Artists choose to write shockingly upsetting music for a number of reasons: to express extreme emotions or to provoke a visceral response in listeners or say something about a particular issue or for the shock itself.
Sometimes, they're presented as true story warnings, as in Bushwick Bill's "Ever So Clear." And sometimes they're the fulfillment of a fictional persona, as in DMX's "Bring Your Whole Crew." When done right, they can be artful, but sometimes a disturbing song is just a hollow gross-out. Either way, shockingly violent imagery has been a part of music forever — we've just really honed the language in the last 30 years or so.
Obviously our extensive list of most disturbing songs is, well, yeah, very disturbing. So there's your warning. For those who don't want to read this list, we don't blame you. Mom, I'm sorry for this.
30. Tyler, the Creator — Yonkers
Surprisingly, the rapper who makes the music that "the devil plays before he goes to sleep" is actually straight edge. However, by no means does that make his music less disturbing. In "Yonkers," Tyler threatens to "stab Bruno Mars in his goddamn esophagus," and calls out B.o.B, Hayley Williams, and even Jesus. The video, complete with him eating a cockroach, vomiting, and eventually hanging himself, is even more messed up than the song itself.
29. Eyedea — "Even Shadows Have Shadows"
The late Minnesota rapper knew how to string words together. In "Even Shadows Have Shadows," Eyedea intricately and quickly flows about his dissatisfaction with the world: "I'm caught between wanting to punch someone in the face and putting a bullet in my head to leave the human race." Sadly, in 2010, the 28-year-old died from an accidental overdose.
28. Apathy — "The Janitor"
Apathy raps the biography of the town creep, "a janitor at a junior high" who loves "little bodies." Not pleasant.
27. Cage — "Ballad of Worms"
In the disturbing tale of his sickly, dying girlfriend, Cage describes their increasingly unsatisfying sex life.
26. Big Lurch — "Texas Boy"
All right, so the song itself isn't that messed up. Sure, it's not happy-go-lucky to threaten to "cut ya with the machete" or to claim to be "the devilous mischievous child, the bad seed," but there are much more brutal lyrics on this list. What is disturbing is Big Lurch's life outside of music. The Dallas-born and -raised rapper is serving life in prison for murdering his 21-year-old female roommate Tynisha Ysais in 2002. According to People, the victim was "discovered in her Los Angeles apartment with teeth marks on her face and on pieces of her lung, which had been torn from her chest. Big Lurch was arrested on a nearby street after police found him staggering naked, apparently dazed, and covered in blood."
25. Papa Roach — "Last Resort"
The song was a commercial hit and can still be heard on the radio quite often. But that doesn't mean that it's not uncomfortably graphic. Throughout the song, the lyrics discuss suicide. As the catchy chorus goes, "Do you even care if I die bleeding? / Would it be wrong, would it be right? / If I took my life tonight."
24. DMX — "Bring Your Whole Crew"
DMX gives all cute, loving dogs a bad name (we'll just blame it on Damien), and this is his darkest, a classic ode to gratuitous violence.
23. Insane Clown Posse — "Bugz on My Nutz"
While basically any and all ICP songs could've made this list, we decided to go with the one where they "Met this bum in the back of a dumpster / Fucked her in the rumpster, juggaluga humpster."
22. Nine Inch Nails — "Closer"
As uncomfortable as the chorus is, the music video is worse: a monkey tied to a cross, fetish equipment, and a severed pig's head spinning around, for some reason.
21. Cam'ron — "Confessions"
Told as confession in church, Cam'ron goes through a variety of sins, from doing and selling drugs to peeing in his grandfather's orange juice to incest with his aunt to raping his poodle.
20. Mr. Hyde — "Spill Your Blood"
Opening with a quote from the movie American Psycho, Mr. Hyde shamelessly raps about extreme violence and vulgarity. The chorus alone is brutal: "Spill your blood on the concrete / Split your mug and let you leak."
19. Slayer — South of Heaven
"Bastard sons begat your cunting daughters. Promiscuous mothers with incestuous fathers. Ingrate souls condemned for all eternity." Not an ideal family. The song, like the chorus states, is "chaos rampant."
18. Bushwick Bill — "Ever So Clear"
Scary movies love to add "based on a true story" to add to their credibility, even if there's only an ounce of truth to the story. But when I say "Ever So Clear" is based on a true story, I mean it's a nonfiction account of how a little person and member of the Geto Boys got shot in the eye after threatening his girlfriend and their child. The Geto Boys even used a picture from the hospital as the album cover for We Can't Be Stopped. The song's title is a play on Everclear, which Bushwick Bill had been drinking at the time, and the message of the song's last line: "It's fucked up I had to lose an eye to see shit clearly."
17. Three 6 Mafia — "Fuckin Wit Dis Click"
Before Juicy J was making club bangers, he was part of Memphis' Three 6 Mafia, making much, much darker songs. Example: "These hoes will never quit until you leave 'em hanging from a tree or thrown in a ditch."
16. Sublime — "Date Rape"
As the title suggests, the song is about date rape. That's pretty clear. "Come on, babe, it's your lucky day. Shut your mouth, we're gonna do it my way. Come on, baby, don't be afraid. If it wasn't for date rape I'd never get laid." However, the rapist is caught and sent to prison ... where "he was butt-raped by a large inmate." Poetic justice, I guess? The video features porn star Ron Jeremy.
15. Nas — Remember the Times
The rap legend is known as Nasty Nas for a reason. Remembering the times when he "hung with the dimes," Nas describes some of his old ladies. Some such hookups include "twin sisters, cousins, mothers, and daughters," as well as "wheelchair girls and midgets." In the first verse, he recalls one rather, uh, freaky chick who "used to try to eat my excrement." We're not sure if she tried that before or after he "stuck a Heineken bottle up in the ass." Luckily, nobody dies in this song. That counts for something, right?
14. Cannibal Corpse — "I Cum Blood"
The song is gross. Like, disgustingly gross. Fortunately, you can't really understand a word he's saying unless you look up the lyrics. We don't recommend it.
13. Eminem (feat. Dido) — "Stan"
"Stan" is an intense story of an overly obsessed and unhinged fan who eventually drunkenly kills himself along with his pregnant girlfriend. Despite being disturbing, or perhaps because it's disturbing, the song is nothing less than a masterpiece. Rolling Stone ranked it the 296th greatest song of all time and VH1 named it the 15th greatest hip-hop song of all time.
12. Lisa Germano — "A Psychopath"
The lyrics in and of themselves are pretty creepy: "I hear a scream. I see me scream. Is it from memory? Am I awake? Am I alone? When is it sunrise?" But far more than the lyrics, Germano's voice over the soft music gives us chills. Oh, and the song's use of actual audio from a 911 call by a woman being attacked by an intruder is pretty scary, too.
11. Esham — "Nine Dead Bodies"
The 37-year-old Detroit rapper offers quite a few disturbing songs to choose from. "Nine Dead Bodies" is Esham's account of how he took nine lives. For example, his seventh and eighth victims "came like a double date. I stabbed 'em both in the heart with a wooden stake like the bitches was fuckin' vampires, lit the fuse, and set they souls on fire."
10. Big L. — "Devil's Son"
The late Harlem legend knew how to tell stories over beats. In his vulgar and highly sacrilegious tale of being the Devil's son, Big L claims that "I'm a stone villain known for killing and raping nuns. Ayo, I even kill handicapped and crippled bitches. Look at my scalp real close and you'll see triple sixes."
9. Brotha Lynch Hung (feat. Tech N9ne) — "ICU"
Another one where we really don't recommend scrutinizing the lyrics.
8. Geto Boys — "Assassins"
In "Assassins," which has been called the first horrorcore rap song, the Geto Boys discuss holding up and eventually killing one of their teachers and cutting up a dead body with a chainsaw. They also used a machete to attack a woman: "I sliced her up until her guts were like spaghetti."
7. Necro — "Dead Body Disposal"
The Brooklyn rapper is preoccupied with death — his name is even taken from the Greek term for corpse or death. "Dead Body Disposal" is basically a graphic how-to guide for, well, dead body disposal.
6. Korn — "Daddy"
Just about every song by Korn is by default a little bit creepy, but "Daddy" takes the cake. The song tells the story of a father raping his son while his mother watches.
5. Brotha Lynch Hung — "Return of the Baby Killa"
Sacramento's Brotha Lynch Hung doesn't waste any time. The first 11 seconds feature some pretty disturbing stuff involving pistols and lady parts, and it gets worse from there.
4. Rob Zombie — "House of 1000 Corpses"
When Rob Zombie isn't making metal music, he's making horror films. So obviously the guy earned his spot on this list. You know it's not gonna be a happy song when it starts with "She had a corpse under her bed. She had her fun, but now he's dead."
Despite the upbeat, cheery sound of it — or, really, partly because of it — this is a messed-up song. How so? Well, I'll let the lyrics speak for themselves on this one: "You're only alive because I like you / It's been 3 years since you've seen the sunlight, but I know you're having fun, bound, gagged, and chained up in my basement."
2. Eminem — "Kim"
We've already seen that Eminem isn't exactly unfamiliar with disturbing songs, but this one is more messed up than all of his others combined. And, yes, it's yet another song about a brutally violent murder, but Em brings a particularly disturbing gleeful rage to the proceedings. Not exactly happily ever after.
1. Immortal Technique — Dance with the Devil Arguably the most haunting story in all of hip-hop, "Dance with the Devil" tells one of the ugliest stories you'll ever hear — a story of robbery, violence, kidnapping, gang rape, incest, murder, suicide — in a beautifully powerful way, or, well, as beautifully as you could possibly tell a story like this. Immortal Tech ends the song by warning that "the dance with the devil might last you forever"; after listening to this song, it'll stay with you as well.
Editor's Note: This story first published on August 21, 2013, and was updated for publication on July 18, 2016.