At the height of their career, N.W.A was notoriously called “the world’s most dangerous group.” Years before that, Ice-T’s debut album put gangster rap on the map by being the first hip-hop album to carry the “Parental Advisory” sticker. In our latest #HSTBT, we explore the impact of that infamous label.
In 2015, “Parental Advisory” stickers are a dime a dozen. They’re so ubiquitous most people overlook them the same way most smokers overlook warning labels. 30 years ago that wasn’t the case and when the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) formed in April 1985, pop music was just beginning to make explicit references to lewd subject matter. The PMRC focused on one song in particular, “Darling Nikki” by Prince, which referenced masturbation.
Demanding some sort of way for parents to recognize content that would be inappropriate for children in an increasingly media-saturated world, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) responded by introducing a short-lived rating system, similar to how the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rated films. The ratings used included “O” for occult themes, “S” for sex, “D” for drugs and “V” for violence. Ineffectual in just about every way, the RIAA alternatively proposed an early version of the label we’re all now too familiar with: “Parental Guidance: Explicit Lyrics.”
The concerned parents and the RIAA went back and forth until a hearing was held on September 19 with the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Featuring a who’s who of the era’s most popular musicians sharing their thoughts on what they saw as a form of censorship, including prolific creative Frank Zappa and Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, the organizations eventually agreed on a settlement wherein tracks had to include a warning label reading “Explicit Lyrics: Parental Advisory” or have its lyrics attached on the backside of its packaging.
A few years later, in 1990, the explosive “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” was introduced for all relevant records featuring said content and was to be placed on the bottom right-hand section. Following several more hearings, the label we all know now, “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” was rolled out in 1993. The system went unchanged until 2002, when record labels affiliated with Bertelsmann Music Group began specifying the type of content on CDS with “strong language,” “violent content” or “sexual content,” alongside the typical Parental Advisory label.
Before any of these changes, however, one of gangster rap’s forerunners, Ice-T, had established himself as a professional DJ. Always on the fringe of gang life, Ice-T was never a full-blown gangster but that didn’t stop him from penning his first gangsta rap song – and one of the genre’s first – “6 in the Mornin'” in his Hollywood apartment to a minimal beat created on a Roland TR-808. The song appeared as a B-Side to the single “Dog’n The Wax” but proved to be more successful than its counterpart in clubs and led Ice-T to rap about LA gang life, something he described more explicitly than anyone else at the time.
The track eventually ended up on his debut album, Rhyme Pays, released on July 28, 1987, under the slightly different title “”6 ‘N the Mornin’.” Bringing gangsta rap to the attention of casual hip-hop fans by peaking at number 93 on the Billboard 200 and number 26 on the Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums, Rhyme Pays was the first hip-hop artist album released on Sire and Warner Bros. More importantly, though, it was the first hip-hop album ever to come affixed with the “Parental Advisory” warning label (albeit on the album’s plastic seal), although it was years before the ones used now.
Nearly 30 years later and “Parental Advisory” labels are an inseparable part of the genre.