This week, a new candidate emerged for the spot of hip-hop's fabled fifth element: The jigsaw puzzle. With a canny eye on the not-too-far-off Christmas season, the Boston-based Get On Down Records has released jigsaw versions of classic rap album covers by Biz Markie, Kool G Rap, Boogie Down Productions, Masta Ace, and Just-Ice. As a ruse, it will make for fine festive fun, but below we've suggested five potentially better -- and way more difficult -- album cover jigsaws for the true hip-hop junkie.
5. A Tribe Called Quest, Midnight Marauders
The cover to Tribe's third album is a much-loved piece of hip-hop iconography, incorporating the faces of many a cherished rap type in the background. It's a design that would work beautifully as an intricately-cut 5,000 piece puzzle. After all, only a particularly cranky puzzler would turn down the challenge of assembling MC Serch's face from over five separate pieces.
4. Akinyele, Vagina Diner
They don't title 'em like this any more. Akinyele drafted Large Professor to produce the entirety of his 1993 full-length; he would shortly go on to be known as the guy who made the fellatio anthem "Put It In Your Mouth." But it's the Ak's debut album cover that would perk up the hip-hop jigsaw market, thanks to a winning combination of smutty cartoon graphics and large expanses of skin. Possibly not suitable for families of all ages though.
3. Mystikal, Unpredictable
Master P's No Limit empire has a fine track record of wonderfully awful Pen & Pixel-created covers. But Mystikal's 1997 release Unpredictable is the only one to take a self-referential approach to the art of hip-hop jigsaw, as the rapper himself becomes a jigsaw. Possibly within a jigsaw. Think about that.
2. Cru, Da Dirty 30
Def Jam's Cru produced an album that is now largely remembered by about three rap nerds and anyone looking to put together a playlist of people who sampled Portishead. ("Straight From L.I.P." is the track.) The cover, however, is based around a montage of photos that spells out the group's name -- a brilliant brain-hurter waiting to happen.
1. Jay-Z, The Black Album
If you ever find anyone disputing the idea of Jay-Z being the greatest rapping gentleman to ever walk the Earth, just ask them this: Who else presciently predicted the 2011 hip-hop jigsaw market like Jay did with 2003's The Black Album? The oceanic expanses of blackness that make up the majority of the color are a jigsaw fiend's spatial dream, while the gradients of gray add texture -- and the hope that completion is not but a fleeting dream. Call it Jay's last great artistic stance. (Equally as ridiculous: The Roots' Organix.)