‘Say What?’ – 10 Instances Of Controversial Lyrics In Popular Music

Nov 14 2014


Earlier this week, Eminem and the Shady camp fucked up the rap game (again) by dropping the Shady Cypher.

Eminem, no stranger to controversy, turned some heads with the line “It’s more of a knockout than Jenay Rice / Play nice? Bitch I’ll punch Lana DelRay right in the face twice.”

Compared to some of Eminem’s previous rhymes, we consider this pretty tame, but it had us thinking: what are some other instances where popular music has caused a backlash?

We’ve picked out ten examples of neck-turners put on wax for your historical and listening pleasure. Check it out.

Guns N’ Roses – “One In A Million” (1988)

“Police and niggers, get out of my way / Don’t need to buy none of your gold chains today.”

The public and bandmates themselves were left confused as to the motivation behind Axl Rose when he wrote “One In A Million”. If the abrasive rock and roll band wasn’t controversial before, they definitely were after the release of GNR Lies, the album which contains the incendiary track. In the acoustic rocker, Axl Rose goes on a tirade against blacks, gays and immigrants. Guns N Roses’ lead guitarist Slash, whose mother is black, tried to get Axl to keep it off the album, but according to Slash, the more he pressed for the song’s removal, the more Axl insisted on putting it out. A shocked public reacted with predictable disapproval, while Axl stood his ground, citing that it expressed how he felt at the time.


Body Count – “Cop Killer” (1992)

“I’m ’bout to bust some shots off / I’m ’bout to dust some cops off.”

From looking at the title of this song, it’s not hard to figure out why this song caused a riff with the general public. A reaction to the rampant police brutality that occurred (and unfortunately, still does occur) across America, gangsta rapper Ice-T penned this song for his hard rock outfit Body Count. Not too long after the release of the band’s self-titled record, the officers who beat up Rodney King were acquitted, setting off a full-out riot across Los Angeles, making the song’s anger that much more palpable. The song caused outright protests and boycotts against Time Warner, the label responsible for the song’s release, even drawing a very public and negative reaction from President George H.W. Bush, Vice-President Dan Quayle and Al Gore’s then-wife Tipper Gore. Ice-T defended the song, saying “I’m singing in the first person as a character who is fed up with police brutality. I ain’t never killed no cop. I felt like it a lot of times. But I never did it. If you believe that I’m a cop killer, you believe David Bowie is an astronaut.” Eventually Ice-T chose to shelve the song when he felt that the hoopla surrounding it grew bigger than the song itself, re-releasing the Body Count record without the song and issuing the single for free.


The Rolling Stones – “Let’s Spend The Night Together” (1967)

“Let’s spend the night together.”

The title of this single from The Rolling Stones album Between The Buttons makes the song’s content pretty clear: Mick Jagger is eager to bone. However, this sentiment was never grotesquely explicit and resulted in the tame but suggestive chorus “Let’s spend the night together.” This phrase proved to be too much for most, as many radio stations either banned the song or bleeped out the word “Night”. The height of the backlash came when the Stones appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. Before they performed, the ever-square host said “Either the song goes or you go.” The band reached a compromise when they changed the chorus to “Let’s spend some time together.” In the video above, an obviously-displeased Mick Jagger rolls his eyes while belting the chorus.

The song would still prove to be too much for some in 2006 when China told the Stones they couldn’t play it if they wanted to perform there. The Stones removed it from their setlist, rocking the Far East without the piano-driven number.

Michael Jackson – “They Don’t Care About Us” (1995)

“Jew me, sue me, everybody do me / Kick me, kike me, don’t you black or white me!”

Michael Jackson an anti-semite? Hell to the naw, but the line above was widely misconstrued to mean to many that he was. Steven Speilberg was pissed and so were a lot of others. Michael Jackson delivered a statement shortly after the denouncement of the song:

“The idea that these lyrics could be deemed objectionable is extremely hurtful to me, and misleading. The song in fact is about the pain of prejudice and hate and is a way to draw attention to social and political problems. I am the voice of the accused and the attacked. I am the voice of everyone. I am the skinhead, I am the Jew, I am the black man, I am the white man. I am not the one who was attacking. It is about the injustices to young people and how the system can wrongfully accuse them. I am angry and outraged that I could be so misinterpreted.”

The Sex Pistols – “God Save The Queen” (1977)

“God save the queen, she ain’t no human being / There is no future, in England’s dreaming.”

Easily one of the best middle fingers ever put to wax, The Sex Pistols denounced the English establishment as a whole with this hard-hitting number from their classic album Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols. A rallying cry for the working class, “God Save The Queen” hit the establishment hard with scathing lyrics that questioned everything that English society had set in place for eons: the monarchy, the government and the disparity between classes. Frontman Johnny Rotten addressed the backlash that this song was somehow a statement wholly anti-English:

“You don’t write ‘God Save The Queen’ because you hate the English race, you write a song like that because you love them; and you’re fed up with them being mistreated”

The Sex Pistols would go balls-out and perform the song on a riverboat outside the Queen’s Jubilee as it was happening. All the band members would subsequently be arrested upon the docking of the boat.

Rocko – “U.O.E.N.O.” (Feat. Future, Rick Ross) (2013)

“Put Molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.”

Rick Ross got himself into a bit of a pickle with the above line, suggesting to many a date rape situation. The line cost him an endorsement deal with Reebok (who, in a cruel irony for the Bawse, he gave a shout out to in his verse) and put him on the radar of UltraViolet, a woman’s rights group, who issued the pressure for Ross to lose his sneaker endorsement. Ross issued an apology to those he might have offended, clarifying his stance on women and their right to choose sexual activity:

“Before I am an artist, I am a father, a son, and a brother to some of the most cherished women in the world. So for me to suggest in any way that harm and violation be brought to a woman is one of my biggest mistakes and regrets. As an artist, one of the most liberating things is being able to paint pictures with my words. But with that comes a great responsibility. And most recently, my choice of words was not only offensive, it does not reflect my true heart. And for this, I apologize. To every woman that has felt the sting of abuse, I apologize. I recognize that as an artist I have a voice and with that, the power of influence. To the young men who listen to my music, please know that using a substance to rob a woman of her right to make a choice is not only a crime, it’s wrong and I do not encourage it. To my fans, I also apologize if I have disappointed you. I can only hope that this sparks a healthy dialogue and that I can contribute to it.”


Eminem – “Kim” (2000)

“You were supposed to love me / Now bleed bitch, bleed!! Bleed bitch, bleed!! Bleed!!”

Welp, this song made everyone turn their head so quick the public almost broke their collective neck. It’s not hard to understand why people were perturbed about this revenge fantasy, which pinned Eminem against his then-girlfriend, the infamous Kim. At the time of recording Em and Kim were having marital problems and the Detroit rapper was even having problems seeing his daughter. The result? A shrieking Eminem endlessly screaming at her over a thunderous and pounding instrumental, killing his wife at the end of the song. Many women’s groups pushed for the ban of Eminem’s music. Predictably, Eminem didn’t give a fuck, and the Marshall Mathers LP remains a classic.

The Kingsmen – “Louie Louie” (1963)


In perhaps the most hilarious example of controversy in the history of popular music, people were in upheaval about this song because they couldn’t understand what the hell the Kingsmen were saying. Were the lyrics obscene? Because many couldn’t understand them, many tight-asses across America could only assume they were. The song’s success prompted a two-year investigation by the FBI as to whether it violated federal obscenity laws. What different times we live in today.

Here’s a letter from a clearly confused and outraged parent to then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy

Louie Louie Parent

Future Feat. Lil Wayne – “Karate Chop” (Remix)

“Beat that pussy up like Emmett Till”

Lil Wayne unearthed old wounds when used Emmett Till as a metaphor for his sexual prowess. The heinous death of Emmett Till in 1955 was the catalyst for the black civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s, as he was killed in Mississippi at the young age of 14 for supposedly flirting with a white woman. Till was beaten, gouged and shot before being dumped in a river. His mother insisted on an open casket at the funeral, an image which seared in the American popular conscious and would prove to be the crucial point where blacks in America said “enough is enough.” Decades later it would also prove to be an inspiration for the Wayne line in question, which got him in hot water with the Till family. In turn, Epic Records issued an apology for the lyric and Wayne would also be dropped as a spokesperson for Mountain Dew as a consequence.


N.W.A. – “Fuck tha Police”

“Fuck the police coming straight from the underground.”

N.W.A delivered a molotov cocktail on wax with the groundbreaking “Fuck Tha Police”. The group never expected their explicit, angry and defiant record to spread from beyond the underground, but it did and subsequently caused a firestorm of controversy for the “Gangsta” rappers from LA. Once the FBI got involved, it only furthered the song’s popularity, as they delivered a letter to Ruthless Records citing their “exception” to records which contain “violence against and disrespect” towards law officers. The letter now hangs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio and N.W.A. remains one of the most legendary rap groups of all time.


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  • What did you think of the list? What did we miss?

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