Patti Smith’s “Rock N Roll N****r” Removed From Streaming Services

Patti Smith’s “Rock N Roll N****r” Removed From Streaming Services

Easter, the third album from the Patti Smith Group, came out in 1978, and it included a song called “Rock N Roll N****r.” Smith co-wrote the song with her guitarist Lenny Kaye, and in its lyrics, she seemingly used the racial slur to describe white outsider artists like herself: “Outside of society, they’re waitin’ for me/ Outside of society, that’s where I want to be.” Now, Rolling Stone reports that the song was recently removed from streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, and Amazon Music. The song is still on physical editions and downloads of Easter.

On that song, Patti Smith uses that racial epithet to describe icons of different races: Jimi Hendrix, Jackson Pollack, Jesus Christ, “grandma.” In the Easter liner notes, Smith wrote, “N****r no invented for color it was MADE FOR THE PLAGUE. The word (art) must be redefined — all mutants and the new babies born sans eyebrow and tonsil … any man who extends beyond the classic form is a n****r.”

As Rolling Stone points out, the song was controversial from the time of its release. In 1978, Smith attempted to justify her use of the word in a Rolling Stone interview: “Suffering don’t make you a n****r. I mean, I grew up poor, too. … Ya think Black people are better than white people or sumpthin’? I was raised with black people. It’s like, I can walk down the street and say to a kid, ‘Hey n****r.’ I don’t have any kind of super-respect or fear of that kind of stuff.”

Decades after the release of that song, Smith was still defending her usage. The song was a mainstay of Smith’s live show for many years, though she hasn’t performed it since 2019. Other artists have covered it, including Marilyn Manson and Courtney Love. In 1994, Trent Reznor remixed the song and included it on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack.

Rolling Stone says, “The reason for the song’s disappearance is unclear.” But it’s not really that unclear, is it?

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