Hip-hop’s entire premise is built on controversy. Questioning authority, reshaping the status quo, and using brashness to get a message across is what has shaped the genre over the past 50 years.
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With that comes songs where rappers can take things a bit too far. In the heat of the moment, whether targeting adversaries or society as a whole, some emcees have put together some lyrics that aren’t well-received by listeners. But, again, the whole purpose is to be polarizing. So, perhaps even in their worst moments, rappers are just doing their jobs.
Here are the 10 most controversial hip-hop lyrics.
1. Kendrick Lamar on “Control”
As a featured guest on Big Sean’s 2013 single “Control,” Kendrick Lamar used the opportunity to send a warning shot to the rest of hip-hop’s mainstream roster. Originally intended for Sean’s eventual sophomore album Hall of Fame but not making the final track list, “Control” was met with anger. Rappers Lamar mentions such as Meek Mill and Drake clapped back with diss tracks and quotes in radio interviews.
I’m usually homeboys with the same n****s I’m rhymin’ with
But this is hip-hop, and them n****s should know what time it is
And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale
Pusha T, Meek Millz, A$AP Rocky, Drake
Big Sean, Jay Electron’, Tyler, Mac Miller
I got love for you all, but I’m tryna murder you n****s
Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you n****s
They don’t wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you n****s
2. Tupac on “Hit Em Up”
In the midst of a serious feud between East Coast and West Coast, crips and bloods, and Death Row Records and Bad Boy Records, Tupac and Biggie stood at the forefront of it all. Once friends, the pair became fierce enemies in the years leading up to their deaths in the mid-1990s.
The momentary beef brought us diss tracks from Tupac with “Hit Em Up” and Notorious B.I.G. with “Who Shot Ya?” During Tupac’s offering, he unleashed blood-thirsty messages to his opposition, including other East Coast emcees like Jay-Z, Nas, Diddy, Chino XL, Mobb Deep and more.
Now, when I came out, I told you it was just about Biggie
Then everybody had to open their mouth with a motherfuckin’ opinion
Well, this is how we gonna do this: Fuck Mobb Deep! Fuck Biggie!
Fuck Bad Boy as a staff, record label, and as a motherfuckin’ crew!
And if you wanna be down with Bad Boy, then fuck you too!
Chino XL, fuck you too!
All you motherfuckers, fuck you too!
All of y’all motherfuckers, fuck you, die slow!
Motherfucker, my .44 make sho’ all y’all kids don’t grow!
3. Ice Cube on “No Vaseline”
Following his exit from the famed group NWA, due to an unmendable relationship with their manager Jerry Heller, Ice Cube fired shots at his old squad. Soon after his AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted solo album and after joining new group Lench Mob, Cube used “No Vaseline” to tell NWA they were disappointing their own hometown of Compton, California (CPT).
Trying to sound like Amerikkka’s Most
You could yell all day, but you don’t come close
‘Cause you know I’m the one that flow
You done run a hundred miles, but you still got one to go
With the L-E-N-C-H M-O-B
And y’all disgrace the C-P-T
‘Cause you’re getting fucked out your green
By a white boy, with no Vaseline
4. Pusha T on “The Story of Adidon”
After songs like “Infrared” on Pusha T’s DAYTONA (2018) and Drake’s “Duppy Freestyle,” the rivalry between the two emcees became very real. No longer a passive dislike, Pusha T hoped to use “The Story of Adidon” to hit Drake where it hurts, his family life. Revealing to the world that Drake had a child that he never announced, Pusha T never received a response back from Drake to up the ante even further.
Since you name-dropped my fiancée
Let ’em know who you chose as your Beyoncé
Sophie knows better as your baby mother
Cleaned her up for IG, but the stench is on her
A baby’s involved, it’s deeper than rap
We talkin’ character, let me keep with the facts
You are hiding a child, let that boy come home
Deadbeat mothafucka playin’ border patrol, ooh
5. 2 Live Crew on “Me So Horny”
Leading to actual criminal charges and the popularization of the “Parental Advisory” sticker on albums, 2 Live Crew‘s “Me So Horny” from their As Nasty as They Wanna Be album (1989) was one of the first examples of hip-hop stirring the pot of nationwide controversy.
Girls always ask me why I fuck so much
I say “What’s wrong, baby doll, with a quick nut?”
Cause you’re the one, and you shouldn’t be mad
I won’t tell your mama if you don’t tell your dad
6. N.W.A. on “Fuck tha Police”
Garnering attention from the FBI and causing the police to stop providing security at their shows, NWA’s “Fuck tha Police” (1988) served as a cathartic track for members like Eazy-E and MC Ren to voice their frustrations about police brutality.
Fuck the police comin’ straight from the underground
A young n***a got it bad ’cause I’m brown
And not the other color, so police think
They have the authority to kill a minority
7. Tay-K on “The Race”
Typically, lyrics about gunplay and violence are pretty run-of-the-mill in hip-hop. That’s because it became more commonplace in the 2010s for rappers to not actually live what they rapped. Tay-K didn’t seem to get the message.
While literally on the run from authorities after allegedly being part of a breaking-and-entering murder in 2017, Tay-K released “The Race.” Rapping about dodging the law and using his gun to oust his villains, the Texas rapper would be arrested on the same day the song dropped.
I-I-I’m Lil Tay-K, I don’t think you want no action
You want action, you get turned into past tense
Your boys deep? Well, let’s get to subtractin’
Smith & Wesson made my .9 with sub-compaction
Fu-fu-fuck a beat, I was tryna beat a case
But I ain’t beat that case, bitch, I did the race
8. J. Cole on “Jodeci Freestyle”
As their second collaborative track at the time, Drake and J. Cole’s “Jodeci Freestyle” (2013) came with some baggage. In Cole’s verse, he used mental disabilities as insults to his unnamed adversary emcees. Eventually, he would release a statement of regret for the inclusion of these inappropriate lyrics.
“Jodeci Freestyle” was included in Drake’s 2019 project Care Package, which saw him unload a plethora of loosies from throughout his career. On the version uploaded to digital streaming platforms, J. Cole’s insensitive lyrics were blurred out.
Fuck your list you lame n****s and doubters
I’m undoubtedly the hottest and that’s just me bein’ modest
Go check the numbers dummy, that’s just me gettin’ started
I’m artistic, you n****s is autistic ret*rted
Hold your applause
9. Eminem on “We As Americans”
Used as a bonus track for Eminem’s 2004 Encore album, “We As Americans” was not the first, or last, time the Detroit icon earned public scrutiny. But, his bars regarding the U.S. President actually led to an investigation by Secret Service. However, soon after, Em was deemed “not a serious threat.”
Fuck money! I don’t rap for dead presidents
I’d rather see the President (dead)
It’s never been said, but I set precedents
And the standards and they can’t stand it
10. Kanye West on “Through the Wire”
His first song recorded following his nearly-fatal car accident in 2002, Kanye delivered a questionable bar on “Through the Wire” about the tragic death of Emmett Till to discuss his face needing possible reconstructive surgery.
How do you console my mom or give her light support
Tellin’ her her son’s on life support?
And just imagine how my girl feel
On the plane scared as hell that her guy look like Emmett Till
Photo by Ollie Millington/Redferns