In some cases it's not only the lyrics in hip-hop that cause controversy, but also the record's artwork. We're recognizing 21 of the most controversial album covers in hip-hop history.

Depictions of sex and violence are hardly new in popular culture, but once hip-hop started to make inroads into mainstream America it quickly turned into the scapegoat for all of society's ills. And in the albums we're presenting, those who deemed themselves the guardians of "family values" didn't even bother to pay attention to what was being said about urban life in the songs; the cover was enough to get their fingers wagging. What's that old expression about not judging a book by a cover? That should extend to albums as well.

The record labels were then put in the unenviable position of having to side with artistic expression or kowtow to the angry mob. Sadly, too often they, especially the bigger ones, put pressure on the act by refusing to release the album until the artwork was changed. One album in particular, 2 Live Crew's As Nasty as They Wanna Be, even had to go to court to defend itself against local obscenity charges, and the group wound up winning when they appealed the decision at the federal level.

Our gallery below tells the stories behind those covers. The titles range from some of the biggest and most important names in hip-hop, like Kanye WestN.W.A. and Tupac Shakur, to rappers whose appeal was primarily regional. Check them all out below.

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