From the sensational and sleazy to the violent and politically-charged, here are eight of the most controversial hip-hop album covers of all time.
Hip-hop artists have a notorious history of boasting provocative imagery to supplement their music. For decades, rappers have exhausted the usual motifs of garish materialism, sensational violence and sexuality in their visuals. But some images that have exploited these tropes have managed to perturb a bit more than usual, themselves becoming a testament to rap music’s sometimes indulgent nature.
Whether devised as a marketing ploy to garner viewers’ attention or realized as a genuine “artistic” representation of the rapper’s work, we’ve compiled a list of eight controversial hip-hop album covers that have managed to provoke censorship, legal restriction and public outcry over the years.
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Yeezy is certainly no stranger to courting with controversy. When he commissioned artist George Condo to conjure up a visual for the cover of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the rapper allegedly claimed that he wanted “something that will be banned.” Well he certainly got what we wanted, as one of the album’s final selections depicting a demonic Kanye being straddled by a nude harpy didn’t tide over well with a number of prudish retailers, who consequently banned the cover from their stores. Luckily, the album included a backup cover which was pretty tame in comparison.
Nas – Untitled (2008)
The controversy surrounding this album commenced before its cover was even released. Its original title – N*gger – came under fire due to its racial epithet, facing sharp opposition from the NAACP and a horde of high-profile celebrities and commentators including 50 Cent, Will Smith, Oprah Winfrey and Reverend Al Sharpton. The moniker was evidently changed, but that didn’t refrain the illustrious rapper from highlighting the album’s politically-charged subject matter via an ultra graphic cover. Showing the back of a shirtless Nas with flagellation scars shaped in the form of the letter “N,” the sobering image was an overt reference to America’s dark slavery past, drawing parallels to the modern day usage of racial slurs.
The Coup – Party Music (2001)
The cover for Oakland-based group The Coup’s Party Music was created in June 2001, only three months prior to the terrorist attacks that shook the world on September 11. Bad timing to say the least, which resulted in a three-month delay of the album’s release (also slated for September) and an alternative album cover.
2 Live Crew – As Nasty As They Want to Be (1989)
Raunchy Miami emcees 2 Live Crew fought long and hard for their First Amendment freedoms during the high-profiled obscenity trials centered on this album’s release. In 1990, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled that the album was legally obscene – making it the first album to be deemed as such. This rear-centric image is equally integral to the group’s legacy, capturing the rump-shaking ethos of the time.
Geto Boys – We Can’t Be Stopped (1991)
Horrorcore heavyweights Geto Boys took quite a candid approach with the image for their third studio album, We Can’t Be Stopped. The graphic photo, showing a bloodied hospital gown-clad Bushwick Bill on a stretcher, was taken moments after the member was shot in the eye after a tussle he and his girlfriend had over a handgun.
Ice Cube – Death Certificate (1991)
Ice Cube’s alleged affiliation with the controversial religious organization Nation of Islam shrouded this album with controversy from the get-go. Its highly aggressive attitudes toward race and politics, paired with the cover’s blatant death wish for the United States, resulted in a statewide ban of the rapper’s image in the state of Oregon.
Ice-T – Gangsta Rap (2006)
Ice-T (using then-alias “Iceberg”) decided to dedicate his eighth studio effort’s cover to his beloved trophy wife, Coco. Depicting the naked hip-hop power couple sprawled on top of some black linens, the gaudy image didn’t exactly appease many record labels. The rapper won the censorship battle with this one, however, telling Reuters: “It’s part John Lennon and Yoko Ono. It was art when they did it and it’s where everybody wants to be – laid up in bed,” referring to the couple’s legendary 1981 Rolling Stone cover.
Makaveli (Tupac Shakur) – The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (1996)
Posthumously released under his alter-ego Makaveli, The Don Killuminati marked the last studio album recorded by West Coast rap legend Tupac Shakur. Featuring a crucified Tupac with the quote “In no way is the portrait an expression of disrespect for Jesus Christ,” the artwork served as an ominous foreshadowing of the rapper’s fate, who was fatally shot six months prior to the album’s scheduled release date. A visual representation on how Shakur felt about the media’s treatment of him, it goes without question that the illustration’s religious motif irked its ration of Bible thumpers.
Nicki Minaj – Anaconda (2014)
The hip-hop vixen whipped up a flurry of publicity with this ambitious “Anaconda” single cover, which highlights the song’s references to Sir Mix-a-Lot’s rear-revering 1992 track “Baby Got Back.” Displaying a crouched Nicki with what looks like a piece of pink dental floss lodged between her most publicized physical characteristic, the eye-catching visual prompted many a cropping on various online media outlets and was even stamped with a “Parental Advisory” label over the area in question.
Action Bronson – Saaab Stories (2013)
The Queens-bred rapper baited critics with the highly suggestive cover art for 2013’s Saaab Stories EP, which resulted in a fair share of Internet outrage over its provocative and misogynistic nature.