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Pen and Pixel: A Retrospective
September 17, 2010 11:24 AM   Subscribe

Pen and Pixel are well known for the outlandish covers they created for Southern rap labels Rap-A-Lot and No Limit. It's been about 12 years since their heyday, so people are now looking back at the artistry present under the surface of these covers.

There is a comprehensive database of these covers here, so you can pick your own favorites.
posted by reenum (39 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
"14 year old... white... girls.... spending their weekly $40 at the mall, trying to piss off mom and dad by buying rap albums, that's what's making these guys rich."

They certainly knew their market. Fascinating to see all these covers -- thanks!
posted by cavalier at 11:34 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, so these are the jerks responsible for a blingafying every single album ever released in that era? They're officially on the hip-hop section of my list of People to Hit With a Stick. Is there a single person responsible for stealing all the "S's" and replacing them with "Z's?" I'd like to get them on this list as well.
posted by Panjandrum at 11:36 AM on September 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


I remember back in the day when I followed NIN religiously, they referenced a magazine article on Pen & Pixel where they did up some of their trademark covers for non-rap artists, one of them being trent reznor.

and thanks to the internet, i've found it again!
http://www.nineinchnails.net/news/specials/monkeys_large.jpg
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:37 AM on September 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


I found this part of the interview interesting:

"I realized "Oh my God, these people are really killing themselves." So, what I tried to do, when I realized that I was accentuating and glamorizing the violence, that's when I made a major shift, and said "Hey, instead of showing you killing so and so, how about we make you look bling-bling! Let's do this, let's do that, let's put some hoes!"."
posted by acheekymonkey at 11:42 AM on September 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Man, those covers looked so amateurishly done and so tasteless, but I couldn't stop staring when I saw one.
posted by zsazsa at 11:44 AM on September 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


I suddenly have an overwhelming urge to doublefist a stack of cash and smirkingly fling it towards all of you in slow-motion.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:45 AM on September 17, 2010 [7 favorites]


Man. Remember the 90s? When anyone who knew how to use photoshop or a bit of HTML could make money without a shred of artistic talent?

These covers would be laughed out of a Fark photoshop contest thread, if they're even still doing that.
posted by delmoi at 11:57 AM on September 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Am I the only one seeing a big overlap between their repeated design motifs and those of the 1990s demo scene? Yes? Oh well.
posted by Artw at 11:58 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


These covers would be laughed out of a Fark photoshop contest thread, if they're even still doing that.

Definitely - these are invincible to satire.
posted by odinsdream at 12:01 PM on September 17, 2010


They "blinged out" Trent Reznor! TRENT! WITH MONKEYS! Wow. Is there nothing they cannot do?

Perhaps they should team up with the painter of auras and market themselves to new-agey bands. Your cover may say Pan Flutes by the Ocean, but is that what you mean? Make that ocean glow with ... something. And throw in some stacks of money, to show that you're serious.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:06 PM on September 17, 2010


So when you go to watch Big Money Ru$tlas, to support your Juggalo nation, you can look at the movie poster, and know where it all came from...
posted by yeloson at 12:13 PM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Far an away the best Pen & Pixel album cover:

First Come, First Served by Dr. Dooom.

Ratburgers, gorillas, giant cockroaches, a scary old house, trash bags, a baboon in the upper left hand corner - This cover has it all.
posted by orville sash at 12:13 PM on September 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Special mention goes to this Mr. Stinky album
posted by orville sash at 12:15 PM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here is a picture I took in Japan in 2009. I doubt this is P&P since it looks like someone with at least a marginal amount of Photoshop skills did it, but their ridiculous yet memorable aesthetic is tied to the genre and has global influence.
posted by dgaicun at 12:23 PM on September 17, 2010


Jesus christ. "Image is everything." indeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed.
posted by pyrex at 12:24 PM on September 17, 2010


I read that Pen & Pixel uses industry standard graphics programs, but also a proprietary program developed for their exclusive use.

I guess it's hard to generate pics of bears smoking cigars and drinking Cristal (see here) with just Photoshop.
posted by reenum at 12:31 PM on September 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah this crap is funny but as a graphic designer and illustrator I recognize it as the a big part of the death of music packaging. It lowered the bar and inspires hackwork to this day.
posted by Liquidwolf at 12:37 PM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Having read through the (certainly interesting) article and feeling a little bad for my inability to appreciate these legendary artworks, I'm quite relieved to come back to the comments here and learn that they might just be terrible.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:50 PM on September 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Far an away the best Pen & Pixel album cover:

First Come, First Served by Dr. Dooom.


Dr. Dooom being one of Rap Genius Kool Keith's many alter egos. And as anyone who has had the pleasure knows, Kool Keith raps just like that cover looks. From the classic Dr. Octagon (Cover art by equally awesome/ridiculous punk&metal stalwart Pushead) album comes this gem...

Dr. Octagon please come to the office come now
Oh fuck! Patient just died in room 105
Cirrohsis of the eye
Nurse come in please where are you?
Fuck it he's dead
Oh shit there's a horse in the hospital!

But I think this quote from one of the above links sums it up properly.

Pen & Pixel was great in that they specialized in giving their customers exactly what they wanted via the magic of Photoshop. If a rapper living in the projects wished for his album cover to portray him riding in a Bentley while sipping champagne out of a diamond-encrusted crystal flute as a tiger in a bejeweled collar walks by and a Lear jet crashes in the background, Pen & Pixel could make that happen.

Makes their work sound downright honorable.

In the late 90's I was working as a designer at some doomed startup, and my design team would spend hours and hours making our own fake album covers in this style. If your job is to sit in front of a computer all day pushing pixels around, there are few things more fun than photoshopping one of your co-workers riding a diamond encrusted elephant in a hot tub full of champagne bottles. I'm pretty convinced that the folks at Pen and Pixel had the best design jobs in the world.
posted by billyfleetwood at 12:54 PM on September 17, 2010 [8 favorites]


The Lear jet, I think, still needs something. Emeralds, possibly.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:57 PM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


orville sash, I have to say that you are mistaken.

The finest Pen & Pixel album cover is for Big Bear's Doin' Thangs.
posted by brand-gnu at 12:59 PM on September 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


(I mean, really, bears with cigars and pimp cups. And smoking jackets!)
posted by brand-gnu at 1:00 PM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I did something like this as a parody about ten years ago. Self-link here.

Yes, I did, in fact, have too much free time.
posted by ShawnStruck at 3:28 PM on September 17, 2010


Honestly, these come across as Southern rap's version of 70s airbrush van paintings, only instead of wizards, unicorns, rainbows and nude or nearly-nude women, they feature money, bling, cars, and nude or nearly-nude women.

Also, WRT >"These covers would be laughed out of a Fark photoshop contest thread, if they're even still doing that"--I don't think so, delmoi; there are a fair number of threads that spontaneously spawn jam shoops, where people keep adding elements (often standard Fark tropes like the gold-paint-huffing guy) to the same picture. That's what these reminded me of, actually.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:39 PM on September 17, 2010


Oh, and this one is my favorite.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:39 PM on September 17, 2010


This is my favorite.
posted by fuq at 3:52 PM on September 17, 2010


How about Andre Williams' "Black Godfather" cover?
posted by stinkycheese at 4:19 PM on September 17, 2010


I think I'm going to contract a few of these covers out to hand sign painters in West Africa -- think Ghana movie posters meet bling.
posted by iamck at 5:04 PM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


That long interview... Since there's no mention of these guys being born in a non-English-speaking country (and they express enough ignorance about France to make me doubt that they're Francophone), I'm assuming that the interview was translated into French for the magazine and then back into English rather than using the original English. The results are fantastic.
In fact, when we started Pen & Pixel, many of the artists wanted a great deal of violence for their covers. And I must said that, I believe that my company worked very very diligently to make sure that we turned violence into bling-bling. Instead of chilling people and showing bullets hitting people and blasting people out of the way, we were like "Hey man! How about we put you next to a Bentley or a Ferrari, we put some hoes on the side, show you with a 50 000 $ rollie, a big-ass necklace, your big house in the back, how about all that?" They were like "Yeah yeah yeah, OK then, un-ungh, that were it go, yeah!". I'm like "Allright, fine. Beautiful."
It's like an oral history of Southern hip-hop if everyone involved in it had been earnest Scandinavian immigrants.
posted by No-sword at 6:08 PM on September 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh, wait!
No, we actually grew up overseas. We lived in south-east Asia and Brazil most of our lives. I got in Houston in 1991 and left in 2003. My brother was there from 1989 all the way until, well, he just left recently.
Now I feel like a jerk. But "Yeah yeah yeah, OK then, un-ungh, that were it go, yeah!" is still hilarious.
posted by No-sword at 6:19 PM on September 17, 2010




Big Bear's Doin Thangs is actually a rather fantastic album.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:42 PM on September 17, 2010


I worked at a record store in the late 90s. And I was the only person who knew anything about hip-hop at the time. I secretly loved Tuesdays, when we'd stock all the new albums and I could gawk at all the ridiculous covers.

Those soft plastic jewel cases they came in were crap, though. I had to throw out my "I Got The Hookup!" soundtrack because the case didn't protect the actual CD and it cracked. Funny thing was, the music was so boring and repetitive that I didn't even notice until I realized that I'd been on the same song for ten minutes. In the end, not much of a loss.
posted by Fuego at 9:43 PM on September 17, 2010


Metafilter: let's put some hoes!
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:15 PM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think I know how I am going to do my next proposal cover! Yeah baby...
posted by Xoebe at 10:32 PM on September 17, 2010


I'm not even sure if P&P did this one but I always loved Chris Rock's Bigger & Blacker album cover using their style: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_ota0LbBq9Tk/SybJjMmrnpI/AAAAAAAAAD8/cLPfqQNOLsM/s1600/poster.jpg
posted by chadmalik at 1:23 AM on September 18, 2010


Which is a better gauge that your particular design motif has jumped the shark? That there are dozens of photoshop tutorials about it or that there is an iPhone app that does it for you without Photoshop?
posted by acheekymonkey at 6:32 AM on September 18, 2010


Yeah this crap is funny but as a graphic designer and illustrator I recognize it as the a big part of the death of music packaging. It lowered the bar and inspires hackwork to this day.

Not just in music, friend. Not just in music. Photoshop hackery has had the same effect across-the-board.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:35 AM on September 18, 2010


great interview, he seems like a cool guy. (scuba?)
posted by jcruelty at 10:49 AM on September 18, 2010


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