Hip-Hop's Most Powerful Fonts & Logos

From Wu-Tang's "W" to Drake's OVO owl, the world's biggest rappers have logos just as recognizable as the Nike swoosh.

There’s something about the dusty scent that fills your nostrils when you walk through the door of a record store, it's reminiscent of being around an old, wise grandparent.

As I stood in a record shop this weekend, surrounded by music, flipping through a big book of stickers, I came across the band Wolfmother. Their logo is thick, bold letters spelling out the group's name without any added details beyond the outline. Rather simple and minimum, but the reason it caught my attention was the lettering. It gave me the feeling of hearing a song and recognizing the sample but not knowing where it came from. It took me a few moments before realizing the lettering was distinctly similar to Drake’s. If you go back to the So Far Gone EP, some of the loosies released during Take Care, even on the Club Paradise tour flyer, Drake’s name is spelled out with these big, bold letters that lack definition. Far from the most alluring image but memorable, if you pay close enough attention to detail you would recognize it instantly.

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Details can be the deciding factor if a logo is forgettable or iconic. Drake is best known for the OVO Owl, it's the image that is associated with him and his brand. When it comes to branding, everything down to the font should be decided consciously. In comparison, think about Wale’s font - his name spelled out with shoelaces. The look is clean, fun, and memorable while representing a sneaker head. Since the beginning of his career Wale has been connected with sneakers, so to have a font that can showcase that on album art is great branding. 

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Lettering and typography is something that artists have to be aware of. How their name will appear on album covers, flyers, posters, something bland and banal is unacceptable. Wiz Khalifa added flavor to his name by adding a little wing to the end of his “W,” adding a loop to his “K” and extending the end of his “H” underlining the rest of his name. Very simple but funky, a cool way of making his name stand out.

It wasn’t until I was looking back at his early album covers that I noticed Kanye would capitalize the “Y” and “W” in his name while minimizing all the other letters. It’s similar to how ScHoolboy Q capitalizes all his "H"s. It's a small touch but one that he has been dedicated to. 

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The beginning of J. Cole’s career was built around basketball, every project from the The Come Up to Cole World: The Sideline Story followed a sports theme. Even after he left it behind, J. Cole has kept the same lettering. There’s a pair of horns protruding from the side of his “O” and a halo wrapped around the upper left corner of his “E.” A touch of heaven and hell from the born sinner, makes me wonder how long he had the album title in mind knowing how his typography is structured? Even though he’s removed himself from the theme of basketball, Dreamville, the label, keeps the two worlds bound by using a font that would appear on a varsity letterman jacket.

Label logos also matter - Def Jam, Death Row, Bad Boy, all logos that can easily be visualized. Iconic labels, iconic logos. TDE, Odd Future, OVO, Pro Era and Ear Drummers are some of the more modern labels that have memorable logos.

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When it comes to album covers, there’s momentary branding that is much different than career-long branding. Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late had a cover that used a font that made it memeable album art. The font went viral, but since Drake only used it for that one album it will only be associated with that project and not his entire career. The owl is career-long, an image that’s been used since So Far Gone, if not before. Kanye is excellent at momentary branding. Each Kanye album comes with a specific sound and look that connects them. College Dropout is pink polo and soul samples, 808’s and Heartbreak is the grey tailored suit and Auto-Tune singing - you can go through every album able to hear and see the changes. His every evolution comes with new marketing and new branding - a look, a sound, a feeling that he has mastered. 

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Wu-Tang’s logo is to hip-hop what McDonald’s Golden Arches is to fast food. It is our Nike swoosh, our Jordan Jumpman, one of the most well-known logos in rap history. It embodies more than just the music, it encapsulates Wu-Tang’s attitude and energy. A career-long logo that has stuck with the rap collective for the last 20 years. Fans have inked that logo onto their very skin because Wu-Tang made them feel something and the W captures that feeling. In an interview, RZA confessed that the original idea was a man holding a decapitated head with a sword representing that Wu-Tang was coming for your neck - powerful but gory. Despite the cover strongly capturing the spirit of what the Wu, it doesn’t have the same appeal.

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“The Wu-Tang logo is definitely up there with Batman, man, or the actual W-B Warner Brothers,” he says to VladTV. “That’s what we was looking at it as, like we wanted it to be that type of W. When you see that, it means, like ‘Warner Brothers.’ Bow.” - Inspectah Deck

That’s what makes marketing and branding so fascinating, good ideas aren’t always the best idea. Living in a visual era, images are constantly flooding our eyes, making it even more important to have logos that are appealing and memorable. In the days of RT’s and double clicks, it is crucial for everything, even your font, to have meaning and appeal. Your brand goes beyond social media, music videos, and fashion. This is the age of branding, and your brand is everything that's an extension of your art. It's time to think just as much about how your music looks as how it sounds. 

By Yoh, aka YohBrand, aka @Yoh31