Saturday, November 19, 2005

Cover Art Controversy

Ever since Tipper Gore and her P.M.R.C. (Parents Music Resource Centre) put pressure on the record industry in '85 including a series of senate hearings to put the "Parental Advisory" label on the covers of what the record company / distributor classes as "obscene" hip hop covers have had to leave some room for the black and white sticker. Although over the years having the label has probably been used as an advantage to sell more records, rather than preventing sales, As does any controversy surrounding any hip hop group such as the 2 Live Crew "As Nasty AS They Wanna Be" drama. Any fellow Australians would remember back when radio station Triple J was playing N.W.A.s "Fuck The Police" for months when it first came out before the police heard it and got the A.B.C. (Triple J's owners) to pull it from the air. Then in protest, Triple J against censorship in music played the "Express Yourself" track for 24 hours straight,360 times in a row, all that attention just made kids my age at the time think, what is this? and when you listen,you like, you like you buy and keep buying until you start bidding on wax off ebay with your electricity bill money.

Over the years countless Hip Hop covers have been censored by changing this or that or even replacing the cover completely and leaving collectors checking ebay for any strays that may have escaped early such as the Body Count album that not only had the "Cop Killer" track removed but also had the words "Cop Killer" replaced with "Body Count" on the chest of the character on the cover.

Paris has had a few problems along the way, his former label "Tommy Boy" that was owned by Time Warner who was associated with George Bush's Republican party through shareholders, would not let him use his original cover for the "Sleeping With The Enemy" album which pictured Paris hiding behind a tree with a gun ready to snipe out Bush. Paris then left Tommy Boy and went to 4th & Broadway, then Rick Rubin's Sex Label to release the album but was continuously blocked by Warner who would not let it be released, trying to hold it back for as long as possible or at least until the U.S. election was over, Paris got a payout by Warner and then used the money to bring out "Sleeping With The Enemy" on his own label "Scarface Records" although the original cover was only recently released on his Guerilla Funk reissue. Paris had trouble finding a distributor that would release his "Sonic Jihad" album with the cover of a plane flying over the white house,he later found a punk distributor that would release it providing it had a cardboard case over the cover to hide the picture in record stores.

The Coup was set to release it's "Party Music" album with a picture of the World Trade Centre getting blown up before the September 11 incident happened and had to quickly change it to having a flaming cocktail glass filled with gasoline on the cover. Insane Poetry was releasing the "Faith In Chaos" album with a similar picture of the W.T.C. before thinking better of it and decided to go with the simple front of a plain covered book. Houston group the Inner City Hustlers released it's "Time To Explode" album used a similar cover and their distributor "South West Wholesale" cut it's distribution of the album and "Sound Waves" took the cd off their shelves and the F.B.I. even called up Pen & Pixel Graphics (the notorious cover art designers). Another group to fill the wrath of post September 11 censorship was Dilated Peoples who was in trouble over lyrics in "Target Practice" and the cover that had a map of the world with New York marked as a target.

In 1994 Rap-A-Lot Records released Trinity Garden Cartels "Don't Blame It On The Music", the title reflects all the hype over hip hop lyrics blamed for murders, suicides and cop killings such as the "Cop Killer" shit, the "Natas" controversy and mainly the Ganksta Nip, Spice 1 and Pac pictures shown on t.v. after a state trooper was killed. Trinity Garden Cartel ended up with it's own drama though due to the original cover for the album showing a pretend corpse, Trinity members being arrested by two fake cops and another in the background, but the trouble was due to the two cops further back who were actually real Houston cops that didn't know they were posing for a record cover.

(^ Original Artwork ^)

(^ Edited Artwork ^)

The two cops were officers James E. Sobota and Stephanie Gaithe who seen themselves on promo posters prior to the album being released but didn't get their attorney's to contact Rap-A-Lot president James "Lil J" Smith until March 29 '94, the day the album was released to stores. Lil' J was sent a fax by one of the cops attorney demanding that all covers and posters etc that show the faces of the officers are to be immediately pulled from stores. On March 31st Lil' J ordered back 18,000 cassette J-cards and 10,000 CD booklets.On April 22nd the two cops filed a lawsuit against the group and label for damages for apparently placing the cops families in jeopardy. Richard London who was James E. Sobata's lawyer said "He could stop someone, and they could have the CD on the dash. They could recognize him and blow him away" Lil' J questioned why they waited until the cd was released before claiming damages of severe emotional distress, attorney Richard London said the reason was that it helps the officers case if the album is in the record store. Lil'J said "There was a conspiracy to build a lawsuit, rather than an effort to protect the officers and ensure their safety, just the opposite of what the officers' attorney claims." Rap-A-Lot Records reprinted the cover with all of the cops faces blurred out.

Over the years there have been countless albums that have had their covers censored, Ice Cube's "Death Certificate" caused trouble because of Uncle Sams corpse lying in the morgue, Ice T left Warner because of drama about a white character listening to black music reading Ice Berg Slim and Malcolm X books and wearing African pendants around his neck. After Cop Killer the cover was the last straw so Ice left and turned his Rhyme Syndicate posse title into a label. P.E., KMD (who got dropped from their label for the artwork), Mobb Deep, Goodie Mob and Busta Rhymes all had drama over covers and most of that 2 Live Crew shit started over the cover of "As Nasty As They Wanna Be" and then the rest was a domino effect.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There have been alot of problems over cover art on hip hop albums, most we will never hear about. Below is a list from "Ego Trips Book Of Rap Lists" of 5 things Pen & Pixel will not put on an album cover. Pen & Pixel is the Texas art designers responsible for some of the craziest hip hop covers ever printed.

(^Click Image To Enlarge^)

Terminator X Ft Chuck D, Ice T, Ice Cube & MC Lyte - Sticka
Trinity Garden Cartel - Don't Blame It On Da Music

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