By Chris Yuscavage
Before you even open the packaging on Sheek’s album, which hits stores on December 8, you’ll notice that the Yonkers, N.Y. rapper has, through the power of Photoshop, been transformed into a gorilla on the cover. The photo, which Sheek helped create, is supposed to pay homage to the “Silverback Gorilla” moniker that he adopted a few years ago. But it’s also got some folks feeling uneasy because of the racial undertones involved with portraying a black man as a gorilla. “I’m black,” Sheek said in a DrJays.com interview last month, “so I get it.”
For his part, Sheek has chalked the controversy up as free publicity and moved forward without paying too much mind to his critics. And, like it or not, that might be the best move. In the past, there have been a number of rap album covers that have stirred up similar types of controversy and it hasn’t always been a bad thing for the artists behind them. To show you what we mean, RapFix gathered a collection of 10 more controversial rap albums to show how the extra press ultimately helped. Don’t judge these albums by their covers.
The Album: Nas’ Untitled
The Controversy: When Nas originally wanted to title his album, N—-r (without the edits, of course), Wal-Mart and other retailers balked and Def Jam forced him to change it. So instead of calling it The N-word, he used the letter N and a slavery theme to craft the album cover of his ninth solo album.
The Final Product: If you were hoping to hear, Nastradamus 2, you were forced to look elsewhere. The racially-charged album Nas released matched the racially-charged title that he was forced to switch. And it made a big splash critically and commercially.
The Album: 2Pac’s The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory
The Controversy: Though the album cover carried a disclaimer (“In no way is this portrait an expression of disrespect for Jesus Christ”), it still stirred up controversy for two reasons: One, people were outraged that ’Pac was playing the role of JC by getting crucified on his album cover. And, two, conspiracy theorists thought the cover was a sign that the recently-deceased ’Pac was still alive.
The Final Product: No matter what you thought about the cover, the album was a solid effort that stood up to ’Pac’s previous release, All Eyez On Me.
The Album: Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP
The Controversy: Somehow, this album didn’t generate as much controversy as you might think because it wasn’t as in-your-face as some of the other covers here. But it featured Em standing on a pier with a dead woman sticking out of his trunk. Not exactly the most uplifting, right?
The Final Product: Once people heard the stuff Em was talking about on the album, they all but forgot about the comparatively tame album cover. But that didn’t stop it from selling more than four million copies to date.
The Album: N.W.A.’s Niggaz4Life
The Controversy: Nas wasn’t the first MC to try and put the N-word onto the cover of a major rap release. The “Straight Outta Compton” guys also tried it back in 1991 and they actually managed to get Niggaz4Life on the front of their second album. The only catch? It was spelled backwards.
The Final Product: Clever! Not only did the album title sneak past the censors. It also reinforced the group’s core beliefs — they’re “With Attitude” for a reason! — and landed them on the top of the Billboard 200 chart when it was first released.
The Album: Young Jeezy’s Trap or Die, Pt. 2: By All Means Necessary
The Controversy: OK, so technically this was a mixtape and not an album, but Jeezy came under fire for dressing himself up like Malcolm X on the cover.
The Final Product: Really, this was simply controversy for the controversy’s sake. Jeezy could have dressed up like a clown on the cover of this mixtape and gotten the streets’ attention. It didn’t garner the massive success that the original Trap or Die did, but it definitely had plenty of life to it when it first dropped.
The Album: The Roots’ Game Theory
The Controversy: In order to show that Game Theory was a more serious record than some Roots’ fans might be used to, the Philly-based group used an image of a man being hanged. How’d they do it? By using an image of the stick figure typically used in the “Hangman” game.
The Final Product: After using the album to touch on a number of sociological issues, The Roots earned a Grammy Award nomination for “Best Rap Album” and also received favorable reviews across the board.
The Album: Ice Cube’s Death Certificate
The Controversy: Just one year after dropping his solo debut, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, Cube posed with the corpse of Uncle Sam on the cover of his second album. It caused such a stir that the entire state of Oregon banned the use of Cube’s image.
The Final Product: Oregon’s kibosh didn’t stop Ice Cube from killing the game. The album was widely regarded as a classic West Coast record at the time and continues to make “Best of … ” lists almost 20 years after it was released.
The Album: 2 Live Crew’s As Nasty As They Wanna Be
The Controversy: There were four chicks in thong bikinis standing overtop of the members of 2 Live Crew. Um, yeah. Need we say more?
The Final Product: The same people who were offended by the cover were offended by the songs on the album (songs titled “Me So Horny” have that effect on some people). The album was even labeled “legally obscene” later by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. But, hey: Sex sells! And this one sold through the roof for the group.
The Album: Ice-T’s Power
The Controversy: Once upon a time, Ice-T was a rapper, not a “Law & Order” regular. And he caught flack for the cover of his second rap album thanks to the suggestive pose that Darlene Oritz, his girlfriend at the time, struck while holding a gun in a skimpy bathing suit.
The Final Product: Didn’t you read the 2 Live Crew entry above? Sex sells! And there’s no doubt that Darlene helped sell copies of this album.
The Album: Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The Controversy: Sheek isn’t the first Def Jam artist to raise a few eyebrows this year. ’Ye also made headlines back in October when he took to his Twitter account to announce that the album cover he wanted to use featuring a painting of him getting straddled by an armless phoenix was reportedly banned by retailers.
The Final Product: In all honesty, ’Ye could’ve put a picture of him riding a horse with the Old Spice guy and it wouldn’t have changed our impression of the album one bit. When you’ve got a dope album, the music speaks for itself — controversial cover or not.
Do you think Sheek Louch’s new album cover is in poor taste? Do you take the look of an album’s cover into account before you purchase it? Tweet us at @MTVRapFix or tell us in a comment below!