Pen & Pixel: tackling themes of omnipotence and the supernatural
Rap music about street life is, it seems, bound by duty to explore the philosophical and ethical intricacies of life and death, of good and evil. What happens when we die? What are the consequences of the deeds we do here on Earth, be they wrong or right? Rappers ask themselves, where would I be if I weren’t in the rap game, living the street life? What do I do with this power I’ve attained so suddenly? Many rappers handle these weighty subjects with eloquence and depth, inspiring millions to think, to create and to evolve. Pen & Pixel covers, on the other hand, usually involve a guy holding a jewel-encrusted globe in his hands. So join me, friends, as I delve into these themes, for better or for worse.
Lil Sin does not think of himself as God, but he clearly feels trapped between two worlds. As we can see from the cover of his Livin N Sin, he chooses to firmly plant his feet in the flames of hell, never mind the fact that 1. the aforementioned flames of hell have burned his feet off and 2. there are sexy angel ladies beckoning to him from heaven.
The similarly-monikered Lil Milt has a problem much like Lil Sin’s. He is literally holding the world in his hands (or perhaps a city that resides in a bubble), but angel and devil versions of himself are standing behind him, presumably whispering in either ear, and we can see that he is tormented about it. The angel version of Lil Milt is precious and adorable, resembling Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis in a toga. But the devil version is horrifying. On top he’s a dead ringer for Prince wearing goat horns, but his body looks like a chrysalis with boils where three six-packs should be.
KB-DUB retains the mystical, godlike ability to see the future in his own palms. No, really.
Kingdom, meanwhile, wants you to know that “[he] Reign[s] Omnipotent”. Apparently in Kingdom’s kingdom, omnipotence means that you reside in England with a Burger King crown and two Bavarian castles.
Legendary Memphis rapper Indo-G presents himself as some sort of a magical Illuminati representative. He holds fractured symbols of America in his hand- a burning Capitol building, a submissive Uncle Sam patiently waiting for orders- while society crumbles around him. His head floats necklessly above it all, Uncle Sam reflected in both lenses of his sunglasses.
There are a lot of images of Earth in Pen & Pixel art, specifically of rappers holding a globe in their hands. It is often unclear whether the globe is a metaphor for having a great, godly power, or if it is meant to be taken literally. Sgt. Blac exemplifies this struggle beautifully on the cover of his Chapter II: It’s Over.
Since he is dragging the world behind him while simultaneously being on Earth, we must assume that he has stolen the giant globe sculpture from outside of the UN building and is being pursued by all those helicopters that are circling overhead.
Pine Bluff, Arkansas’ Southern Kartel have fashioned a globe out of gold on their cover for As The World Goes Round, but have curiously positioned the state of Arkansas as the diamond-encrusted center of the world. Well, I know a few people who wouldn’t disagree with that.
Lil Italy places his globe outside of his own personal Buckingham Palace, where it rests in a giant bejeweled pimp cup that has a gold rendering of Atlas for a base (nice nod to Greek mythology, Lil). I am impressed with how Lil Italy manages to be in four places at once. Two mirror images of himself guard his piles of money, while one Lil Italy drives his Bentley (or is that a Rolls? Help me, car people). He also hovers over his kingdom in a ghostlike form, keeping an eye on those of us who are down here on Earth.
…and on the seventh day, SPM fulfilled his 3rd Wish, rocking the world by creating it in a Pyrex liquid measuring cup.
Rowdy Bones, however, is wrestling with issues of malevolence and frustration. He is holding the world in his hands and cracking it open. Fire is shooting out of the North Pole, while water is spilling from a big crack somewhere off the West African coast. Perhaps he is angry about global warming?
Point Blank is also quite literally Mad At The World. The Guess? logo below his photoshopped chain takes away from the certainty that should be derived from a name like his (‘Point Blank?’). Nevertheless, he has ripped the Statue Of Liberty off of the globe, which he is shaking people from. They look really scared. I can’t tell if they are falling off of the continent of Africa, where the split resides, or if they have come from the center of the earth. I suspect the former, as Point Blank’s version of Earth accurately has a molten core.
Paypa Chasin’s magical power involves using his magical bubble to trap tiny people, cars, and money on a deserted island that’s surrounded by a sea of diamonds. He’s like Jacob on Lost!
IBG uses the collective power of their hands to prove that, as the title tells us, We Ballin. Not only do they live inside of a tube constructed from $100 bills, but they also control a different world with diamond mountains, many different types of vehicles crammed into crowded spaces, and palm trees made from shreds of $100 bills.
Destineal is from Memphis, which means that may be the Memphis skyline he’s lording over. If it is, that means he is in the Mississippi River. It also means that the Mississippi River is full of cars, diamonds, gold watches, stacks of money, and giant bottles of Cristal. Memphis, your economic crisis is over.
Meanwhile, the center of Rally Boys’ universe is, well, Rally Boys.
In a very literal turn as a deity, B.P. Hanz’m chisels his kingdom from gold. That’s going to take awhile, as his kingdom is the entire 5th Ward of Houston.
2-Def, meanwhile, keeps a tiny woman in a box with nothing but a waterbed, creepy paintings and a thong. Oh wait, there’s also a champagne glass, which she uses to pointlessly collect a drop from the river of Cristal that 2-Def is pouring onto her. 2-Def is one cruel bastard of a God. He’s like that guy in third grade who kept insects in boxes and made a big show of poking them with pencils at recess.
Some rappers remind us that the path to glory isn’t always paved in diamonds and Cristal. Sometimes it’s paved in fire, brimstone and skeleton bones. This record label put Satan himself on their album cover, and he looks like Ice-T.
R.W.O. displays the fact that they “want out” by making themselves into ghosts who can see the reflection of their original beings in the mirrored floor. So maybe they are backwards vampires?
Mr. Bigg Time doesn’t necessarily have any superpowers of his own, but he rolls deep with skeletons who drink 40’s and smoke cigars. He even functions as their getaway driver.
One would expect great cover art from an album called Hell’s Takin Over, and Die N Breed does not disappoint. There’s so much going on here that I don’t exactly know where to begin. Apparently the ghosts of Die N Breed (I presume they are ghosts because I can see through them) have brought about the skeleton apocalypse, or they may be watching over it disapprovingly. Either way, they look very stern. A fire truck has come to fight the skeletons, which seems pointless as everything from antique Victorian chairs to UPS trucks are flying through the air. A few people are trying to escape, but they are being attacked by the skeletons. Most curious of all, one skeleton is dressed as a businessman, complete with suit, briefcase and toupee.
Bukshot has done everything he can do. He has given much to this world, including a skull fashioned from mere smoke, a giant ball of fire, and various other magical special effects. No matter: they still don’t love him.
But my favorite supernatural album cover has to be Bam’s Eyez Open. Bam is summoned by the skeleton Grim Reaper to take a glimpse at… something. Their past? Present? Future? Someone else’s past, present or future? Whatever is going on in this not-exactly-spherical crystal ball, it involves running from the cops, death, and fist sparkles. Meanwhile, scary faceless eyes stare right at us from the sky above. Maybe they are watching over us all.
There’s still much more Pen & Pixel dissection to come. Come back this weekend to see early album covers from the superstars of today. For more Pen & Pixel discussion check out Pen & Pixel: taking things literally and Pen & Pixel: the aesthetic of an era.