At 1 a.m. on the Wednesday before the release of Pusha T’s Daytona, Kanye West called Pusha T and said he had a new album cover for him. Pusha and West, the record’s producer, had already settled on an image, but last-minute inspiration had struck, and West was insisting on an overhaul. Securing rights to the new art would cost $85,000, which West would pay. Pusha agreed.
The image is of Whitney Houston’s bathroom. The countertop in the photo is a mess, and in that mess is what’s understood to be signs of cocaine use. In the mirror is the lurid flash of someone’s camera, obscured by clouds of pinkish-gray film, like oxidation or grime, that were absent from the original picture when it was published in a 2006 tabloid under a headline about Houston’s “drug den.” Houston would die of accidental drowning in a bathtub six years later.
The 41-year-old Pusha T is famous for the creative ways and ruthless manner in which he raps about cocaine. His early years of dealing drugs have loomed huge in his lyrics, whether in the duo Clipse, in his solo career, or in his many excellent collaborations with West. Discerning one possible meaning of the cover is, thus, easy. Look at the other side of cocaine rap, it says. Look at the cost. West has recently talked about his opioid addiction, too, and perhaps he conceives of Houston as a warning to celebrities like himself of how mortal they really are—and how readily appropriated their lives and deaths always are.