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A closer look at RZA’s top album covers

RZA Presents: Ballantine's x Crosley

Our collaboration with RZA is all about creativity, authenticity and staying true. These shared similarities also show up in the extensive creative process behind making an album, and the making of good whisky. That is why RZA’s ethos is an ideal match for the Ballantine’s Stay True lifestyle.

Everyone knows a crucial aspect of an album’s creation is the cover artwork. So, while the artwork is never going to be as important as the music inside, it does influence the vibe of an album and how we relate to it. For an artist like RZA, who views his musical works as concepts, the album artwork is at the top of the overall impact of his collection.

It’s like when we create a new bottle of whisky – we don’t make bottles at random. Each whisky in our collection is a conceptualisation, it has a backstory that gives it authenticity within our range. And we adjust the aesthetics of our bottles and labels accordingly, a little like album artwork.

To honour our collaboration with RZA, we’re doing a deep dive on our favourite album covers, so grab some Scotch, turn up your RZA album of choice, and read on…

bobby digital in sterio rza album aspect ratio 4 4

BOBBY DIGITAL IN STEREO

Let’s kick things off with RZA’s first solo album, Bobby Digital in Stereo. RZA introduces us to his alter ego, Bobby Digital, and the lyrics within the tracks are focused around this devil-may-care character.

RZA grew up reading comic books and graphic novels, and this passion feeds into his music at every opportunity. The alter-ego of Bobby Digital is conceptualised as a comic book protagonist in Digital Stereo’s album cover.

It’s the work of acclaimed artist, Bill Sienkiewicz, who revolutionised American comics with his unique blend of styles including oil painting, collage and mixed-media. We’ve talked a lot about creating something new out of existing things within the Ballantine’s x RZA collaboration, and Sienkiewicz style lives and breathes this ethos.

The cover feels futuristic, surreal and hedonistic, with Bobby Digital taking centre stage in front of a tangle of guns, girls, fire and what looks like a little Kung Fu in the bottom left corner. It’s artwork that makes you want to hear Bobby’s story, and that feels 100% true to RZA.

digital bullet

We’re staying in the land of Bobby Digital for RZA’s 2001 album, Digital Bullet. The rich deep yellow of the cover background can’t help but remind us of the light gold of Ballantine’s Finest Scotch whisky.

The minimalist, almost silhouette style figure of Bobby Digital feels contemporary and has a sci-fi feel – it’s comic book-esque in a sexy and sleek way. One glance at the album artwork, and you’re excited to hear the next instalment of Bobby Digital’s story.

This artwork was done by talented Los Angeles based artist, Kristian Russell, who has worked with fellow music legends such as Lil Kim, Mary J Blige and Macy Gray. Russell sure has a skilful knack for creating music inspired artwork

digital bullet rza album
1 rza birth of a prince

BIRTH OF A PRINCE

We’re taking a break from the Bobby Digital persona to look closer at RZA’s album cover for his 2003 collection, Birth of a Prince.

We love how this album artwork contrasts so starkly with the graphic novel style of RZA’s Bobby Digital releases. Yet the stripped back feel is still rich with subtle meanings.

The front cover of Birth of a Prince features a close up portrait of RZA, with his hands on his temples in a pose reminiscent of Kung Fu stances. The Wu-Tang Clan symbol is reflected in RZA’s eyes, and he looks powerful, thoughtful and regal – just like a prince.

DIGI SNACKS

RZA continues the tale of Bobby Digital with his 2008 album, Digi Snacks. The artwork for this cover feels a little different to that for RZA’s other Bobby Digital albums – the piece is comic book in style but feels like it’s come straight from a sketchbook.

We see Bobby Digital, looking more like RZA now but still with his gnarly bionic hand, on a green throne surrounded by six topless beauties brandishing glimmery swords and all wearing masks.

The style is slightly unpolished, and we mean that in the best way possible. It’s art that’s meant to look like art – it’s the artist’s – Gary Alford’s – authentic impression of what Bobby Digital looks like at this point in his story.

The result is bold, unapologetic and sexy; it’s certainly going to catch everyone’s eye in the record shop

digi snacks rza album
rza rza presents bobby digital and the pit of snakes

BOBBY DIGITAL AND THE PIT OF SNAKES

It’s fitting to end with RZA’s most recent album, Bobby Digital and the Pit of Snakes, released in 2022. Seeing as this album doubles as the soundtrack to a graphic of the same name, it’s no surprise that the album cover screams comic book style.

Bobby Digital takes all the limelight (as he should) in this design by Greek comic book extraordinaire, Vasilis Lolos, against a trippy swirly blue background. He reaches out to us with both hands, looking right into our souls through dark masked eyes.

The overall effect is vibrant and striking, and is a tantalising taste of what’s to come in the graphic novel. RZA has been bringing us comic book inspired albums covers with Bobby Digital for a quarter of a century, but Pit of Snakes proves that it still feels fresh, authentic and innovative.

A RZA album is a true work of art, each with a powerful concept that comes straight from the mastermind himself. If anyone is an advocate for staying true and stepping boldly into your own creativity, it’s RZA.

Get on your headphones and get out your cocktail shaker – the Stay True lifestyle is contagious. Find out more about our unparalleled partnership with RZA.

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