Some members of Whitney Houston’s family are not happy about Kanye West’s decision to use a photo of the late singer’s drug-filled bathroom as album artwork.
“To do something for a publicity stunt to sell records, it’s absolutely disgusting,” Houston’s cousin, Damon Elliott, told People of the photo — originally published by the National Enquirer in 2006 — which West reportedly paid $85,000 to license for the cover of Pusha T’s new album, Daytona. “It hurt my family and my daughter. It’s petty. It’s tacky.”
Pusha T got candid about the album art earlier this week, saying in an appearance on The Angie Martinez Show on Wednesday that it was a last-minute decision by West to use the photo of Houston’s bathroom, which shows a sink and counter-top littered with trash and drug paraphernalia and was taken just a few years before the singer’s untimely death.
“One a.m., my phone rings. No caller ID. [West says,] ‘Hey, yeah, I think we should change the artwork. And I like this other artwork. And this other artwork is 85 grand,’” recalled Pusha T, noting that the pair had already decided on a different album cover.
“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,’” he continued, recalling that West told him, “‘No, this is what people need to see to go along with this music. Imma pay for that.’ I say, ‘You my man! You my man!’”
Elliott, who is the son of Houston’s aunt, Dionne Warwick, says the family was not consulted about the use of the photo, and he only learned about it by receiving a text from his daughter.
“[She was] frantic. She sent me this picture from the album cover and I immediately got sick to my stomach because it took me right back to six years ago,” he recalled. The “I Will Always Love You” singer, who long struggled with addiction, died after being discovered unresponsive in a bathtub at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in 2012 at the age of 48. Houston’s untimely death was attributed to an accidental drowning combined with drug use.
“I just want him to tell me why he did it. What is the creative side of this? What’s the point? It shows no creativity,” Elliott continued, adding that he’s hoping for an apology from West and for alternate album artwork to replace the photo. “What were you thinking? Did you think this through? And if you did, why did you do this? Because you’re hurting people. It knocked the wind out of me last night. When someone passes, you try to mourn and move on and remember the good times… Why are you going to pay $85,000 to bring something to the forefront?”
However, other members of Houston’s family seem to feel differently about the use of the photo. The singer’s nephew, Gary Michael Houston, told Good Morning America in a statement that he supports West and Pusha T, and places the blame for exploiting Houston’s addiction on the photographer and outlets who sold the photo in the first place.
“Not to be divisive, but I’m of a different mindset when it comes to situations like this,” Houston said. “People will automatically look to people like Pusha T and Kanye West and try to place blame or say they have ill or malicious intent in order to gain publicity. But I get it. I get the correlation (sans my aunt but the photo itself) and I actually love the album.”
“Bottom line — they are artists and in this day and age, if they can afford to pay someone for usage of that photograph in order to convey a visual message to accompany their musicianship … then so be it,” the hip hop artist added.
“The person who violated the trust of my aunt by taking the photo and selling it to tabloids for their own personal and/or financial gain is more of a travesty to me. People should research that — because whoever exposed it are the people who violated her trust, mistreated her, and who should ultimately be held accountable for contributing to circumstances surrounding her demise.”