We look back on 15 controversial rap lyrics over the last 35 years. These are occasions in which a rapper’s lyrics crossed the line or evoked a public outcry.
Trigger warning: This story contains mentions of rape, homophobia, and racism.
Freedom of speech has been a right that rap artists have been fighting for as long hip-hop has been around. Numerous figures within hip-hop having put their careers on the line to ensure their ability to speak their mind without fear of censorship. Whether it be acts like N.W.A., who infamously received a letter from the F.B.I. in response to the group ripping law enforcement a new one with their Straight Outta Compton track “Fuck tha Police” or 2 Live Crew — who’s music and live performances prompted a U.S. district court judge to rule their 1989 album, As Nasty as They Wanna Be, as obscene and illegal to sell in the state of Florida — the lines between what’s acceptable and what’s not in regards to rap lyrics have been debated for years.
And while legal action or memos from federal agencies aren’t always a part of the scenario, there have been a number of instances in which rap artists have been taken to task for their lyrical content, by political pundits, special interest groups, and even their own fans. In some cases, the backlash was so overwhelming that it forced the hands of the artists or their record labels to either edit or remove offensive lyrics entirely, a reminder that there is always the possibility of consequences and repercussions for speaking your mind, even in a genre that celebrates “keeping it real.”
One of the most recent examples of this is rapper YG, who’s song “Meet the Flockers,” from his 2014 debut My Krazy Life, came under fire due to lyrics deemed offensive to the Asian community. Following pushback from YouTube staffers, the song was pulled from the platform and other streaming services before being added back a couple of days later, albeit with edits to the lyrics in question. Another recent instance where a rapper was accused of toeing over the line was when lyrics from “Don’t Worry (RIP Kobe),” Meek Mill’s leaked collaboration with Lil Baby, saw the Philly-bred rapper referencing the tragic helicopter crash that took the lives of NBA champion Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna Bryant, and seven others on Jan. 26, 2020. The bars (“Yeah, and if I ever lack, I’m goin’ out with my chopper, it be another Kobe”) led to Vanessa Bryant, the late NBA legend’s wife, to scold Meek for his lack of tact and distasteful choice of words, leading the Dreamchaser to issue an apology for his actions.
In light of these recent incidents, we decided to look back on 15 controversial rap lyrics over the last 35 years. These are occasions in which a rapper’s lyrics crossed the line or evoked a public outcry.
1. Ice Cube — “Black Korea” 
Controversial Line: “So don’t follow me up and down your market/ Or your little chop-suey ass will be a target/ Of the nationwide boycott/ Juice with the people, that’s what the boy got/So pay respect to the Black fist/ Or we`ll burn your store right down to a crisp/ And then we`ll see ya/ Cause you can’t turn the ghetto into Black Korea.”
In 1991, the death of 15-year-old Los Angeles resident LaTasha Harlins, at the hands of Korean store employee Soon Ja Du, caused an uproar. In LA, African-Americans lashed out over their poor treatment they received while patronizing Korean-owned stores in prominently Black neighborhoods. Their anger and sentiments would be channeled later that year by rapper Ice Cube on his song “Black Korea,” from his sophomore solo album Death Certificate. The song, which included lyrics about looting Korean-owned stores and causing bodily injury to their employees, was vehemently opposed by members of the Korean-American community, who spoke out against Cube’s rhetoric. However, the lyrics would remain uncensored or edited, earning its place in the pantheon of sociopolitical protest music.
2. Ice-T on Body Count’s “Cop Killer” 
Controversial Line: “I’m ’bout to dust some cops off/cop killer, better you than me/cop killer, fuck police brutality”
A pioneer of reality rap, Ice-T’s musings about street life, police brutality, and the corrupt criminal justice system date back to his 1987 debut, Rhyme Pays. During the early ’90s, Ice-T changed course musically, founding the hip-hop-influenced heavy metal band, Body Count, releasing their self-titled debut in 1992 to critical acclaim. Ice-T and Body Count gained national attention when their song “Cop Killer, which included incendiary lyrics targeting law enforcement, was perceived as a direct threat to the boys in blue, prompting Vice President Dan Quayle and President George H.W. Bush to both publicly condemn the song, as well as Warner Bros. Music for releasing it. In the end, “Cop Killer” was removed from the album by Ice-T himself in an attempt to avoid any more controversy, and remains one of the more polarizing songs to impact the hip-hop community.
3. Paris — “Bush Killa” 
Controversial Line: “So don’t be telling me to get the non-violent spirit/’Cause when I’m violent is the only time ya devils hear it/Rat-a-tat go the gat to his devil face/I hope he thinks of how he done us when he lay to waste”
In 1992, Oakland rapper Paris’ politically-charged single “Bush Killa” caused a big stir. The song, from his sophomore album Sleeping with the Enemy, placed a target on the back of President George H. W. Bush, and captured the attention of The White House and the Secret Service. With lyrics threatening bodily harm and worse to Bush, the song caused major concerns among bigwigs at Tommy Boy Records’ (which Paris was signed to) parent company, Warner Bros. Records. The label shelled out a six-figure settlement to Paris for not releasing the album, which was initially intended to drop prior to the 1992 Presidential Election. Eventually released on his own indie label, Scarface Records, “Bush Killa” is one of the oft-overlooked instances of rap lyrics creating shockwaves across the culture and society as a whole.
4. Sadat X on Brand Nubian’s “Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down” 
Controversial Line: “Though I can freak, fly, flow, fuck up a f*gg0t/Don’t understand their ways, I ain’t down with gays”
On their first release following the departure of lead rapper Grand Puba, Brand Nubian returned in a big way with their 1992 single “Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down,” which was a considerable hit, peaking at No. 77 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, lyrics from group member Sadat X that were homophobic cast a lowlight over the song’s success and would be a stain on the rapper’s reputation in the wake of its release. Sadat X has since apologized for the lyrics, which have been omitted or replaced on subsequent pressings of the song.
5. The Notorious B.I.G. — “Gimme The Loot” 
Controversial Line: “Then I’m dippin’ up the block and I’m robbin’ bitches, too/Up the herringbones and bamboos/I wouldn’t give a fuck if you’re pregnant/Give me the baby rings and the #1 Mom pendant”
Having already landed himself in hot water with MCA Records due to his mention of R&B legend Patti LaBelle on the Ready to Die promo cut “Just Playing (Dreams),” The Notorious B.I.G. solidified his reputation as a verbal heathen with a few lyrics on the robbery anthem “Gimme the Loot.” Targeting unsuspecting pregnant mothers for their jewelry, Biggie’s bars ruffled quite a few feathers, including that of Bad Boy CEO Sean “Diddy” Combs, who ultimately had the line edited out in an attempt to fend off any considerable boycotts of the album.
6. 2Pac on 2Pac & K-Ci & JoJo’s “How Do U Want It” 
Controversial Line: “C. Delores Tucker, you’s a motherfucker/Instead of tryin’ to help a nigga, you destroy a brother/Worse than the others; Bill Clinton, Mister Bob Dole/You’re too old to understand the way the game’s told”
In the early ’90s, politician and civil rights activist C. Delores Tucker was one of the staunchest opponents of gangster rap, boycotting various rap artists and albums, and going as far as buying stock in companies to chastise executives at their shareholders’ meetings. In 1996, 2Pac, a longtime target of political pundits and social activists, fired back at Tucker, name-checking her on his 1996 hit single “How Do U Want It.” Referencing her attempts to destroy gangster rap, “How Do U Want It” infuriated Tucker, who filed a $10 million lawsuit against Shakur’s estate following his death, citing emotional distress and slander. The suit was ultimately dismissed. However, the lyric continues to remain in infamy.
7. DMX — “X Is Coming” 
Controversial Line: “And if you got a daughter older than 15, I’mma rape her/Take her on the living room floor, right there in front of you/Then ask you seriously, what you wanna do?”
On his 1998 debut It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot, DMX presented a body of work filled with gruesome accounts of brutal slayings and other violent acts, pushing the envelope of what was tolerable by mainstream audiences in the process. One song in particular, “X Is Coming,” drew the ire of special interests groups and pundits due to its graphic nature, with the rapper rhyming about sexually assaulting a minor in front of her parents, in a twisted act of revenge. The line would go uncensored and didn’t do much to hinder It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot‘s returns on Soundscan; the album moved upwards of five million units and minting DMX as rap’s newest antihero.
8. Eminem — “I’m Back” 
Controversial Line: “I take seven [kids] from [Columbine], stand ’em all in line / Add an AK-47, a revolver, a nine / A MAC-11 and it oughta solve the problem of mine / And that’s a whole school of bullies shot up all at one time”
After making waves with incendiary lyrics from his debut album, The Slim Shady LP, Eminem continued to leave critics in shock with its anticipated follow-up, The Marshall Mathers LP, in 2000. One particularly polarizing line from from the album can be found on “I’m Back,” which captures Em slipping fully into character as his alter-ego Slim Shady. He makes reference to the tragic Columbine High School shooting, which took place in Colorado the year prior. Em’s timing couldn’t have been worse, as the backlash from his Rakim-inspired rhyme scheme caused his label to ultimately censor the lyrics on subsequent album pressings.
9. Juelz Santana on Dipset’s “I Love You” 
Controversial Line: “I worship the prophet/The great Mohammed Omar Atta/For his courage behind the wheel of the plane/Reminds me when I was dealin’ the ‘caine.”
Their patriotic look and attitude may have made them darlings in the wake of 9/11,. However, amid the praise surrounding The Diplomats lied scrutiny of a small string of couplets included on their 2002 cut “I Love You.” Released as part of their Diplomats Volume 2 mixtape, the original version of “I Love You” finds group member Juelz Santana paying what many perceived as homage to 9/11 hijacker Muhammad Atta, likening his fearlessness as a hustler to the infamous terrorist’s “courage behind the wheel of the plane.” Those lyrics struck a major nerve upon hitting the streets, with Juelz initially defending the lyrics, arguing that he was referencing the courage of Atta, not his actions. Yet, when all was said and done, the version of “I Love You” that ultimately found its way on Diplomatic Immunity included reworked lyrics by Juelz, signaling a waving of the white flag by the crimson-draped Harlem crew.
10. Iggy Azalea — “D.R.U.G.S.” 
Controversial Line: “Tire marks, tire marks / Finish line with the fire marks / When the relay starts, I’m a runaway slave / Master”
In the midst of her public feud with fellow rapper Azealia Banks, Iggy Azalea’s freestyle “D.R.U.G.S.” was put under the microscope after Banks pointed out lyrics in which Azalea cast herself as a “slave master.” Released in 2011, the questionable lyric wouldn’t be highlighted until the following year, after which Azalea issued an apology, admitting, “In all fairness, it was a tacky and careless thing to say and if you are offended, I am sorry.” However, Azalea would deny any ill intent, pointing to a line from the Kendrick Lamar song “Look Out for Detox” as the inspiration behind the line.
11. Lil Wayne on Future’s “Karate Chop (Remix)” 
Controversial Line: “‘Bout to put rims on my skateboard wheels/ Beat the pussy up like Emmett Till”
Future appeared to have one of the hottest remixes of the year with “Karate Chop,” which included a standout verse from Lil Wayne. However, the buzz surrounding the song was stifled due to bars comparing the power of Wayne’s sexual prowess to the brutal death of Emmitt Till, drawing a considerable amount of ire from the Black community and the Till family itself. Airickca Gordon-Taylor, the founding director of the Mamie Till Mobley Memorial Foundation, issued a statement deeming Wayne’s lyrics as “very disrespectful,” causing Epic Records to pull the lyrics from the official remix and Mountain Dew to drop Weezy as a spokesperson for the company.
12. Rick Ross on Rocko & Future’s “U.O.E.N.O” 
Controversial Line: “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”
In 2013, Rick Ross created an uproar with his appearance on Rocko’s hit single “U.O.E.N.O.” However, it wasn’t for the excellence of his artistry, but the nature of his content. Bragging about date-raping an unsuspecting woman by slipping Molly in her beverage, Rozay’s approval rating took a large hit, with Reebok choosing to drop the rapper as a brand ambassador. Ross would later release an official apology for his “U.O.E.N.O.” lyrics, writing “Most recently, my choice of words was not only offensive, it does not reflect my true heart.”
13. J. Cole on Drake’s “Jodeci Freestyle” 
Controversial Line: “Fuck your list you lame niggas 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 niggas is autistic, retarded”
Regarded as one of the more thoughtful and poetic lyricists in the rap game, J. Cole has sometimes crossed boundaries — like on “Villuminati” when he repeatedly used a homophobic slur to get a pun off or on his recently released L.A. Leakers freestyle when he flippantly dropped a Bill Cosby reference in his verse. In 2013, he found himself in the eye of the storm that is public scrutiny for rhymes he spit on Drake’s loosie “Jodeci Freestyle.” On the song, Cole pegged his rivals as “autistic” and “retarded.” The lyrics didn’t sit well with the US charity Autism Speaks, who spoke via a blog written by a parent of an autistic child, urging Cole and Drake to consider the impact of their words. Fully apologetic, J. Cole would release multiple statements taking accountability and atoning for his actions, and has since edited out the lyric on the song, as well as lyric-based websites featuring the song.
14. Rich Homie Quan on Rich Gang’s “I Made It” 
Controversial Line: “I don’t want your ho, just want that cookie from her/ She tried to resist so I took it from her/ How are you gonna tell me no?/ You must not know who I am”
Atlanta rapper Rich Homie Quan was the subject of intense scrutiny upon an unexpected leak of a song containing lyrics that cast the “Type of Way” creator in the light of a predator. Those lyrics, spat on “I Made It,” Quan’s 2015 collaboration with Young Thug, would cause the former Rich Gang member to issue a statement saying that the song, “Was never intended to be released,” adding that he would, ‘Never condone rape.” However, just a month later, yet another song from the original batch of leaks containing pro-rape lyrics was brought to light, further damaging Rich Homie Quan’s reputation.
15. Troy Ave — “Bad Ass” 
Controversial Line: “STEEZ burning in Hell, my burner’s in my belt / I’m really killing shit, you niggas killing yourself / Fucking weirdos, off the roof, ‘Steer clear yo!'”
In hip-hop, all is fair in love and war under normal circumstances. However, there have been a few instances throughout history in which artists have been attacked for crossing the line. In 2016, Troy Ave was added to that list after “Bad Ass,” his diss record aimed at fellow Brooklyn rapper Joey Bada$$, included shots at deceased Pro Era member Capital STEEZ, with Ave poking fun at the rappers’ death by suicide, which occurred in 2012. A number of media outlets, friends and peers of STEEZ — as well as Ave —spoke out, accusing him of taking the beef too far. Yet, in spite of the backlash, Troy Ave would stand by his words, and had yet to issue an apology to STEEZ’s family or crew for his statements.