Pitchfork: Madlib Medicine Show artwork
Stones Throw art director Jeff Jank on the ambitious 12-disc CD/LP series.
- January 27, 2011
Written by Ryan Dombal for Pitckfork.com's Take Cover series, January 26, 2011
Notable album covers catch the eye, dribble it around a little, and then snap it back into place, forever skewed. They can be funny, gross, shocking, stunning, or just plain wrong. They can define artists. With Take Cover, we aim to track down the most striking new album covers taking up web space and vinyl bins and get the story behind them.
Madlib's current Medicine Show monthly series of releases isn't only one of the most ambitious musical projects in recent memory-- it's one of the most impressive album art endeavors, too. Each of the planned 12 records features its own CD cover (pictured above) and booklet, and half of them are also given their own limited-edition vinyl pressings with unique, one-of-a-kind art. The man coordinating all these visuals is Stones Throw art director Jeff Jank, who's been responsible for more than half of the indie hip-hop label's covers over the years.
The vinyl pressing of the 11th installment of the series, Low Budget High Fi Music, features something extra special: the silk-screeners that make the LP covers, Hit+Run, added some Hennessy to the paint. We chatted with Jank about the Medicine Show art, his favorite Stones Throw cover, and rabbits having sex in the woods:
Pitchfork: How did the whole Medicine Show series get started?
Jeff Jank: Madlib has wanted to release an album a month for a long time and we're small enough to experiment with something like that. The series is actually on his own label, Madlib Invazion, and Stones Throw is facilitating it. It alternates between his own original albums and these mixtape albums, and we press the original ones on vinyl every other month. For the LPs, we usually get a bunch of different images and the silk-screen company Hit+Run makes different designs out of them, so each one basically has one-of-a-kind artwork. We actually destroy the screens when we're done so that we're not tempted to redo more down the line. It reminds me of the small presses and in-house printing that Sun Ra's Saturn Records did.
Pitchfork: The artwork for the CDs and their corresponding vinyl are usually related, right?
JJ: Yeah. For instance, the cover of the Low Budget High Fi Music CD has this porcupine with a hair pick and some blinged out brass knuckles, so we came up with this whole idea that these forest animals are playing beats for the vinyl sleeves. And then Brandy, who does Hit+Run, was like, "Why don't we just pour Hennessy in all the paint and then blow smoke into it?" It worked.
Pitchfork: Did you run into any issues with the consistency of the Hennessy paint?
JJ: A couple of them got a little runny but it didn't damage anything. Technically, they're also infused with smoke but that's mostly just the guys blowing smoke onto it every once in a while, almost for good luck.
Pitchfork: How much back and forth do you have with Madlib about the covers?
JJ: Very little, which has been the case for the entire 10 years that I've worked with him. He turns in his stuff and doesn't really explain what's going on in the music or if there's a theme with the album. I have to figure it out. Since this series is going so fast, I've been doing most of the covers and just showing him when they're done. And he's like, "cool."
Pitchfork: What's one of your favorite Stones Throw covers?
JJ: I really like the Madvillain one. So many people who have done album covers with Doom focus on the mask but I was just thinking of it as a guy who happened to be wearing a mask. I thought of it as one of those classic album covers where you just see a person's face but, in this case, his face happens to be covered. That in itself tells a story. Doom himself is really against having pictures of himself on covers. I have to give credit to his roadie, who was with Doom when he first saw that photo and was so enthusiastic about it that Doom was like, "All right, all right, you can use it."
Pitchfork: What's a cover that influenced your style?
JJ: I always really loved those album covers that are hand-drawn or maybe a little sloppy. The one for Schoolly D's first EP [below] was always one of my favorites-- he drew it himself and it just looks like some third grader's desk covered in scribbles and pictures of himself looking cool.
Pitchfork: What's the deal with the Medicine Show #6: Brain Wreck Show cover, which has a picture of rabbits having sex in the woods?
JJ: That's the weirdest mixtape of the whole bunch and the cover is just a picture I had when the whole series started. I was like, "I've got to do an album cover with this." That was actually the most fun one because the booklet was this weird pamphlet that I found in the waiting room of a bank. It's one of those pamphlets talking about how the Illuminati and the U.S. government and the Catholic church all have secret forces that control the world and everything. I loved it because it wasn't even selling anything-- it was made as a public service or something. So I scanned it and changed some of the text to make it be about Madlib. And the cover has these rabbits having sex in the woods-- that's really the only way I could explain it because the theme was global psychedelic music.
Madlib Medicine Show Series overview at Stones Throw
Hit+Run website of the silkscreen crew who have printed all MMS LP covers
Gustavo Eandi Illustrator for #1 & 11 vinyl
Benjamin Marra Illustrator for #5 CD + vinyl
Madlib Medicine Show #1: Artwork by Gustavo Eandi, Jeff Jank, Hit+Run
Madlib Medicine Show #3: Artwork by Lungston Hughes, Jeff Jank, Hit+Run
Madlib Medicine Show #5: Artwork by Benjamin Marra, Jeff Jank, Hit+Run
Madlib Medicine Show #7: Artwork by Jeff Jank, Hit+Run
Madlib Medicine Show #11: Artwork by Gustavo Eandi, Jeff Jank, Hit+Run
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