The Five Most Controversial Rap Albums

By Trevor Tompkins '14

N.W.A member Ice Cube at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (Photo: New York Times)

N.W.A member Ice Cube at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (Photo: New York Times)

No genre of music has been subject to more scrutiny and controversy in the past few decades than rap. The five most controversial rap albums are criticized for their violent narration, touchy topics that they choose to discuss, and their extremely bold claims. The following five albums are among the ones that have raised the most controversy.

No. 5: In 2006, Queensbridge rapper Nas released the album “Hip Hop is Dead,” to much controversy. Nas chose this title because he felt the genre had lost all substance and originality. With song titles like “Who Killed It?” and “You Can’t Kill Me” Nas stirred up a huge debate in the hip-hop industry. Many Southern rappers like Ludacris, Lil Wayne, and Big Boi took direct offense to “Hip Hop is Dead” and responded with diss lines toward Nas on their own albums. At the same time, many New York rappers like KRS-One, DMX, and Ghostface Killah defended Nas and agreed with the album’s message.

No. 4: On May 23, 2000, Detroit rapper Eminem released his critically acclaimed album “The Marshall Mathers LP.” This album has been certified as diamond, meaning it has sold at least 10 million copies in the U.S. Eminem’s third studio album makes the most controversial list because of his violent narration. In his hit song “Kill You,” Eminem raps, “Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore/till the vocal cords don’t work in her throat no more?” So much uproar surrounded this line that the attorney general of Ontario, Canada, wanted to stop Eminem’s tour bus at the border and not allow him into the country. Other officials suggested that Canada’s government should allow Eminem to perform, and then prosecute him for committing hate crimes. To add to the chaos surrounding this album, a French jazz musician filed a $10 million lawsuit against Eminem in 2002. He claimed that the song “Kill You” had stolen his music for the song’s beat.

No. 3: After the hype from his 2006 album “Hip Hop is Dead” died down, Nas decided to provoke even more controversy with his next album title. At a performance in 2007, Nas announced to a packed New York crowd that the title of his next album would be “N——.” With this announcement Nas was instantly the center of scrutiny and controversy. Celebrities 50 Cent, Will Smith, Al Sharpton, Bill O’Reilly, Oprah Winfrey, and Reverend Jesse Jackson were outraged by Nas’s album title and demanded that it be changed. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also expressed a lot of hatred toward Nas around this time. Once again, various New York rappers like LL Cool J, Jay-Z, Common, and Method Man supported Nas and enjoyed his album title. The assemblymen of Brooklyn requested that $84 million be taken away from Universal and its parent company, Vivendi, if the album were to be released. Nas came under so much pressure he had no choice but to change the album’s name and in 2008 he released his ninth studio album, “Untitled.”

No. 2: The controversy surrounding Public Enemy’s “Fear of a Black Planet” earns it the number two spot. This album is controversial because of the topics discussed in the music. The main theme within the lyrics is empowerment of the black community. When this album was released in 1990, gang violence was at a high within the black community, and many black communities were made up of project buildings. The album criticizes white institutions and how black people are treated in the world. At the time of this album’s release people didn’t want to talk about those issues in inner city New York. “Fear of a Black Planet” showed listeners that racism still exists in certain forms, and many white people did not want this message to spread. In the third verse of the song “Fight the Power,” emcees Chuck D and Flavor Flav throw diss lines at Elvis Presley and John Wayne. This message was not received well by white people who appreciated the two cultural icons, resulting in huge dispute over this album.

No. 1: The most controversial rap album ever is “Straight Outta Compton,” by N.W.A (Niggaz Wit Attitudes), released in 1988. Hatred for its violent depictions resulted in “Straight Outta Compton” being banned by certain radio stations. Many rhymes in the album reference guns, selling drugs, degrading women, and killing police. Lines like, “When I’m called off, I got a sawed-off/Squeeze the trigger and bodies are hauled off,” resulted in harsh criticism of the album’s message. N.W.A’s extremely controversial song “F— tha Police” resulted in Ruthless Records receiving a letter from the F.B.I and the group being banned from performing at many venues. The letter only made the group more popular due to the major effect that it had in the U.S.

Hip-hop music has generated more controversy than any other genre in recent decades. Rap’s effect on society has been heavily debated over the years with numerous opinions. Some people say that rappers benefit society by raising awareness and bringing light to some of the awful things that go on in their respective neighborhoods, while others criticize rappers for spreading negativity and the promotion of crime and violence. It is important to recognize which hip-hop albums caused the most controversy because these records express individuality and creativity. The artists mentioned on this list have all sold millions of records worldwide and continue to bend the imaginations of listeners today.