I’m one of those people who has always been a bit leery about the term “respect the dead.” Mostly because people use it as a way to avoid speaking the truth about someone after they’ve passed. Even if that truth can lead to healing for someone who’s still here on earth. But in the instance of Kanye, Pusha T., and this photo from the late Whitney Houston’s home, I totally get the sentiment.
In case you hadn’t heard, Kanye West reportedly paid $85,000 to use a photo of Whitney Houston’s bathroom, filled with drug paraphernalia, as the album cover for Pusha T’s latest project, Daytona.
During his interview with Angie Martinez, Pusha T. said:
“1 a.m., my phone rings, no caller ID,” Pusha told Martinez. “‘Hey, yeah, I think that we should change the artwork. I like this other artwork.’ Now this other artwork is 85 grand. I said, ‘Hey, I don’t want to pay for that. And I wasn’t even going to ask you to pay for that. We picked what we picked. It’s here, it’s ready.’ ‘No, this what people need to see to go with this music. I’mma pay for that.’ “Ummm, it’s a picture,” Pusha T said. “It’s a picture. … It’s just a picture that to license it worldwide is 85 grand. I’m not really too, too, too entrenched in the art world like that. I’m just going to let him do that thing. And he’s paying for it.”
Y’all, I don’t know what Pusha T. is finna rap about on this album. And unless someone provides me with a thorough breakdown, I likely never will. Not only have I not kept up with Pusha T.’s music since the disbanding of The Clipse, I just can’t see myself supporting this type of unnecessary salaciousness, at the expense of a person who is no longer here to defend herself from it.
At this point, we all know that Whitney Houston had an addiction, a drug problem. Many of us may have even seen this picture, originally published in a tabloid of her bathroom in this state of disarray and dysfunction.
And that’s the thing, there’s nothing new about the picture. It was secretly taken by a family member in 2006 and then leaked (read: sold) to the press. The photo was shady from the very beginning. Really, the only provocative thing about using the image for album artwork is the level of disrespect it shows to one of our icons. Again, I’m the last person to argue that we should only tell the “positive” stories about our legends. Still, there is something morally bereft about using an unflattering image from someone’s life to convey a story that is not their own.
Pusha T’s only rationale for using it is that it matches the vibe of his latest project.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Pusha T. stands to profit off this image. And it’s clear that the reason why this image was so imperative, the reason the people needed to see it…again was because it would get us talking and writing like we are right now. It’s completely transparent and totally wack. So here we have someone utilizing a Black woman’s flaws, her dysfunction and the visible representation of the pain she experienced throughout her life being used to sell records. As if Whitney hasn’t given us enough.
With the way Kanye is acting right now, I find it hard to believe that there are people still willing to accept his counsel. We can’t measure his impact, particularly in the lives of artists he’s worked with for years. Still, Pusha T is a grown man and even though he didn’t spend the money, he attached his name to this image and played himself.