The Forgotten Meaning Behind the Iconic ‘Cops’ Theme Song “Bad Boys”

In 1987 reggae group Inner Circle, also known as the Bad Boys of Reggae, released their album One Way. A year later, television producer John Langley was looking for a theme song for a new reality-based series he had in the works, one that would follow law enforcement officials on the job without narrative.

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As the show was coming together, someone gave Langley One Way, and he found the perfect theme song. “Bad Boys” addressed the criminal turns of youth growing up in Jamaica. “I heard the song and I said, ‘That’s it. That’s the song for the show,’” said Langley in 2020.

“Bad Boys”

Inner Circle had already been around for 20 years, and One Way was the group’s second album following the death of lead vocalist Jacob Miller in 1980.

“Bad Boys” became the official theme song for Cops when it premiered in 1989 and became the group’s breakthrough. Inner Circle finally hit the big time, and though the lyrics held a deeper meaning, on Cops listeners mostly heard the iconic repetitive chorus.

Bad boys, bad boys
Whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do
When they come for you
Bad boys, bad boys

The Meaning

Written by founding member of Inner Circle bassist Ian Lewis, “Bad Boys” was more than its catchy chorus. It chronicled the life of a young person who takes some wrong turns in life and loses their way, turning against their family. “Bad Boys” is a call-out for them to turn their circumstances around.

“Thirty years,” said Lewis around the 30th anniversary of Cops in 2020. “How many groups in the world can say they have a song that the world knows? But what is not understood is the essence of the song. It was used in the context of ‘Cops,’ but if they listen to the song, everybody just knows the hook. They don’t listen to the words of the song, where it’s talking about a person who was coming into crime and adversarial towards their parents.”

When you were eight
And you had bad traits
You go to school
And learn the golden rule
So why are you
Acting like a bloody fool
If you get hot
You must get cool

Nobody naw give you no break
Police naw give you no break
Soldier naw give you no break
Not even you Idren naw give you no break

Lewis continued, “The song is about growing up [as a teenager] who wants to be a man but doesn’t understand that it’s the family that you should springboard from. I think it was slightly misunderstood, but worldwide, we never got a negative connotation.”

Why did you have to act so mean
Don’t you know you’re human being
Born of a mother with the love of a father
Reflections come and reflections go
I know sometimes you want to let go
I know sometimes you want to let go

Outside of the context of the show, Lewis always wanted to highlight the real message of the song. “I hope people take a moment to understand that the song is about teenage life and becoming semi-aggressive as you start growing up,” said Lewis. “We have played in places where everybody sings the song because music is the healer. If you are black; if you are white. If the culture is not shielding children [from trouble], then you’re gonna get problems.”

He added, “That has been the neglect of certain strata of American society that has been forcing kids to take things [into] their own hands, but if you give them aptitude, attitude, and knowledge, they will go to good places.”

[RELATED: John Oates Releases Reggae Version of “Maneater”]


In 1990, “Bad Boys” charted in several countries in Europe and was later released on the international version of the Inner Circle’s 1992 album Bad to the Bone, which also featured the group’s hit “Sweat (A La La La La Long).”

When Inner Circle released Bad Boys in 1993, the rerelease of the title track peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 7 on the Top 40 Mainstream chart. The re-release of “Bad Boys” also helped the group win a Grammy for Best Reggae Album by Duo or Group.

The song was later used in the action comedy Bad Boys in 1995, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and the continuation of the film franchise with Bad Boys II (2003), Bad Boys for Life in 2020, and a 2024 installment.

‘Cops’ Cancellation and Return

In light of the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the Paramount Network canceled Cops. Throughout the years, the show has also been criticized for its depiction of black people and for reinforcing some racial stereotypes. “Some of our black fans have come to us and told us ‘Cops’ is a negative show,” said Lewis. “We have heard that some black radio stations didn’t play the song because of the association with ‘Cops.’ The song isn’t about telling the police to lock people up or beat them up. It’s about troubled kids who have problems at home.”

In 2021, Fox Nation picked up Cops, and the 33rd season of the show premiered in October of 2023.

“A song don’t have to carry a stigma,” said Lewis. “Listen to the words: ‘Born of a mother with the love of a father.’ If people think we’re responsible for making the show popular, all we did was make a song that we think is a reflection of the youth. The rest of the verses have never been played on television.”

Photo: YouTube / Inner Circle

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