Kmart Joins Ban Of Prodigy's 'Smack My Bitch Up'

Retail giant jumps on ban wagon in wake of article quoting NOW representative criticizing single.

Claiming that its shoppers inspired the pulling of the album, retail giant Kmart has added its name to the list of stores refusing to carry Prodigy's 6-month-old The Fat of the Land LP in response to the release of its controversial third single,

"Smack My Bitch Up." (RealAudio excerpt)

Following the lead of the mega-chain Wal-Mart, whose 2,337 stores pulled the album on Friday, and protests from the National Organization for Women, Kmart's 2,150 U.S. stores pulled their 7,000 copies of the album over the weekend, according to a store spokesperson. "The decision was made because the title in question is something our shoppers tell us they don't want to have in our stores," said Dennis Wigent, director of internal communications for Kmart.

"It wasn't a product we had thought we had," said Wigent, who explained that the chain assumed that its buyer had ordered the edited version of the album, on which the song's title reads "Smack My ***** Up." However that version does contain the complete, unedited song, with the repeated lyric "Change my pitch up/ Smack my bitch up." Like Wal-Mart, Kmart does not carry albums bearing parental warning stickers. Prodigy's platinum-selling (over 1 million sold) album does not carry such a warning sticker, which explains how it ended up in both discount chains.

Ironically, despite Wigent's assertion that the album was "something our shoppers tell us they don't want to have in stores," he said the chain had not registered one complaint since it began selling the album six months ago. "Our jobber told us that we got the clean version with no profanity," Wigent said. "It was not acceptable in the original form and it's like we ordered red dresses and got blue."

Wigent said he was unable to reveal to-date sales information on the album, citing chain policy.

Meanwhile, the flap over the song has quickly drawn comparisons to 1992's Body Count release by rapper Ice-T's heavy metal band, Body Count, which contained the controversial song "Cop Killer." The song, written from the perspective of the killer, was later deleted from the album after protests from police organizations. Bob Merlis, a spokesperson for Warner Bros. records, the company that owns half of Madonna's Maverick recording company, which released both albums in the U.S., said the comparisons are unfair.

"For better or worse," Merlis said on Monday, "This is a mainstream album. In the case of Body Count, that album didn't sell nearly as many copies and that caught the attention of people because it focused on police officers and people who worked with survivors of officers killed in the line of duty. They, in turn, created pressure in the media and at the corporate level."

In 1996, Wal-Mart refused to sell Sheryl Crow's self-titled second album because of the lyrics to a song on it called "Love Is a Good Thing," which suggest that Wal-Mart sells guns to children. A Wal-Mart spokesperson said at the time that the chain had strict policies prohibiting the sale of guns to minors.

The impetus for this most recent controversy was apparently born of a newspaper article, rather than a citizens group, said Merlis, referring to last week's Los Angeles Times article by Chuck Phillips, which quoted a NOW spokesperson criticizing the song's message.

Similarly, Janice Rocco, the NOW L.A.-chapter president quoted in that article, said she had neither heard of the song, nor seen the band's explicit video for the track, until contacted by the newspaper. "I just heard about it recently when I was contacted by a reporter who said the single was about to be released," Rocco said. "I had not heard of the song and didn't know of its existence before then."

The song, whose refrain, "Change my pitch up/ Smack my bitch up" is sampled from "Give the Drummer Some" (RealAudio excerpt), a late-1980s track by the Ultramagnetic MCs (which featured Keith Horton, a.k.a. Dr. Octagon), "is totally offensive," Rocco said last week. "It's degrading to women, it's trash. It condones violence against women and we don't need to see that portrayed as entertainment."

As of last week, Prodigy's breakthrough techno-rock album, which debuted on the U. S. charts at #1, had sold 1.5 million copies since its July 1 release, according to Soundscan. Merlis pointed to Friday's announcement by the Recording Industry Association of America, certifying The Fat of the Land for shipment of two million copies, as proof that the album is a mainstream release (R.I.A.A. certifications are based on the number of albums shipped to stores, not on sales). "If this were to have happened earlier in the life of the album, it would have made more sense," Merlis said, citing "not one complaint" to Warner Bros. about the content.

Prodigy's leader, Liam Howlett, tried to explain his impetus for writing the song in an earlier interview with Addicted To Noise.

"That song is probably the most pointless song I've ever written," Howlett said this past summer. "But live, it works. It works well. Sometimes things can be so fucking simple and you don't need an explanation of the lyrics. Why explain the lyrics? It either works or it doesn't. And for us, it works well live. It's a really exciting track and it's just a good, hard track." [Mon., Dec. 8, 1997, 6 p.m. PST]