These Are the Most Controversial Hip-Hop Album Covers Since 2 Live Crew’s As Nasty As They Wanna Be
Over 30 years ago, Miami hip-hop group 2 Live Crew was arrested in Florida after a U.S. District Court Judge decided that their third album, As Nasty As They Wanna Be, was actually too nasty for the state of Florida. Despite having been on shelves since Feb. 7, 1989, ANAIWB became the first album to be declared legally obscene, a ruling that seems extraordinarily ridiculous in retrospect but was a landmark decision at the time. The album's cover, featuring four bikini-clad women standing over each of the group's four members, was one of the central points of the debate, as well as the album's big hit songs, "Me So Horny," “Dick Almighty” and “The Fuck Shop.”
The ruling led to 2 Live Crew being arrested in Florida after they performed the album at one of their shows, but also made it illegal for record store owners and retailers to sell the album in stores, effectively killing the album in its tracks. 2 Live Crew was acquitted on freedom of speech grounds and the obscenity ruling was overturned in 1992, ironically sending the album platinum due to the heightened publicity and turning its then-controversial artwork into one of the most recognizable album covers of all time in any genre.
That same year, Willie D (a.k.a. Willie Dee) of the Geto Boys (formerly The Ghetto Boys) had a surprising cover that showcased a Ku Klux Klan member, a cop, a woman in a bikini and a shirtless Willie in overalls. Songs on the album like "Fuck the KKK" provided some context to the album art. Nearly two decades later, fellow Rap-A-Lot Records artist Z-Ro kicked off his drug-inspired series with albums Crack in 2008, Cocaine in 2009, Heroin in 2010 and Meth in 2011. The latter cover shows a man smoking meth and within the smoke is the rapper's face.
Moving into modern times, there are still albums releasing with controversial and alarming covers. Two albums that came in 2018, in back-to-back months, caused some controversy. J. Cole's KOD, released in April of that year, stands for "Kids On Drugs," among other names. Depicted on the cover is just that. J. Cole appears as a decorated king with children using hard drugs beneath him. The next month, Virginia wordsmith Pusha T dropped his Daytona LP, widely considered his best solo album at the time. The cover includes a picture of well-known singer Whitney Houston's bathroom, filled with drug paraphernalia. Considering Houston had issues with drug use up until her accidental death in 2012, the cover was seen as being done in poor taste.
Albums also aren't the only projects with questionable covers, it also extends to singles. The cover art for The Game and Kanye West's "Eazy" features a picture of a skinned monkey. With such a graphic image and the negative stigma of animal abuse, the reception to this photo wasn't great. The only reason the song cover wasn't a bigger story is because the video for "Eazy" was even more chaotic, depicting an animation of Pete Davidson's murder, the man dating Kanye's ex-wife, Kim Kardashian.
In the two-plus decades since As Nasty As I Wanna Be hit shelves and the 33 years since the group was arrested for obscenity, XXL pulled together 50 album covers that were controversial at the time or caused an outcry, some of which are still contentious to this day. Here are 52 controversial hip-hop album covers since 2 Live Crew's As Nasty As They Wanna Be.