There's a few things we've noticed about Jay-Z: he likes doing weird stuff with his hands, he's probably addicted to cigars and people don't like his face. Observe what happened when Metacritic ranked seven of Jay-Z's albums:
Notice how he's all over the place in critical response. An 88 in 2001, a 64 the next year, an 84 the year after that. Now, let's take those same albums, plus a few more, and see how they rate once we look at the album covers. See if you can spot the trend.
Reasonable Doubt - 1996
Jay-Z Face Time - Just about zero. We get a blurry half of a nose, three quarters of a lower lip and that's about it.
Reception - Astounding. It's called an "undisputed classic" and his "crowning achievement." Rolling Stone put it on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Everybody loves Jay-Z.
In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 - 1997
Jay-Z Face Time - Between clinched fists and a clearly defined 'You wanna go?' taunt in his expression, Jay-Z uses this album cover to establish himself as a real deal street hustler. No more silky white scarves for this baller. He's what? An arm's length away from the viewer?
Reception - In My Lifetime sold ok, but it was also called 'mundane or embarrassing' and lacking a clear vision. Vibe said he was inconsistent and threw punches "with the impact of hip hop marshmallows." Ouch.
Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life - 1998
Jay-Z Face Time - A little distance never hurt anybody, right, Jay? It almost looks like they considered covering his face with the album title, but thought the better of it.
Reception - Won the Grammy for best Rap Album of the year.
The Blueprint - 2001
Jay-Z Face Time - For all we know, we're actually looking at Kanye West in this picture. Unless you're intimately familiar with Jay-Z's hairline and right ear shape, there aren't enough identifying features to positively identify this man is actually Jay-Z at all.
Reception - Of all of Jay-Z's albums, this one has the highest Metacritic rating at 88. The Blueprint made several publications' lists of albums of the decade and despite getting released on 9/11/01, went on to go double platinum.
The Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse - 2002
Jay-Z Face Time - By 2002, Jay-Z gave up any pretense of ever making any new friends ever, and went ahead and photographed the most menacing facial expression this side of Clubber Lang. He literally makes a 'v' with his eyebrows, he's so angry. And close. Jay-Z is so close to us. Like, slapping distance close.
Reception - Entertainment Weekly called The Blueprint 2 'low-rent' and gave it a C, Rolling Stone called it 'bloated,' and Metacritic gave it the lowest rating of all their Jay-Z reviews. YOU'RE TOO CLOSE, JAY-Z.
The Black Album - 2003
Jay-Z Face Time -He's there if you squint your eyes. And even if you see him, his eyes and angerbrow are conspicuously missing.
Kingdom Come - 2006
Jay-Z Face Time - Jay makes the double mistake of one, being too close, and two, reminding us of bloodshed with the unfortunate coloring of the album. Let's see how this plays out for him.
Reception - Despite its commercial success, one reviewer called it a display of complacency and retreads and Pitchfork called it one of his worst albums. Metacritic gives the album a 67 out of 100. Yowza.
American Gangster - 2007
Jay-Z Face Time - Clearly, Jay-Z is on to us and our fear of his face. He casts himself as a far-away, nebulous shadowman, content to dwell in unoccupied bars with wide open doors. Just in case someone is accidentally sharing his space and wants to make a quick getaway.
Reception - The exact same guy who called Kingdom Come "complacent" said this one was "a very good album." Slant magazine called him a "poet" and another reviewer praised his "killer wordplay." Metacritic gave this one a respectable 82. And Jigga must have taken note, because...
The Blueprint 3 - 2009
Jay-Z Face Time - Nonexistent. Jay-Z is 100% out of the picture, choosing instead to replace his scowling sneer with a room full of white musical instruments, audio equipment and three red bars. Jay-Z even squeezes in a saxophone, just to make sure we're all aware there is no hint of a threatening black man anywhere on this album cover.
Reception - The Blueprint 3 officially made Jay-Z bigger than Elvis, at least in the number of #1 albums on the Billboard 200 list, and was still on the top thirty list of hip hop albums sold sixteen months after its release. Sure, Metacritic only gave the album a 65, but that doesn't matter, because this album was so accessible to white people that the whitest show in the history of white people recorded the whitest version of this song that you can possibly imagine:
So, good on ya, Jay-Z. We're looking forward to your next album cover, which will presumably just be a picture of Justin Bieber eating some organic yogurt. Make some space for your Grammys!
For more ridiculous album, check out The 19 Most Hilariously Failed Attempts at Sexy Album Covers and 19 Unintentionally Terrifying Children's Album Covers.