Pen & Pixel: taking things literally.
One particularly hilarious aspect of Pen & Pixel is their tendency toward the very, very literal; there is little room for metaphor in the world of P&P. A cover theme was often a play on its artist’s name, or the title of the song or album in question. My favorite example from this time is my beloved hometown heroes Three 6 Mafia’s “Tear Da Club Up ’97” single, which was a hit across the South.
As you can see, Three 6 Mafia have literally torn up “Da Club”, which is identified as such on the trim of its exterior (and curiously looks like an embassy of some sort). Lord Infamous is so exhausted from all of the club-tearing-up that he is resting against an upturned burning car. Fortunately, Three 6’s limo has been spared. (Ironically, fans of the song also went the literal route; at the time, the rumor was that clubs quit playing the song because patrons would often “tear the club up” when it was played.)
New Orleans rapper Smoke implores these two babies to find their daddy on 1998’s Where Ya Baby Daddy At? He has even equipped them with binoculars to aid in their search. His hands are lifted in an “I dunno” stance, implying that he is rhetorically asking the question, “Where is he? Where’s your baby daddy?”
Meanwhile Sweet P shrunk himself down and actually toasted himself on the cover of his album I Toast Myself. Or, you know, toasted on himself.
Why is this appealing to Sweet P? I can’t think of much of a worse fate than being coated in sticky cognac, giant pouring lady or no giant pouring lady.
Things take a dark turn for poor Suicydal on his self-titled album. He is perched upon a mysterious drum marked “flammable”, and has strapped a bomb to his chest. The police have swarmed the area and cordoned it off with likely pointless police tape, and Suicydal is brandishing a remote control with two buttons, one green and one red. The entire cover seems to be superimposed over his suicide note. (I mean Suicyde note.)
Similarly, LOS is ‘on the edge’.
Of a building.
Jazzie Redd, meanwhile, should floss this guy’s teeth while he’s already busy hanging out in his mouth as “the voice of authority”.
New Orleans R&B singer Mercedes was signed to No Limit Records and decided to go the literal route on her album Rear End.
According to her Wikipedia page, Mercedes eventually quit singing and went to law school. That is the most freaking awesome touche ever.
Fire was a recurring motif in Pen & Pixel works. St. Louis rapper Ablaze was destined to make one of these covers the moment that she chose her rap moniker.
Ablaze’s fire creeps me out, though. It looks like the inside of an orange ice cave, not a burning inferno. Also, Ablaze looks really unhappy or sleepy. Maybe she’s angry that her chair has goat legs, or that some asshole gave her skulls in place of an ottoman. It’s also possible that the chair is really comfy and it makes Ablaze want to take a long nap.
Kin Folkz took the whole literal thing a few steps farther on their album Smoke House.
The smoke house where Kin Folkz reside is not a house where one buys weed, or a building that exists for the purpose of smoking one’s fine meats inside of. It’s just a house full of smoke. With rocking chairs.
There’s a lot happening on the cover of NHC’s Respect The Game (Boot Life).
There are alligators on gold chains, and the alligators have gold teeth. My interpretation of the scene is that “the game” is alligator wrestling, or an alligator version of dog fighting. There’s also some action going down on either side of the camera, because the guys corralling the alligators are distracted. But most importantly, we learn that the Boot Life in question is exactly what it sounds like. NHC lives in the swamp, inside of a giant boot with diamonds on it.
“Hey man, it’s me, Big Ren. I’m calling because I need a little help. I’m down here in New Orleans and tha streets won’t let me go.”
At least in Big Ren’s predicament he has access to a cell phone. Agent Hook (who, we can tell by his wardrobe, is both an agent and has a hook) is so deep in Da Game that he can’t even grab his phone out of his pocket.
Legendary New Orleans rapper Ms. Tee is a female baller. She has giant stacks of money and sometimes the bill on top just floats away. She also has access to traveling by air, land, or sea.
My hometown boy Playa G weaves a complicated but self-explanatory narrative on the cover of his U Not My Lady.
The lady who’s not his lady looks really depressed. I feel bad for her, especially since that’s probably his lady whom he’s talking to on the phone. Also, who takes romantic pictures next to muddy culverts?
OTR Clique teaches us that the streets are ‘deeper than the grave’; we know this because there is a secret city located under the graves. It is lit by magical sunlight from the aforementioned graves. If OTR Clique’s jerseys are any indicator, this secret underground city is called “Cincinnati”.
Solo Slim is currently in the process of making sure that he has ‘sew’d it up’.
Unfortunately, I think he is wasting his time. The stitch he’s weaving over the cavern in the ground isn’t putting it back together again. To make matters worse, the city he’s in has become a burning inferno- yet here he is, perched in this gravel pit that’s laden with diamonds, sewing. And he’s not even grabbing any diamonds. He’s just weaving with red yarn and a giant needle. Maybe he’s making a scarf to match his hat? Whatever is going on, I say this- it’s okay, Solo Slim. I’d never be one to judge a man’s coping mechanisms during end times.
John D’oe is a poet. I know this because he is sitting in a leather chair and writing in an old timey book with a exceptionally fluffy quill pen. Also, if his jersey is any indicator, he goes to Georgetown.
The trouble is, two poets from the streets employ the skills of Pen & Pixel. Whom do I choose? Man, this is so “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost.
Lil Keke is one of Houston’s most renowned rappers. He was discovered by the late, legendary DJ Screw and has recorded numerous albums, making him one of the most consistent rap artists of his time. Also, someone is peepin’ in his window.
MJG’s No More Glory is one of my favorite Pen & Pixel covers. He’s a Memphis rapper, and this album came out right in the middle of a citywide controversy about whether or not to remove a prominent statue of KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest from a park named after him. The park never changed. I think I will encourage my friends back home to petition for the park to be renamed MJG park, featuring a statue of him in this exact pose.
C-Murder makes the cut not merely due to his name matching both his album title and cover art theme, but because he is currently serving a life sentence for second-degree murder.
Ice Mone, meanwhile, needs to put on a jacket or something.
Project Dawgs would like you to know that When Game Unfoldz, it is literally their faces on the cards you are holding. The poor guy on the left is the only one who doesn’t get to be an ace card. I wonder if he got pissed when he saw this album cover.
And sadly, the Big Dreams compilation is likely the only accurate cover in the bunch.
Next episode: Pen And Pixel delves into themes of God, Satan and the supernatural.