One of the core traits of hip-hop is flexibility. Sounds, artists and styles, they all change with time, and evolve to become the best version of the music created. This is why things like song and album titles change shortly before they come out or projects being totally overhauled are so common. How an artist feels about their product yesterday doesn't always matter the next day. So, there has to be room for change. This extends to album cover art, which leads to finished covers that never get used as highlighted here.

Hip-hop's direct ties to the art world have only strengthened over the last decade. This shines through with some of the album covers that have been released during that time. More recently, Kanye West is an obvious example. One of his initial unused Donda covers was a painting of a woman's head, her silhouette and ponytail consisting of red paint. This was made by the late artist Louis Bourgeois. When the LP finally dropped last year, Ye ended up simply making the cover a black square.

His former rival Drake also fits into this conversation, as his chosen cover for 2021's Certified Lover Boy was the ever-present pop culture art featuring pregnant woman emojis made by artist Damien Hirst. The Toronto rapper later shared on Instagram the initial covers he didn't end up using, which included illustrations and art by Milo Manara, Theo Skudra and another by the aforementioned Damien Hirst.

Sometimes, album art changes because of backlash or the possible backlash that could arise. The Coup's 2001 album, Party Music, is one of the more controversial album covers in existence and it was purely by mistake. The art features the duo blowing up the World Trade Center, and was created months before the terrible events of 9/11 even happened. Considering the album was originally scheduled to come out in September of 2001, The Coup had to go back to the drawing board. Lil Uzi Vert also found himself in hot water in 2018, when he revealed the possible cover for his Eternal Atake album. The art was a reworking of the Heaven's Gate logo, a cult most famously known for a 1997 mass suicide.

Check out some covers that didn't make it off the cutting room floor. Here's a look at 7 hip-hop album covers that were never used below.

  • Young Thug’s Punk

    Last December, the official Young Stoner Life Records Instagram account shared an image of an alternate cover for Punk, Thug's nearly two-month-old solo album at the time. Designed by artist Fano, who does a lot of the YSL cover art, the LP cover depicts Thug as an omnipresent religious figure, complete with wings, as he presides over the Earth. He sits inside what seems to be a giant spider lair, possibly a nod to Thug's clothing line, Spider.

    ORIGINAL COVER ART

    FINAL COVER ART

    300 Entertainment / Atlantic Recording
    300 Entertainment / Atlantic Recording
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  • ScHoolboy Q’s Blank Face LP

    As part of an art style he would use in his album's rollout, ScHoolboy Q announced in June of 2016, that his Blank Face LP deluxe edition cover would feature then-president Donald Trump's blurred-out face. The TDE rapper later revealed that this was just the art of trolling, but it definitely caused alarm when Q first shared it. Giving light to such a controversial figure created a stir, but Q never officially released it.

    ORIGINAL COVER ART

    FINAL COVER ART

    Interscope Records (Top Dawg Entertainment)
    Interscope Records (Top Dawg Entertainment)
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  • Kanye West’s Donda

    While he ended up settling for a black square for his 2021 album, Donda, Kanye West first posted two distinct possible covers that were supposed to be the initial cover art creations. The first was shared in July of 2020, which was a heat sensor-like image of the sun, people and mountains in neon colors. The second came a year later, designed as a red woman with her hair flowing in the wind. The latter was painted by late artist Louise Bourgeois. Kanye ended up using neither of these options.

    ORIGINAL COVER ART

    FINAL COVER ART

    Getting Out Our Dreams II, LLC Distributed By Def Jam Recordings, A Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.
    Getting Out Our Dreams II, LLC Distributed By Def Jam Recordings, A Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.
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  • Lil Uzi Vert’s Eternal Atake

    A bit of controversy surrounded the cover art for Lil Uzi Vert's long-awaited Eternal Atake album in 2018. In July of that year, he unveiled what he wanted to be the cover. The artwork was imagery reimagined as the Heaven's Gate cult logo. Heaven's Gate is most well-known for a 1997 mass suicide. After the rapper revealed the cover, two of the remaining members along with a rep for the cult threatened legal action against Uzi. Going back to the drawing board, Uzi then chose via Twitter vote the intergalactic cover he landed on.

    ORIGINAL COVER ART

    FINAL COVER ART

    Atlantic Recording Corporation
    Atlantic Recording Corporation
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  • Drake’s Certified Lover Boy

    One of the most anticipated rap albums in recent times, Drake's 2021 offering, Certified Lover Boy, features a cover that includes 12 pregnant women emojis designed by artist Damien Hirst. This cover was panned, but Drake stuck with it, even after he revealed the alternate cover choices he had on hand. He shared all the unique covers on Instagram. Varying in design and originality, there was a more stylized version of the original cover, Drake as a football player with a rose in his mouth, a white cap with a red lipstick kiss on the bill and more.

    ORIGINAL COVER ART

    FINAL COVER ART

    OVO, under exclusive license to Republic Records
    OVO, under exclusive license to Republic Records
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  • The Coup’s Party Music

    In a case of bad timing, The Coup, a duo consisting of rapper Boots Riley and turntablist Pam The Funkstress, came up with a controversial album cover featuring New York City's most iconic landmarks. The artwork for their fourth album, 2001's Party Music, showed the two artists blowing up the World Trade Center's Twin Towers. Of course, this cover was created months before the tragedy of 9/11, but the album was set to drop that September. Even with Boots Riley's desire to keep the cover, the project was delayed until November. Ultimately, the initial cover was deaded and the final cover art displayed a hand holding a flaming champagne glass filled with gasoline.

    ORIGINAL COVER ART

    FINAL COVER ART

    ShoYoAss Words Pictures and Sounds
    ShoYoAss Words Pictures and Sounds
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  • Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

    The cover for Kanye's 2010 album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, ended up being an original George Condo painting of Ye with an armless, winged woman on his lap. Both subjects were nude. The artwork was "banned" according to the rapper and censored by most retailers and on DSPs.

    "Banned in the USA!!! They don't want me chilling on the couch with my phoenix!" Kanye wrote on Twitter in 2010. "In all honesty … I really don't be thinking about Wal-Mart when I make my music or album covers #Kanyeshrug!" he added. He also said, "So Nirvana can have a naked human being on they cover but I can't have a PAINTING of a monster with no arms and a polka dot tail and wings."

    The final look was the original image with pixelated squares over it. While this was the cover Kanye settled on, there were even more, less controversial covers created by Condo. Most of them were used within the MBDTF album packaging.

    ORIGINAL COVER ART

    FINAL COVER ART

    UMG Recordings, Inc.
    UMG Recordings, Inc.
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