Smack My Bitch Up

The most controversial single in Prodigy's history.

Smack My Bitch Up

This is the Prodigy’s third and last single from The Fat Of The Land album, released on November 10, 1997. The most controversial single in Prodigy's history. It has been blacklisted by many US and Canadian radio stations. British BBC Radio 1 also banned Smack My Bitch Up for radio playing because the lyrics of the song. Last time something like this happened was 1987 when George Michael's song Your Sex was banned too.

Only a lyric-free version was played on Radio 1. On the chart rundown, other tracks from the single release were played, and the title "Smack My Bitch Up" was not mentioned. On BBC World Service radio chart run down it was mentioned as "Smack" and was not played. Yet on the first episode of Top of the Pops in which it charted, the DJ Hype remix was played over the Top 10 countdown, including the offending lyric of "Change my pitch up, smack my bitch up."

The Chart Show refused to display the name of the song when the video was played during one of their episodes. Usually aired at 11.30 am, the show displayed the on-screen graphic as simply "The Prodigy"; the title of the song would usually appear underneath.

Also some feminist are trying to fight against the Prodigy because of the lyric "Change my pitch up, smack my bitch up" That's one of the reasons why the track became well-known all around the world. Wal-Mart and K-Mart pulled the album and the single from their shelves because of the scandals in connection with the lyrics.

In 2010, the song was voted as the most controversial song of all time in a survey conducted by PRS for Music.

In 2013, Mixmag readers voted it the third greatest dance track of all time.

The song reached the top 15 in several countries, for example Canada, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden. The song performed best in Finland, securing The Prodigy their third Finnish number-one hit alongside Firestarter and Breathe. Although not reaching the top 20 in those countries, "Smack My Bitch Up" was a hit in the Netherlands peaking at #22, in Australia reaching #41, and in the United States reaching #89.

The lyrics "Change my pitch up / Smack my bitch up" are repeated through the whole song. The band defended the song, saying that the lyrics were being misinterpreted as misogynistic and the song actually meant "...doing anything intensely..." The song led to a publicised disagreement at the 1998 Reading festival after the Beastie Boys asked the group not to play the track.

The vocals are sampled and altered from the Ultramagnetic MCs song "Give the Drummer Some". The original lyrics, performed by rapper Kool Keith, are: "Switch up change my pitch up" / "Smack my bitch up, like a pimp,...". Kool Keith had previously been sampled by the Prodigy in the track "Out of Space".

The female vocals in "Smack My Bitch Up" were performed by Shahin Badar. Badar's vocals and harmonies are based on "Nana (The Dreaming)" performed by Sheila Chandra. Initially Liam Howlett used a direct sample of Chandra's song, but later had the vocal resung after sample clearance issues. The track also contains samples from "Funky Man" by Kool & the Gang, "In Memory Of" by Randy Weston, "Bulls on Parade" by Rage Against the Machine and "House of Rising Funk" by Afrique.



"People take things too literally. If you said to a girl change my pitch up, smack my bitch up - she probably wouldn't understand what change my pitch up means. It just works. It's just a hook. That's the only thing behind it. The bitch is the music, not a girl thing. A lot of the girls I know say that's their favorite track. There is no message in Prodigy music really, it's just an expression of hardness. We're not trying to put messages in about 'It's cool to beat up women,' because that's just pathetic. " - Leeroy

”No woman can listen to this song and not know that it depicts abuse and torture of women.”
– protesting feminists.

This teaches violence against women in a form of entertainment. This message is damaging in general, but particularly to children. " - Janice Rocco from National Organization for Women

”I am not a prude, and I think the Prodigy are a very good group, but they should think about the message they are putting out. ... [the single is] particularly offensive and particularly in the sense of violence against women.”
Barry Gardiner, Member of Parliament (Labour Party)

”While the lyric in question was never intended to be harmful or disrespectful to women or any other group and we sincerely regret that it may have been misinterpreted, the possibility that some will be offended or disturbed by any creative work is a risk inherent in any artistic endeavor.”
– Warner Bros

"That song is probably the most pointless song I've ever written. But live, it works. It works well. Sometimes things can be so fucking simple and you don't need an explanation of the lyrics. Why explain the lyrics? It either works or it doesn't. And for us, it works well live. It's a really exciting track and it's just a good hard track" - Liam
"For us, it's just about doing what we want, doing it our way, having fun. That's our way of just having fun. But it's serious in other ways. It's not a joke. This song isn't meant to be taken like a joke. It's a hard song. The sample just works. There's not really one explanation why I put it in there. " - Liam

"It's obvious that Firestarter is not about starting fires. It's about Keith's personality. I thought, "Well, if people are going to kick up a fuss about this, then they're really gonna kick up a fuss about Smack My Bitch Up". It was kind of a joke on the English press in a way, as well. " - Liam

"There's a very funny balance to them really, because they revel in people objecting to things they do. If we don't go ahead it won't be because we've bottled out of being controversial, it'll just be because the band didn't like it. " - A Prodigy spokesman

"They've been playing relatively out-of-the-way places recently. They've developed this style of nipping off and playing places where only the locals turn up. They're in the enviable position of sticking a pin in the map and going where they want. "  - A Prodigy spokesman


Perhaps inevitably, there has been a certain amount of controversy surrounding the Prodigy track "Smack My Bitch Up". As always, it's important that when controversial issues are discussed, they are discussed intelligently and with full regard for the facts of the case. For the record :

- The phrase "Change My Pitch Up / Smack My Bitch Up" is not a lyric, it's a sample, taken from an old hip hop track called "Give The Drummer Some" by Ultramagnetic MCs. The vocalist is Kool Keith, aka Dr .Octagon. "Smack My Bitch Up" is instrumental apart from the use of this phrase.
- Given that there are no more words than that, it's impossible to say that the song exhorts, glorifies, or even describes anything at all.
- The aggressive impact of the sample is carefully balanced by a beautiful female Indian vocal performed by Shahin Badar.
- In Prodigy songs, "bitch" doesn't always refer to women - "Firestarter" has Keith singing "I'm the bitch you hated"
- Despite their extreme image, Prodigy are categorically opposed to violence against women - or indeed, any kind of gratuitous violence. Journalists who interview them in person routinely comment about their relaxed, easy going and entirely unconfrontational manner.
- However much the media want to make an issue of this, the fact remains that Prodigy credit their audience with enough intelligence not to literally interpret or act out their song lyrics - no-one committed arson after hearing "Firestarter" (or hyper-ventilated after hearing "Breathe").

Story behind the cover and the release delay

A Beetle crashed into a pole which was said to be the original front cover of Smack My Bitch Up single.

The original artwork for the release featured Aldo Torelli’s photograph of a Volkswagen Beetle wrapped around a lamp post. The release date of single was scheduled to October 27 but because death of Diana, Princess Of Wales (who died from the injuries she sustained in a car crash) it was delayed. So they changed the original cover to this seen on top of the page. Liam Howlett, who is well-known for his love of VW Beetles and camper vans, told: "It was the right sleeve at the wrong time."

As we all know the final cover photo was taken by Hamish Brown at the UK Breakdancing Championships in 1996 and it features breakdancer Joel Botschinsky De Andrade from Freestyle Phanatix team!

Revising the UK Breakdance Championships 1996 video recording at 43:48 - 43:51 you can catch the very moment when Joel Botschinsky De Andrade does the famous flip we know from the cover of SMBU.

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The Prodigy vs Beastie Boys incident at Reading (1998)

The Prodigy and Beastie Boys were involved in a war of words at the 1998 Reading Festival. The Beastie Boys asked the Prodigy not to include Smack My Bitch Up in their set, claiming that it is offensive – but the Prodigy did play the song and Maxim shouted to the crowd: ”I do what the fuck I want.” Later the Beasties’ Ad Rock commented, ”From where I’m from, it isn’t cool.”.

The strange thing is that Liam actually didn’t want to play at Reading in 1998 – because the whole band was tired (of touring) by the time the gig was held (”Reading was the only show I didn’t want to be at. That show was just a joke.” – Liam)

Speech from Reading:

Maxim: Last night, we've received a call from one of the Beastie Boys.

[Crowd cheer]

Maxim: Wait a minute hear me out! They didn’t want us to play this funckin' tune. But the way things go, I do what the fuck I want.

[Large cheer, 'Smack my bitch up' intro.]

Contrary to what you might think, the Prodigy and the Beastie Boys have buried the hatchet – at least both bands say this. The B-boys have even let Liam use some of their tracks on his Mix Album - Dirtchamber Sessions.

Liam continued:
’ Whatever happened between me and Ad-Rock, there’s no respect lost as far as the music goes. I don’t think anything less of them as musicians over what they’ve done. And basically, if I’m making an old-skool record, it would be stupid of me to not have them on there.’

The Beasties’ Adam Yauch put their side:
’I think it all worked out fine. We just wanted to let the Prodigy know that we felt like that song had a real meaning, has a definite meaning with those lyrics... We were kinda more going to them saying, ’We’ve been through this and we feel weird about this stuff and we’d like to suggest or ask you guys not to play it.’

The band concluded they had decided to let the matter lie, though they still disagreed with the song’s content. (Source: NME)


When Select Magazine did a round up of the legendary music festival moments, they had to include the Prodigy vs Beastie Boys spat from Reading 98! Yep, it's up there alongside Nirvana's 1992 gig at Reading, Robbie Williams onstage with Oasis at Glastonbury 1995 and Courtney Love losing her marbles at Reading 1994.

Here's what the of Select have to say:

"PRODIGY VS THE BEASTIE BOYS: Reading 1998 On the evening before they were due to share a festival stage together, The Prodigy's Liam Howlett received an unusual phone call at his Essex home. Long-time idols Beastie Boys Adam Yauch and Mike D were asking him to cut his group's most recent single 'Smack My Bitch Up' from their forthcoming Reading set. The conversation proceeded affably enough with a general 'agree to disagree' conclusion being reached.

It was later revealed that the US rappers had even tried to stop The Prodigy sharing the same Reading bill. Indeed, with the Beasties demanding a say over their fellow performers, The Prodge were only at Reading because of the cancellation of the Phoenix Festival and subsequent combining of the two bills.

With the Beasties going on record against the performance afterwards, a transatlantic rivalry had quickly fomented. During the subsequent publicity, many sided aginst the Beasties for their seemingly sanctimonious attempt at censoring fellow performers. From being reviled as misogynistic cretins hiding behind bogus notions of 'street' authenticity, The Prodigy now found themselves cast as free speech crusaders. The Beasties, meanwhile - thanks to memories of early lyrics and shows liberally scattered with rampant sexism - were now officially Grade A hypocrites.

"During that whole Reading thing," says Liam Howlett, "the Beastie Boys really let themselves down. They think they have the power to come over to England and the tell a band not to play one of their songs - it's pathetic. I know a lot of people got offended by 'Smack My Bitch Up', but that wasn't my intention. It's just an old-skool phrase meaning to 'sort something out'. I still find it hard to exactly what it means, but in my head it didn't mean what other people took it as."

"I always used to like the Beastie Boys because they stood against all that American crap, but when I spoke to them they just seemed to be full of all that self-improvement, learning-to-be-a-better-person type of bullshit. I mean, you know, I think I'm intelligent enough to look at those early Beastie Boys records and see the tongue-in-cheek humour."

The Beasties later responded to these accusations by actually drawing attention to their past experiences of seeing ironically intended lyrics taken at face value. Adam Horovitz said: "You know, a woman in America gets murdered every 20 minutes every day, in domestic violence. So 'Smack My Bitch Up' isn't that funny".

In conclusion, The Reading Incident was only a 'War Of Words'. Here is a summary of what the parts said:

Beastie Boys: We’ve been through this and we feel weird about this stuff and we’d like to suggest or ask you guys not to play that song’, right before we go onstage.

The Prodigy: Well you can’t tell us what to do.

Beastie Boys: We don’t mean to be preacing to you, we’re just saying...

The Prodigy: That’s not what the song actually means. The lyrics don’t mean what you think they mean and we’ve been explaining that to the press for a long time.

Beastie Boys: To us they had a definite meaning. And I’m sure that irrespective of each other, those words have that same meaning to a lot of people.


Related articles

NME August 10th 1998 Yauch Defends Reading Face-off

MTV September 3rd 1998 Beastie Boys Battle Prodigy Over 'Smack My Bitch Up'

NME - September 12th 1998 Beasties V Prodigy: The Great PC WarsNME - 1998 Prodigy & Beasties Declare Peace at Christmas

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