Before Virgil Abloh launched Off-White and became creative director of Louis Vuitton men’s, he worked on some of the most iconic album covers of the last decade. In 2011, West hired Abloh to become the creative director of his creative agency, DONDA. During his time there, he worked with a team of creatives like Joe Perez to create some of West’s most classic album covers, such as Yeezus and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Even as he produced an impressive volume of clothing and sneakers, Abloh—who passed away tragically in November 2021 following a two-year fight with an aggressive form of cancer—managed to design album covers occasionally, having a hand in a series of significant releases.
Here are the covers Abloh made or contributed to over the course of his storied career.
‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’
Artist: Kanye West
Virgil Abloh is credited as the Art Director for Kanye West’s 2010 album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The designer was the one who picked artist George Condo to paint several different covers for West. One cover, which featured a nude phoenix with no arms, was supposedly banned by Walmart and had to be substituted with the ballerina painting we all know today. In Abloh’s Figures of Speech book, Condo said that “Virgil makes things happen, intrinsically knowing that his talent is to move into an electric field and create a transcendent art experience for our people.”
‘Watch the Throne’
Artists: Jay-Z and Kanye West
One of Abloh’s most famous album covers is the gold foil album art for Kanye and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne project. Abloh once again picked the perfect designer to make the cover, Riccardo Tisci, Givenchy’s then-creative director. The artwork led to Abloh securing his first Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package. However, he lost to Caroline Robert, who made the cover for Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs.
Artist: Kid Cudi
As everyone already knows, Abloh and Kid Cudi were close friends—throwback to Cudi’s stellar appearance at Abloh’s first Louis Vuitton runway show. One of the first album covers Virgil designed by himself was for Cudi’s 2012 project, WZRD. “No matter if he was working with Kanye or he was doing his own thing, he’s always been ahead of the curve,” Cudi told Complex for our 2019 cover story. “I remember when he designed my album cover for WZRD. That was way before anybody was even on Virgil. I knew he was this really dope designer, so I was just like, ‘Yo, dude, can you design my album for me?’”
Artist: ASAP Rocky
Abloh was also credited as an creative director in the credits of ASAP Rocky’s debut album, Long.Live.ASAP. The actual cover art was designed by DONDA member Joe Perez. However, Abloh conceived the idea for the “Fashion Killa” video and also developed set designs for Rocky’s early shows leading up to the album’s release. “Fashion Killa” was the first music video that Abloh ever worked on. Abloh also served as the creative director for Big Sean’s Dark Sky Paradise, G.O.O.D Music’s Cruel Summer, 2 Chainz’ Based on a T.R.U. Story, and Pusha-T’s My Name Is My Name.
Artist: Kanye West
Yeezus is likely the most iconic album cover Abloh worked on. Made in collaboration with Justin Saunders, Joe Perez, Matthew M. Williams, and Kanye West, the Yeezus cover went through many different iterations before landing on its super-minimalist design. According to the Figures of Speech book, 10 different designers helped make the cover, and George Condo even submitted a sculpture. After visiting a popular New York City magazine shop—Printed Matter—Abloh conceived the idea of making something that looked like a handmade collage with tape and paper cutouts. This led to a clear case cover with just a simple red piece of tape, which Abloh described as an “open casket” that marked the death of the physical CD format.
‘Luv Is Rage 2’
Artist: Lil Uzi Vert
The cover for Lil Uzi Vert’s debut studio album, Luv is Rage 2, is another memorable cover from Abloh, featuring Off-White branded tape running across it. In an interview with Fader, Abloh said he was asked to creative direct Lil Uzi Vert’s project in “the final hours. “One of the pillars of my design aesthetic is showing the process. That way a whole generation of kids will see themselves in the work, and do the work themselves, too,” Abloh said. “That cover is pretty much a readymade example. You feel like you can peel it off, and that was important to me. The collaboration reads itself. The same way the Nike shoes—you look at them and you can almost feel like you can do it yourself or you can see the handmade feel in it.” Abloh also directed his second music video, “XO Tour Llif3,” for Uzi as well.
Octavian is a British rapper who has frequently appeared in Louis Vuitton’s runway shows and ad campaigns—Abloh even built statues of Octavian to display inside his Louis Vuitton store in Los Angeles. So it only seemed natural for Abloh to eventually design a cover for the artist. For the Spaceman mixtape, Abloh put two swords crossing one another against a backdrop of starry skies.
‘Pray For Paris’
Artist: Westside Gunn
One of the most recent album covers Abloh designed was for Westside Gunn’s Pray for Paris project. According to an interview with Complex, Gunn aimed to have the cover represent Paris in a “grimy” way, but also expressed his love for Abloh’s early Pyrex Vision brand. “He sent me three different covers, but that was the one I liked the best. He even did one of an old picture of me in the Pyrex 23, but with my chains on,” Gunn said. “But I wanted to go with David and Goliath. It looks like something you would see in Paris.”
‘Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon’
Artist: Pop Smoke
Abloh’s most controversial cover art was for the late Pop Smoke’s posthumous studio album Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon. Before the Brooklyn drill rapper’s untimely death, he developed a close relationship with Abloh. Pop Smoke was invited by the designer to attend Paris Fashion Week in 2020, and Abloh even directed the music video for his hit single “Shake the Room.” Although Pop Smoke’s diehard fans disliked the cover, Abloh said it was inspired by conversations he had with the rapper, who described himself as a thorned rose that grew from the concrete streets of Canarsie, Brooklyn. The cover was quickly pulled following widespread backlash and swapped for a different design.