To Pen a Butterfly: Music matters most, but a classic cover completes the project

Kenan Draughorne | Daily Trojan

When it comes to making a classic album, there are plenty of more important factors to consider than its cover artwork; but still, there’s a good reason why album art is the audience’s first impression of a project. Not only does it make the scale of the creation more tangible for our visual minds, but when handled well, the perfect imaging can enhance our experience with the music as well as our overall appreciation of it.

One of the best things about the artwork is that there’s no singular way to design a solid cover, even for two albums with similar sonics. Songs from A$AP Mob’s Cozy Tapes, Vol. 1 and Migos’ Culture II flow together seamlessly with their booming trap beats and infectious energy, yet their respective artworks couldn’t be more different: a beaming, infantile A$AP Yams swaddled in a fluffy blanket as opposed to three grown men sporting gold chains and jet-black suits. Still, both covers encapsulate the overarching themes of the actual albums, as A$AP pays tribute to their fallen founding member, and Migos express their influence over the current hip-hop landscape in all their glory.

When Childish Gambino unveiled the artwork for his album “Awaken, My Love!”, the ethereal design connected with his psychedelic performance of the music at his Pharos concert months before. Photo courtesy of Glassnote Records.

Personally, many of my favorite covers have been just as varied — although with each of them, I’m able to tie the image to a specific moment within the album that’s ingrained into my memory. With Childish Gambino’s awe-inspiring “Awaken, My Love!”, that moment occurred before I’d even seen the cover art, instead taking place when he premiered the album at the Pharos concert in Joshua Tree a few months before the official release.

My first time seeing Gambino perform live, the psychedelic experience that transpired was nothing like the high-energy hip-hop show I’d long expected from him, but easily became one of my favorite live shows regardless. While Gambino performed an early rendition of “Baby Boy,” I was simply transfixed by the visuals projected above and around the audience, briefly snapping back to reality each time he punctuated the end of a segment with a loud, passionate cry. Each time I look at the album cover, I’m brought back to that exact moment when the song swelled for the final time, and its creator fell back from the microphone with one last shout that struck a deep, resonating chord.

When it comes to Jhené Aiko’s ethereal Souled Out album cover, that pivotal moment came long after I’d heard the music for the first time, but instead when I brought one of the songs to life for myself in high school. The sunshine that beams from the heavens onto Jhené’s elevated figure is the perfect visual equivalent to the song “Eternal Sunshine” from the album, which a close friend and I decided to perform at a Coffee House hosted by our school’s arts program. It doesn’t take a dedicated audiophile to figure out that the original version was better — more so my fault on the piano than my friend’s singing ability, as I stumbled on a few chords near the end — but still, thinking about our live rendition always puts a smile on my face, the memory transposed with the feeling given off by Souled Out’s beautiful artwork.

It’s often a bad sign when the album’s cover is more impressive than the music, but when they’re complementary, it only makes the end product that much more captivating. So this week, kudos to Jessie Reyez and Daniel Caesar for not only forming a divine combination on their first collaboration, but for packaging it behind a snapshot that perfectly sums up the song’s light, airy essence.

Art by Di Wu | Daily Trojan

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How much did I know about Jessie Reyez before this song? I didn’t realize “Figures, a Reprise” was actually a reprise of her biggest hit until my fifth listen. Probably a little late to the party, but I’ll be paying much more attention to the Canadian singer going forward after hearing her piercing vocals for the first time next to Caesar’s honeylike crooning. If you haven’t seen the video of the two of them premiering the song at the 2018 Juno Awards held annually in Vancouver, it’s definitely worth your time; even the audience was surprised when Caesar snuck out of the choir to debut his verse.

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In terms of songs that only grow more infectious with each listen, Kali Uchis’ “After the Storm” is easily the strongest choice since GoldLink gifted the culture with “Crew” in 2016. Now, three years after initially turning heads with her EP “Por Vida” in 2015, Kali’s true debut album is finally scheduled to be released this Friday, with production credits from KAYTRANADA and several other high-caliber names. Widely pegged as one of the brightest breakout candidates of 2018, expect Kali’s name recognition to skyrocket once the project finally arrives.

Kenan Draughorne is a junior majoring in journalism. He is also the lifestyle editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “To Pen a Butterfly,” runs Mondays.