Mos Def: The Ecstatic
The most notable thing about Mos Def’s fourth solo album is that it’s available as a t-shirt. He’s become the first artist to endorse The Original Music Tee™, a concept that’s pretty damn clever. Basically, you buy the t-shirt with the cover art on the front and the tracklist on the back and it comes with a hangtag featuring a unique code that allows you to download the album in MP3 format.
This makes a lot of sense to me. The idea of being able to express your support for an artists’ new album by literally wearing the cover kind of works. You get to make an addition to your wardrobe and your iTunes at the same time. This combination of music and fashion might even serve to put an emphasis back on the importance of cover art design. If people are meant to wear it, designers won’t be able to dial it in.
It works for girls too, because they can slip one on and look just like this.
My only problem with the proposed format is that the t-shirt costs twice the price of simply downloading the album, which kind of defeats the purpose. After all, it’s always been possible to buy the album and then buy the official t-shirt – if they want to change music-buying behaviour they’ll probably need to offer better value rather than rely on novelty.
And while The Original Music Tee™ could hypothetically re-introduce the importance of cover art design, then it could also change it forever. After all, cover art has always been defined by the limitations of a square CD or record cover. T-shirt design is something else entirely.
The cover for The Ecstatic, which is also available through iTunes, sticks with tradition. The image is taken from the film Killer of Sheep, an underground cinema masterpiece set in an LA ghetto in the late seventies. Shot on less than $10,000, it’s gritty realism and low budget meant that it never gained a wide release.
Nonetheless, most who saw it became passionate advocates and, after it’s initial release in 1977, it went on the win the 1981 Berlin International Film Festival. In 2007 it was re-released in art cinemas and on DVD to mark its thirtieth anniversary.