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The 25 Most Controversial Rap Albums of All Time

They shocked parents, scandalized politicians, and had radio programmers running for the hills

Most controversial rap albums of all time

It may be a reckless exercise to try and list 25 rap albums memorable for the controversy they induced. Since the mid-Eighties, after the genre slowly evolved from a mostly 12-inch medium to one where full-lengths regularly appeared on the market, these recordings have not only incited sometimes-heated discussion among listeners but also overzealous legal and political fallout.

Readers of this piece may be right to wonder about the absence of Too $hort’s Born to Mack, which led authorities to arrest store owners who tried to sell it; or Paris’ 1992 album Sleeping with the Enemy, which featured provocations against the White House that prompted his label to drop him. Others may think of albums that law enforcement have used to press criminal charges, like C-Bo’s 1998 album Til My Casket Drops. (For more on that topic, read Erik Nielson and Andrea L. Dennis’ Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics, and Guilt in America.) Throw in the titles where rappers censored their own lyrics, like YG’s My Krazy Life (“Meet the Flockers”). And what about “jailhouse” raps surreptitiously made behind bars, a tradition that includes incarcerated-but-not-silenced acts like C-Murder and his Penitentiary Chances with Boosie Badazz?

While short of exhaustive, this list of the 25 Most Controversial Rap Albums serves as a starting point, and a way to discuss aspects of a culture under constant pressure, whether artistically, legally, or politically. As an artform birthed by a Black and Brown underclass and embraced by a global audience, rap music expresses desires that challenge societal taboos about what can be said in public. Sometimes, it simply pushes against our norms about race, sex, and gender. Other times, it upsets us with brutally honest opinions about the world around us. If this list seems lacking for its omissions, then hopefully its inclusions inspire you to explore further.


2 Live Crew, ‘As Nasty as They Wanna Be’

From the moment 2 Live Crew released their 1986 debut, 2 Live Is Who We Are, the Miami unit became an object of smutty fascination among young teens nationwide as well as a target for authorities concerned about their effect on impressionable children. The ying-tang dynamic between kids chanting “Hey, we want some pussy!” in schoolyards and aggressive district attorneys targeting record store owners for selling 2 Live Crew’s tapes reached a fever pitch with As Nasty as They Wanna Be. In 1990, a Florida judge ruled that the album was legally obscene, and the group was arrested at a show on obscenity charges. (They were later acquitted.) Meanwhile, a parody of Roy Orbison’s “Oh Pretty Woman” from the “edited” version of the album, As Clean as They Wanna Be, elicited a lawsuit. The Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music Inc. case made its way to the Supreme Court where, in 1994, the justices ruled unanimously that 2 Live Crew’s parody qualified as fair use. (The two sides later settled out of court.) These legal battles briefly turned 2 Live Crew into free-speech heroes, and Bruce Springsteen gave Campbell the rights to cover his “Born in the U.S.A.” into 1990’s Banned in the U.S.A.


N.W.A, ‘Straight Outta Compton’

It’s not only the FBI’s infamous letter, sent in response to N.W.A.’s “Fuck the Police” and warning that “we in the law enforcement community take exception” to the song, that makes Straight Outta Compton a defining hip-hop protest of societal conditions in Los Angeles and the way Black bodies are policed. It’s also how the group endured radio boycotts and, while on tour, harassment from law enforcement. All the while, fans and critics wrestled with music that profanely celebrated gang life at a time when Crips and Bloods sects were an all-too-real crisis in Black and Brown communities. They overlooked how Compton’s mixed together cautionary tales – Ice Cube punctuates “Gangsta Gangsta” by admitting he’s “dressed in county blues” – with funky lyrical hip-hop akin to Marley Marl’s Juice Crew. Straight Outta Compton may now be considered one of the most important albums in American history. Yet the belief that N.W.A opened a Pandora’s Box of street verisimilitude lingers, whether it’s true or not. N.W.A weren’t the first foul-mouthed hard rocks, but they may have been the best.