We can chart the evolution of Kanye West through his lyrics, production, and stylistic changes over the years (and, maybe even through his rants), but one of the most visual markers of his progress shows on up on album covers.
On Sunday, (Mar. 1), 'Ye revealed the cover art for his new LP, So Help Me God, and it's unlike any of his previous covers.
If we count G.O.O.D. Music's Cruel Summer compilation, and Watch the Throne, Kanye is now nine albums in, and the progression is clear. Take a look at So Help Me God and his previous covers below.
The College Dropout (2004)Def Jam
Kanye's debut album cover was commissioned by former Nike Design Director and Roc-A-Fella designer, Eric Duvauchelle, who took several photos of him dressed in the infamous Dropout Bear costume. They settled on the bear sitting on a set of bleachers to represent a desolate academic environment, and framed it with artwork that Kanye wanted to inspire "elegance and style." Notice how those cherubs look similar to what eventually became the G.O.O.D Music logo?
Late Registration (2005)Def Jam
Dropout Bear was still the star of Kanye's sophomore album cover. This time he's shown entering the halls of Princeton University, and inside the album booklet, he's seen wandering around the school's campus. Kanye has cited American satirical painter, John Currin, as inspiration for this artwork.
Graduation (2007)Def Jam
Kanye West enlisted artist and designer Takashi Murakami to help him craft the colorful, pastel cover art for his third album. When asked what it was like to work with West on the project, Murakami told MTV News, “It was difficult, because every week, Kanye has new ideas — changing, changing, changing.”
808s & Heartbreak (2008)Def Jam
Unlike the lively cover artwork for Graduation, West took a minimalist approach for his next project. The bare-bones art for 808s & Heartbreak features a deflated heart set against a stark background, photographed by Kristen Yiengst and designed by Virgil Abloh and Willo Perron. For the deluxe edition, however, he enlisted KAWS to add some of his signature pop art to the cover.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)Def Jam
This is where things started to get really interesting -- even by Kanye's standards. For his critically-acclaimed LP, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, 'Ye spent hours with artist George Condo, who painted several different portraits, five of which were included in the album booklet. The one chosen for the cover art shows Kanye being straddled by a nude woman in the form of a phoenix. Due to it's explicit nature, the image definitely threw some retailers for a loop.
Watch the Throne (2011)Def Jam
Although this album was a collaboration between Kanye and Jay Z, it became obvious that Hov didn't have very much to do with the artwork. Kanye reached out to Givenchy designer, Riccardo Tisci to create the elaborate golden cover, which fit with the theme of the album. "When they first asked me, I was really scared," Tisci has admitted. "And then, we began the discussions about movies, DJs, general things. So, I felt that the collaboration was necessary.”
Cruel Summer (2012)Def Jam
Okay, technically this is a G.O.O.D. Music compilation album, but it was 'Ye and his team at DONDA who oversaw the design. They settled on an all-white background with a nude female statue holding onto her breasts, set against an ornate bed of leaves.
Yeezus (2013)Def Jam
Following the rich cover art for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye pretty much did an about turn for his "protest" album Yeezus. The LP basically had no cover image, unless you're counting the piece of red tape as art.
So Help Me God (2015)Kanye West/Twitter
In true Kanye fashion, he revealed the cover art for So Help Me God on Twitter, and it's way more than Yeezus, but way less than My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Rolling Stone speculated that the "m" in the artwork could be representative of the 13th Century monastic symbol for the Virgin Mary, or be tied to Roman numerals, which 'Ye is also fascinated with.