How OJ Simpson's life has been covered in song, from Jay Z to Eminem

American football star's highs and lows have inspired an eclectic assortment of musicians

The life and trial of OJ Simpson has been a lyrical inspiration over the last 30 years. AP
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From punk rock to hip-hop, the trial and tribulations of OJ Simpson have inspired an eclectic assortment of artists to write songs about his life.

The former American football player, best known for his acquittal in a high-profile double murder case following the death of his wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman, died on Thursday at the age of 76.

While some artists used their work to criticise the controversial court verdict, others explored its ramifications on US society, from increased racial tensions to the growth of celebrity pop culture being sensationalised in the media.

Across genres, these four tracks take inspiration from Simpson's life and the aftermath of the trial of 1995.

1. The Story of OJ by Jay Z (2016)

When Simpson reportedly said, “I'm not black, I'm OJ,” he suggested that his celebrity and career achievements defied racial categorisation. In Jay Z's masterful The Story of OJ, the quote is referenced as part of a wry commentary on how African Americans can’t escape inherent racial barriers when it comes to social mobility.

The song goes on to deliver a withering assessment of mainstream media portrayal of African Americans and, while not providing further details on Simpson's life, the lyrics and title are used to emphasise Jay Z’s argument that race will always play a factor in African Americans' advancement in US society.

2. April 29, 1992 (Miami) by Sublime (1996)

The furore surrounding the trial was not purely down to the shocking nature of the case.

US rockers Sublime released this song in the aftermath of his not guilty verdict to illustrate how the fraught atmosphere gripping Los Angeles at the time was linked to the racially charged riots that took place in the city in the early 90s, before the murder and subsequent trial.

3. Role Model by Eminem (1999)

There is method to the lyrical madness in this early Eminem gem. While the lyrics are too profane to be printed, Eminem references victims Brown and Goldman in this caustic look at American celebrity culture and mass media's celebration of controversy.

4. OJ Simpson by Wesley Willis (1995)

The cult singer-songwriter leaves no one in doubt regarding where he stands when it comes to the OJ Simpson trial. Over a funky backdrop, the spoken word lyrics read like a news report covering Simpson's original arrest in 1995.

“OJ Simpson murdered Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman / He stabbed both of them to death with a machete / He was arrested on two state murder charges / OJ Simpson was taken to jail,” the song begins before ending with the terse lament: “He had no business killing his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman / OJ Simpson played on The Naked Gun and Roots / But as of now, he is a hardened criminal.”

Updated: April 12, 2024, 12:33 PM