The topic came up because the “Jack & Diane” singer was reflecting on his early days playing in a band with Black and white members and witnessing the racism they experienced on the road. He mentioned how that relates to the music industry today, and recalled working on “Cuttin’ Heads,” a collaboration between him and Public Enemy’s Chuck D that was the title track of his 2001 album.
“Me and Chuck D did a song 20 years ago. We were talking about the N-word. We were talking about how it’s not supposed to be used,” the rock artist reflected on the podcast.
“That’s what I have against — not against, but why I’m not a big fan of rap music,” he continued. “You guys are selling out what the people stood up for and fought for, and you’re making money off of it selling it to white kids? I don’t like it.”
The rock star added, “And so Chuck D and I did a song… I wrote the song and, then he rapped in the middle of it, and he just said, ‘Die, N-word, die.’ That’s right.”
On the song, Chuck D rapped verses such as, “It’s wild / Cause I connect the word with pain / Now some smile when they scream the name? / Funny how the times have changed / And the rhymes have changed / But some cat’s frame remains the same / Agitating adjective / What gives? Die n word die.”
The “Small Town” singer continued speaking with the former Real Time host, 67, about race on the podcast. Mellencamp said that “it’s not any better [for Black people]” in the U.S. today, explaining how his 29-year-old son’s friend was racially profiled and killed.
He added, “I wrote a song that I never recorded because I thought it was wrong, but it was called ‘From the F—ing Cotton Fields to the Playing Fields.’ So my point is that, yes, so what [if Black people’s lives are better now]? Us white people love to have Black people entertain us.”
The recording artist and Maher went on to debate about systemic racism, data surrounding hate crimes, and whether living in America has improved for Black people in recent decades.
“I’m going to have to disagree,” Mellencamp told Maher, who argued that there has been significant progress. He added that it’s important to be “open minded about what’s really going on in the streets.”
Mellencamp also spoke about “Cuttin’ Heads” upon its release. According to MTV News, he said of the lyrics at the time, “This is about Black people selling out other Black people. When you’ve got a guy on MTV or VH1 waggin’ his $150,000 watch or his $200,000 necklace, saying the word ‘n—–‘ … suburban white kids buy these records and think this is what Black people are like. He’s created a new stereotype that they used to call Uncle Tom.”
The “Hurts So Good” songwriter, who has been spoken out against discrimination and in support ofBlack Lives Matter, also previously shared how he cut ties with Columbia Records in 2001 due to racist remarks made by an executive at the label. On Howard Stern’s SiriusXM show in 2017, per SPIN, he revealed the label head said, “‘I don’t know why Mellencamp insists on having these [n-words] singing with him. It makes it impossible to get him [on radio].’”
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Mellencamp was among the organizers of the first Farm Aid in 1985. He, Nelson and Young founded the concert with the mission of helping small family farmers thrive.
He spoke to PEOPLE last year about his disdain for large farming corporations. He said, “The reason I got involved in it was because the government does not care about the small family farmer, nor do they care about me or you. There’s a big club, and you and I aren’t in it.”