Arts Desk

The Trouble With Fat Trel’s Semen-Centric Cover Art

fat_trel_3_400wI’m partial to rappers who know how to self-deprecate. Lil’ Wayne embraces his stature; Ol’ Dirty Bastard knew he was a creep. In an art form frequently powered by braggadocio, a little real-talk is refreshing.

So I’ve been poised to love Fat Trel from the start. His moniker rings true—Trel’s carrying a few extra, heavily tattooed pounds—and his candor doesn’t end there. On “Too Much,” a Drake remix he released earlier this week, Fat Trel remembers the shooting that almost killed him and mourns the death of one of his kids’ mothers: “I'd give my last breath to bring Taisha's soul back/Remember my daughter crying, ‘Where'd Mommy go, Dad?’”

But as much as I dig his honesty, after yesterday, I think I need to take a break from the guy. First, Trel dropped a highly anticipated mixtape, Gleesh. I put my headphones on, took a look at the cover art and—

I’m sorry, is that what I think it is, dripping down Lea Michele’s face? Oh, yes. It’s semen! Semen. Fat Trel’s mixtape cover is, in part, a photo of semen.


[UPDATE, April 22: Fat Trel's record label has requested that we take the original image down and replace it with one that's entirely devoid of semen or Michele, on the grounds that they "have a good faith belief that the materials identified above are not authorized by the above IP Owner, its agent, or the law and therefore infringe the IP Owner's rights." Which isn't really a surprise. We're leaving it up because, though Trel's now passing the mixtape around with a new cover, this was the original release, and it deserves comment.]

Fat Trel has always relied too heavily on bitch and pussy tropes, but it’s one thing to front about using and abusing a woman, and quite another to lay claim to her body with such a vivid, visceral image. The photo hints at violence, or, at the very least, something other than consent—she’s crying, after all— implicating a high-school-aged girl (on Glee, at least) in a tacit assault. A horny video vixen bopping around in thong underwear, she is not—she’s a passive, humiliated mess. It’s possible to brag about sex and make it sexy (see: Fat Trel’s fellow full-figured rappers Biggie and Fat Joe), but Trel hasn’t yet figured out that one-sided jizz jokes won’t further his game with anyone but high school boys.

The cover is a fantastic Photoshop job (which makes it all the more unnerving) and, I have to admit, its play on the Glee logo is cleverer than any recent album art I’ve seen. Re-appropriated pop-culture imagery can be subversive—though I suspect Trel wasn’t making much sophisticated commentary here—and celebrities are always fair game. But turning Michele into a laughable sex object, an unwilling canvas for Trel’s Photoshopped jizz, is a step too far. If the sexual-assault line is going to be crossed for the sake of art, the product should be a hell of a lot better than this.

fat trel homeless

If Fat Trel hadn’t already fallen out of my good graces with the Gleesh cover, he would have earned a spot on my shit list later in the day, when he posted an Instagram photo of himself posing next to a sleeping man who appears to be homeless. Trel flaunts gold pendants and a flashy timepiece, cutting a cocky figure next to his scruffy, unwitting companion. Real classy.

Some of the commenters on the photo have it right: “I pray that you helped homie out with a hot meal or at least some change to get something Bruh....,” wrote one. “That was once you, remember,” chided another. If his fans balk, will Fat Trel wise up? Probably not. Both photos suggest that Trel’s got an Escalade-sized blind spot when it comes to empathy, and I’m starting to think that’s part of his mainstream appeal.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • Nigel Tufnel

    Ian Faith: They're not gonna release the album... because they have decided that the cover is sexist.

    Nigel Tufnel: Well, so what? What's wrong with bein' sexy? I mean there's no...

    Ian Faith: Sex-IST!

    David St. Hubbins: IST!

  • anonSW

    Trel is from the gutters of NE, DC (so he says). So what more can you expect from someone who doesn't put a value on the same things most WCP readers do. While you and I were learning to form proper sentences, he probably was not. He was more likely interested in all that stuff he raps about. Not to judge him or anyone, but you really have to look at his upbringing and NE for that matter to understand how he arrived at Gleesh.

    With all that being said - I met Trel once, many moons ago, way before MMG - somewhere on U St. I think. He seemed very friendly and genuine, nothing like how he sounds rapping. I've also heard of a few good things he has done for his community.

    While his music is extremely vulgar it certainly has an allure. I think the nastiness that you write about actually adds to his persona/sound.

    I'm a big fan and am excited about the new MMG partnership. I hope he can learn from Ross and Wale and tailor his sound to a more mainstream audience(if that's what he wants) cause the dude can flat out spit!

  • Ebonie

    Just a few questions...And truly, these are not rhetorical. I am really curious about your position on these. No sarcasm at all...

    1) "A horny video vixen bopping around in thong underwear, she is not..."

    -Would the picture be okay to you if she were? In this case, does this woman's child-like innocence properly quality her for more respect?

    2) "But turning Michele into a laughable sex object, an unwilling canvas for Trel’s Photoshopped jizz, is a step too far."

    -Are you more concerned for Michele or women at large? If this were any other women-say a video vixen bopping around in thong underwear, would you still care? If she were nameless and faceless?

    3) "it’s one thing to front about using and abusing a woman, and quite another to lay claim to her body with such a vivid, visceral image"

    -So the lyrics and mixtape would be Gucci (i.e. all good) to you if there were better cover art?

  • h st raps

    Wait what's your opinion on the actual music?

    I agree the cover is gross. But dude is, what, 20 or 21? I do think a previous WCP article on dude had him going community meetings etc.

    He definitely seems like a smart guy. Best MC out of DC for sure.

  • Christina Cauterucci

    Ebonie - Thanks for reading!

    1. I think video vixens are, at the very least, somewhat empowered over their own bodies. Women who dance onstage and in music videos are (often, though certainly not always) doing it because they want to. They at least have the potential to enjoy the sexual situations they're in.

    2. I'm definitely more concerned for women at large than Michele in particular. If it were a picture of an everyday woman, crying while jizz streamed down her face, I'd be just as disturbed - especially if her photo were used without her consent.

    3. Like I said in the piece, Trel's lazy rhymes about bitches and pussies and cocks are sexual without being sexy. They're not my cup of tea, but I don't think they would have deserved their own post - those kinds of lyrics are everywhere. These two incidents were particularly disgusting transgressions of common codes of decency, in my opinion.

    What do you think?

  • mo

    Is that even legal?

  • Alex

    I hope this reaches Lea Michele's radar and she addresses it, not on twitter or some social media site. I want him to get put on blast on television and I want to hear other women speak up. You got Ghetto Gaggers and now this. How can anyone even think about having a family when you got women getting dogged out and they take it and smile? Lea Michele has money and she could influence some people by putting some shame on this act. Right now this is no shame behind it. People are just laughing. If she puts him on blast we should not be satisfied with a weak apology. Keep the discussion going why women and getting dogged out everyday and not even putting up a fight. Doesn't she have a mother, a child or a boyfriend. I just want to see a women in a high place stand up for once and say the current state of affairs is messed up.

  • Alex

    Sure his mixtape is going to get heard more because of the cover but there has to be some consequences and I would make him and who ever was down with the album fell the burn. The biggest problem I hear from men now is how can I respect women when they don't respect their damn selves. Yeah men love their mothers but aside from that every other women is viewed as a bitch or a hoe. The internet is chock full on images and videos women who just take it and smile.

  • Fred

    Really? Who is this writer? She just wrote that ..."The photo hints at violence... something other than consent—she’s crying, ....a tacit assault. A horny video vixen bopping around in thong underwear, she is not—she’s a passive, humiliated mess." This writer assumes way too much and probably takes her cues from the ultra-feminist Jezebel and other man hating websites. Jeeez, lady...why you gotta shame black men?

  • h st raps

    Let us know if you come across a good alt cover.

    It's annoying looking at semen on the cover art in my Google Play Music browser.

  • matsino

    LOL "shes CRYING after all"... someties girls eyes water like that when they give head dog... you need get out more.

  • ruserious

    Wow, you actually wrote an article criticizing an album cover about semen on a woman's face, yet there is actual porn made (and viewed) every hour daily by men and women with semen on women's faces!! Glad you got your priorities in order.

    To imply that sex that involves women with semen on her face is tied to violence is laughable. You don't like rap. You don't like trel. But the sexist b.s. is a stretch. LMAO!!!

  • eaT

    Yeah, this article is a little much. Theres been worse cover art than this. Hell, this is just a mixtape at that...and matsino is right. Gag reflex'll make her eyes water, LOL. Just saying. The art was made to appeal to hood niggas, so theyll understand...either that or just not care. In the end its about the M U S I C

  • Sust

    Fat Trel is a fucking loser.

  • lol

    lol at "The photo hints at violence, or, at the very least, something other than consent—she’s crying"

    BULLSHIT. Looks like someone hasn't face fucked or gotten a deep-throat bj from a girl(WITH CONSENT) with eyeliner or eyeshadow before. When girls gag, they tear a little.