Why Virgil Abloh is Hip-Hop’s Greatest Con-Man


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M. Honaker’s thoughts on Virgil Abloh.

Virgil Abloh came under fire recently for his subteir album cover for rapper Pop Smoke’s posthumous album “Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon.” This cover depicted the very first image of Pop Smoke that shows up on Google when you search for him, as well as some poorly photoshopped smoke and diamonds. This left fans outraged over the lack of effort into the cover. So many fans were upset that Virgil was dropped from the project, despite it being Pop Smoke’s wish for him to design a cover, it was that bad. This is only the first example of Virgil’s bad history in designing album covers.

Case One: Pray for Paris. New York rapper Westside Gunn released his album “Pray for Paris” in April this year. The thing that immediately caught my attention was the album cover. It was a renaissance-esque painting of the biblical story of David and Goliath, showing a chain wearing David holding Goliath’s head. I was struck by the beauty of this cover and it immediately made me like the album much more. To my surprise this painting was not in fact Virgil’s but the painting of a renaissance artist Carvaggio. All that Virgil added were the poorly photoshopped chains. Virgil didn’t even remove the brown background from them. 

Case Two: WZRD. Singer/Rapper Kid Cudi and Producer Dot da Genius teamed up together to form the rock band WZRD. They released their first and only album to date back in 2012. Kid Cudi had built an expectation for good album covers after his first two albums, Man on the Moon I & II. Virgil then broke this expectation wonderfully with his latest lazy art. This plain black background with the block text “WZRD” colored in with clouds looks as if a 4th grader could have done it, rather than an artist being paid millions of dollars.

Case Three: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. After the grammy debacle with Kanye interrupting Taylor Swift’s speech, Kanye was in exile. He left the country in Rome and Japan and took time to discover himself and explore what he enjoys. Eventually he made his way to Hawaii where he resided. He flew out numerous artists including Kid Cudi, Pusha T, Rick Ross, and Raekwon to record with him. He then went on to release this album which would be critically acclaimed and win a grammy. One of the most iconic parts of this album is the cover arts. There would be many different arts associated with the album whether it was purchased on vinyl, being played on the radio, or purchased on CD. I was shocked when I found out that Virgil was actually the designer of these arts. I was even more surprised when I found out that he didn’t paint these arts, but added the thick red border, while George Condo is the real artist. All Virgil added was the red square, he didn’t even make the art, yet he took the credit.

In conclusion, art is subjective. However, I think there is an ethical dilemma on who should be considered an artist when it comes to design. Yes, Virgil found these artists and added small elements, but does this mean he should be credited with the design of the art? In my opinion, no.