Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” Lyrics Meaning

The titular action of having a desire to ‘start something’ is actually attributed to the rivals of the narrator (Michael Jackson). Thus part of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” is centered on them. But it also focuses on Michael – who depicts himself as a person who is under constant, painful scrutiny – and others close to him who are victims of these people.

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Michael Jackson's Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' at Lyrics.org.

Verse 1

The singer identifies the media as being amongst his aforementioned foes. This song was written by Michael Jackson himself, and he was well-qualified to speak from the perspective of a famous person. And in that regard, during the first verse he implies that the media has the wherewithal to take any minor issue in relation to him and blowing it way out of proportion. Without actually saying it he is basically accusing them of clickbaiting – albeit long before the days of the internet – since they depicted a common visit to the hospital by him and his girlfriend as a major issue. And they want to “start something”, i.e. a rumor, to achieve this goal. Additionally in the process of doing so, they have his “baby crying”, with said person logically being the woman (i.e. his lady) they are gossiping about.

Verse 2

Meanwhile the second verse appears to be centered on another individual close to the singer and how a certain person relates to her. This person portrays himself as “good” despite behaving to the contrary. The verse concludes by insinuating that the woman under attack is once again Michael’s girlfriend, since he also refers to her as his “baby”. Yet this section is more-likely a reference to the relationship between his sister, LaToya Jackson and their sister-in-laws, as the song was originally penned based on such a narrative. And they too “wanna be starting something” via their ‘razor-like tongues’.

Verse 3

In the last verse, the perpetrator is “Billie Jean”. This lady too likes to spread gossip pertaining to MJ. And considering that we know “Billie Jean” is a personification of the gold diggers who were onto Michael and his kindred, his distressed “baby” in this verse, as with the first, is likely a romantic interest.


Meanwhile the bridge of the song has Michael chanting “you’re a vegetable” and that “they eat off of you”. This reads like a reference to the singer and others in his life who are once again the victims of the aforementioned undesirable spotlight. And “they” would be the same people who are intent on “starting something”. What they want to start, basically, is beef. And although their ultimate goals for doing so may vary, it all boils down to having them – in some way, shape or form – feeding off the victims.

Lyrics of "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"


So in conclusion, this is an early Michael Jackson-style attack against those who cause anguish to him and the people he loves through the spreading of rumors. He does not identify these parties outright. But the obvious insinuation is that for the most part it is the media, as well as others who are actually close to the singer.

Release Date of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”

This classic first came out as the opening track on Michael Jackson’s album Thriller on 30 November 1982. Since then it has also been featured on a number of Michael Jackson compilation albums as well as the hit 2010 dance-based videogame, Michael Jackson: The Experience.

Later Epic Records released it as the fourth single from the iconic Thriller album on 8 May 1983. And unlike the previous three singles, it did not have a music video.

FYI, the initial recording of this song dates back to 1978. Jackson’s team initially intended to include it on his previous album, Off the Wall (1979).

Who wrote “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”?

Michael Jackson is the sole writer of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”.  The original intent was for the song to be used by his older sister, LaToya, as an expression of how she felt towards their sisters-in-law.

FYI, not only did Jackson pen this song, but he also co-produced it alongside the iconic Quincy Jones.

What is the meaning of “Mamase Mamasa Mamakusa”?

The chant at the end of the song “Mama-say, mama-sa, ma-ma-ko-ssa” (“mamase mamasa mamakusa”) is actually conducted in a language called Duala (Douala) from the Central African nation of Cameroon. In fact Michael derived it from a 1972 track by Cameroonian artist named Manu Dibango, entitled “Soul Makossa”.

But what really does it mean? It actually doesn’t have any real meaning per se. However, it should be noted that in the Douala language, the word “makossa” means “dance” in English. Furthermore, “Makossa” is the name of a very popular type of musical genre (or rather style) that originated from Cameroon and spread throughout West Africa and other parts of the world.

In all, it is safe to conclude that “mamase mamasa mamakusa” doesn’t really mean anything beyond encouraging the addressee to dance.

Manu Dibango sues Jackson for using “Mamase Mamasa Mamakusa” in “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”

In 1986, Manu Dibango sued Michael Jackson for the use of this phrase. However, they settled the matter outside of court, with Dibango receiving one-million Francs from Jackson.

 Dibango also later sued both Michael Jackson and Rihanna when Riri sampled this particular section of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” on her 2007 track “Don’t Stop the Music”.

“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” excels on the Charts

This classic made an appearance on music charts in the United States and United Kingdom at multiple different points in history. First was when it originally came out in 1983. At that time, it peaked at number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. And in the United Kingdom, it reached number 8 on the UK Singles Chart. 

It went on to break the top 10 in Belgium and Ireland. In Canada, it reached the enviable position of number 1 in Canada. In the Netherlands, it also reached number 1.

Later, after Michael Jackson’s death in 2009, it made it to number 20 amongst Billboard’s Digital Songs. As if that wasn’t enough, it also reappeared on the UK Singles Chart at number 57.

Backup Vocals on “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”

At least 7 people (including Michael Jackson and the late American singer James Ingram) acted as backing vocalists for this track. The Waters also performed backup vocals on this song. The Waters was a group of siblings who worked with a number of hit songs. For example, they also provided background vocals for Laura Branigan’s smash hit “Gloria”.

“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ 2008″ with Akon 

Akon remixed and re-recorded this song in 2008 as part of the album Thriller 25, which was the 25th anniversary edition of Thriller. That particular version was entitled “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ 2008”. Peaking at number 81 on the Billboard Hot 100, it was the last of Michael Jackson’s singles to be released before he tragically passed away the following year.

8 Responses

  1. Big al says:

    Listen carefully,he’s saying “Imma say it one more time I’m not going to stop.”

    • Anonymous says:

      Its both… it’s two times mama say, and then I’m gonna say it one more time I’m not gonna stop… some end sa some end in op

  2. The Mimi says:

    On the album lyrics, it says “mamasse mamuhsa memaht husah… many times over.

  3. The Mimi says:

    According to the urban dictionary, it means my body, my spirit, my thoughts are pure!

  4. Calvin Brumfield says:

    That has been the TENACITY of black people struggles in America,” their tour of endearment since we were brought here to America. And how we got over all hurdles of the negative vasisatutes that set before us and we have Excel to excellence in many facts in life from the dark yesterday to a bright tomorrow! I’m gonna say it one more time, I’m not gonna stop, gonna say one more I’m not to stop!!!

  5. Jim Lang says:

    I played with Laura in the mid 80s and this is very factual ,,stop attacking facts as I remember Laura speaking of the lawsuit that was settled by Manu Dibango ..she sang backgrounds for MJ and she sang what was written Mama Say Mama Sa Mamakosa,lawyers try to use words placed later as a defense but didn’t work so it was settled out of court. Yes song was originally made by MJ for his sister Latoya-facts(truth)

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