Jay-Z’s forthcoming Blueprint 3 album (due respectively I’m sure on the 11th of September), and more specifically his album cover and track listing have been getting a fair amount of attention lately. To meme the analysis even further, his track listing even received it’s own “news” article, and searching “track listing” in google returns a thumbnail of Jay-Z first and foremost (above).

How meta!


While his track listing design is okay, it’s not very original or interesting really, I’ve seen much better designs of information handling than this. But I’d really like to focus your attention on his album cover:


At first, one goes, “Wow!” One should. It’s an interesting image.

An ensemble of sound instruments and equipment, we see everything from boards and mixers to old-world and new-world phonograph players, as well as enough speakers and amplification to crack the foundation in my building’s basement, all topped off with an accordion, how quaint. Everything is painted white except for the keyboard keys, the drum cushions, the record on the crank-style phonograph, the electric-style phonograph arm, and those rubber feet on the speaker head. The 3 bars in the middle are like roman numerals turned sideways, and are oriented like a “stack” – this is the final album of his trilogy after all, so it’s only appropriate that one think of each album as building upon the previous release, with this thankfully being the final Blueprint.

The composition is intriguing, all the objects arranged into a towering mish-mash. And the three bars are a unique way of expressing the third installment. However neither are original or even creative, and in my opinion they’re outright stolen!

Okay okay maybe all the instruments pictured were the instruments necessary to produce the album, but I seriously doubt that Jay-Z is that conceptual in the execution of his album covers. And maybe he thought himself novel in the adaptation of three bars to signify his almost-architectural record-naming scheme. But as I’m about to point out both practices are quite deeply rooted in contemporary art.

For starters there are the three bars: transparent & equal (although not equidistant). Overlayed, they show the world behind while masking it (I just noticed the violin! That’s what I mean by mask!). And they quite clearly resemble the work of Donald Judd, a minimalist artist who while he worked with wood, steel and concrete is usually known for his transparent, at times reflective, Plexiglas boxes that were arranged in stacks and mounted on walls:


Their stack creates a type of tower, and their verticality makes you wish yourself taller, shooting into the sky! As noted, the one difference between Judd’s work and Jay-Z’s cover design is that Judd’s work is equidistant, that is the distance between the boxes is exactly equal to the height of the boxes themselves, creating a type of democracy between the objects and the wall or background they reside upon.

A few more examples to show you Judd’s rigour of line and his creation of boxes, spanning several decades:


Then there’s the white towering ensemble, or assemblage rather. It’s a direct reference (and poor execution I might add) to a truly pioneering artist: Louise Nevelson, a female born in Russia in 1899 whose family emigrated to the US in 1905. Someone whom to this day is still undervalued and under-acknowledged (see how short her wikipedia article is, especially compared with Judd’s). She eventually moved to NYC in 1920 where she would live until her death in 1988, and during her time made assemblages, or physical collages, from discarded objects that she found on the streets of this magnificent city. Truly: trash art! And while her work was made from trash, and was simple in its execution (everything – EVERYTHING – painted white or black), her work contained an inherent complexity and depth that few of her time could rival or generally even muster the courage to put out there:



And this is why I look at contemporary art. It’s so far ahead of the curve. And this is why I’m so uninformed by pop culture. I mean, I’m sure Jay-Z’s album will be good. He has some mega producers backing him up, and has all the right (some would say too many) “featuring” artists by his side. But the real testament will be in 20, 30 years, if Jay-Z’s album cover will still hold as much ooompf, ooopla or ahhhhh as it does today. Probably not. Whereas already the work of Judd and Nevelson, 20, 30, even 40 years after its making in some instances, is still as strong as ever and will in another 20 years still be as vital, necessary and important to understanding culture.