Apr 4, 2023

Looking into Music's Parental Advisory Warning

Sadie Ouzts

In 1985, Tipper Gore, wife of then US Senator and future presidential candidate Al Gore, gifted her daughter Prince’s album “Purple Rain” and was shocked by the explicit language in the song “Darling Nikki.” To counteract what she considered to be harmful music for young fans, she, along with other women with politically influential husbands, formed the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). 

The goal of the PMRC was not to create new legislation, but to influence the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) into voluntarily implementing a warning system, and they succeeded. A new labeling system was created and added to explicit albums, echoing the rating system long used in the movie industry. In 1990, the current label stating, “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content" in black and white, always in the bottom right corner, became the standard.

Current parental advisory warning label

The initial concern with the Parental Advisory labeling system was the fear of artistic censorship. 

While some retail chains such as Walmart still do not sell albums with this label, sales of labeled albums have not been harmed. In many cases the warning actually boosted sales. This in turn caused some artists to double down on graphic and mature themes to ensure their music lived up to the advisory label. As Ed Young, Strategic and Technical Advisor for the Universal Hip Hop Museum, states, “It’s the whole slippery slope argument and law where you can have noble purposes behind extending certain capabilities and access, but what happens unfortunately is that the nefarious element adopts those extra capabilities for their own purposes.”

Hip hop was one of the genres whose music tended to receive the advisory label, and also saw a massive boost in popularity in sales following the warning label’s inception. Without the notoriety of the Parental Advisory Warning, hip hop might never have become a part of mainstream music the way it is today.  

Because of how much symbolism the Parental Advisory warning has to the hip hop community, artists now incorporate it into their art. Initially, as Ed Young stated, “Parental Advisory [was] different and distinct from the art. It was just slapped onto the art. But then the art succumbed to it and started including it as a badge of honor… Because that’s what it was." 

CYDI #548 with older version of parental advisory warning Label

Lionel Radisson may have included the warning in his CYDI NFT collection for the Iconic Moments x the Universal Hip Hop Museum drop for this purpose. Young sees it as, “an artistic expression of hard core hip hop." While Radisson very well might have included it for other reasons, it provides an intriguing insight into what the Parental Advisory warnings mean to modern-day viewers.