Rap music is built on shock value and pushing the envelope. To be quite honest, really good rap music should never be safe and predictable. However even within that context, there are some rap videos that have caused social and media uproars upon their releases. Here are ten of the most controversial videos ever to hit the airwaves.
Eminem – Cleaning Out My Closet
This song “Cleaning Out My Closet” was one of the standout tracks on Eminem’s 2002 album titled The Eminem Show. The lyrics of the song were about the rapper’s much publicized grievances with his mother and the manner in which she raised him. It talked about his mom’s drug use, addiction to alcohol, her Munchausen syndrome disorder and pretty much, all her failings as a mother. The dark and gritty video had throwback sequences of Eminem as a young boy being terrorized by his mother. Its most controversial scene was Eminem in a backyard shoveling mud into a grave on a rainy night – with the scene implying that he was burying his own mother. There’s nothing like matricide and Hip-Hop to stir up the controversy pot.
Jay-Z – 99 Problems
99 Problems by Jay-Z might be one of Jay-Z’s more artistically-inclined videos, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t have some controversy attached to it. The clip was directed by Mark Romanek and the track itself was produced by legendary Hip-Hop executive and producer Rick Rubin. The video was cast in black and white showing raw, inner-city scenes and the song’s impact was further heightened by the chorus, “I got 99 Problems but a Bit*h Ain’t One.” The last scene of the video showed Jay-Z being hit by a flurry of bullets from an automatic firearm, and for critics decrying the overt violence in rap music, that scene created a lot of chatter.
Nelly – Tip Drill (Uncut Version)
By 2003, St. Louis rapper Nelly was already experiencing tons of success as a mainstream, Billboard-topping rapper. He also had his clothing line of denim for women named Apple Bottoms that was raking in the cash as well. To maximize on his buzz, he released a new video with his crew called Tip Drill. Hip-Hop videos are already known for their extreme sexual objectification of women, but this video took it too far. It featured a bevy of bikini-clad women (some even topless) doing lascivious dances and mimicking sexual acts. In the middle of all this, Nelly and his crew were having fun and throwing dollar bills on all these ladies. One scene that particularly riled the masses was a sequence of Nelly swiping a credit card between the buttocks of a stripper. We believe that officially qualifies as overstepping the decency line.
Nas- Hate Me Now
In 1999, Nas was returning to the music scene after taking a break from all the awards and accolades he received for his debut album, Illmatic. That first album was in 1994, and the rap scene had changed considerably. He needed something to get his name ringing again, and his video for the song “Hate Me Now” definitely did the trick. It was directed by Hype Williams and featured Sean “Puffy” Combs on the chorus. The most controversial parts of the video were scenes of young Queens lyricist depicted as Jesus of Nazareth carrying a cross and wearing a crown of thorns. There was also a scene of him nailed to a cross while rapping lyrics to the heavens. The religious crowd was quick to call blasphemy charges, and the video got limited air time, but certainly created buzz for his next album.
Jay Z- On To The Next One
One of the really admirable traits of Jay-Z that has allowed him to stay relevant all these years is how he is able to adapt with the times and stay relevant. In 2009, he put out a video for his single “On to the Next One” produced by Swizz Beatz from his Blueprint 3 album. Instead of going with a traditional rap music video, he flipped the script and used imagery that would be expected from a goth-rock act. It featured human and animal skulls, crucifixes, black crows and more. His fans were immediately up in arms claiming that Jay-Z had officially joined the secret Illuminati society and was now worshiping the devil. Isn’t it funny how just because someone tries to do something new and provocative, everyone acts like the sky itself is on fire? Check this video out for yourselves, we’re pretty sure you’ll have something to say about it.
Kanye West – Jesus Walks
Most new fans of Kanye West think that he only recently started with his controversial antics – that observation couldn’t be farther from the truth. Ever since his debut LP “College Dropout,” he has been getting the onlookers talking. One of the singles from the first album was called “Jesus Walks” and it had several controversial scenes: chained black men being beaten by white guards in a work field; Latino drug dealers being stopped by cops in a desert car chase – and the major one – a KKK member in full uniform being burned together with his flaming cross. Kanye has never been afraid to push the envelope and he won’t be stopping anytime soon.
TuPac – I Ain’t Mad at Cha
Even though TuPac was always a lightning rod of controversy, there are moments of his short career that really bordered on the paranormal. One such example was his video for the song “I ain’t Mad at Cha” from his album All Eyez On Me released on Death Row Records. The video featured the actor Bokeem Woodbine and at the very beginning of it, TuPac is shot and murdered. The rest of the video shows 2Pac rhyming in heaven completely dressed in white and surrounded by other deceased musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Sammy Davis Jr. and Marvin Gaye. The album was released on Feb 13th 1996 and TuPac was shot in real life on September 7th. He died on September 13th of that same year – exactly seven months after the album was released. The video for “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” was released posthumously.
Kanye West – Flashing Lights
Only Mr. Yeezus can take an extremely violent act and make it look so slick and stylish. That’s what he did in the 2007 video for his single, “Flashing Lights.” The video was short and sweet, lasting a little over two minutes. It featured an extremely sexy model driving a sleek car into the remote area of a desert at night. She gets out, walks a little bit and then removes her dress and burns it. She walks back to the car wearing nothing but lingerie and opens the trunk to reveal a bound and gagged Kanye West. She then proceeds to take a huge shovel and uses it to repeatedly impale Kanye’s mid-section (the gory part is not shown so we are left to imagine the damage she is inflicting). Yes it can be called art, but it was still very controversial when the song first debuted. As far as what the symbolism was for the video, no one is quite sure.
NWA – Always Into Something
In 1991, the genre of Hip-Hop called Gangsta Rap was really taking off. One of the groups really pushing this movement was the Compton collective known as N.W.A. The second LP released from this crew was called Efil4Zaggin, and it featured excellent production by Dr. Dre and especially violent and misogynistic lyrics. One of the videos released from this album was called “Always Into Something” and it featured unfiltered depiction of inner-city gangland behavior like robberies and shootings. There were pistols and shootings galore in the video, and critics slammed it hard for glorifying violence. The controversy of the album helped spur sales and the album debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts and it reached the #1 spot a week later. Controversy certainly sells.
Ice T – Cop Killer
In 1992, rapper Ice T released an album with his rap/rock hybrid band called Body Count. It was a self-titled LP, and one of the lead songs was the extremely controversial “Cop Killer.” The song told the story about an individual who was so sick of police brutality that he decided to take vengeance into his own hands. The lyrics were quite extreme – so much so that it engendered negative reactions from President George H.W. Bush, Vice President Dan Quayle and Tipper Gore. When a song causes that much of a stir in Washington DC and the elite hallways of the White House, you know nerves have really been touched.