye towards elevation.
When it was announced in 1990 that the Bomb Squad's Hank Shocklee and Def Jam's Bill Stephney were forming their own imprint in partnership with MCA called S.O.U.L., a.k.a Sound of Urban Listeners, it felt like the start of great things. The label may not have made the impact industry watchers anticipated, but its classily designed logo remains one of the coolest hip-hop has ever seen. It was a visual encapsulation of S.O.U.L.'s ambition to be as urbane as it was urban.