This song was written in the Vanilla rehearsals in April 1979, in the sessions which the band wished to record directly from their rehearsal space in Vanilla Studios, a small intimate space behind a garage in Vauxhall, London. Their record company CBS would have none of it, and demanded they use an actual studio, hence why they chose Wessex studios: it best replicated the intimacy of the Vanilla space in a full studio setup.
The song is heavily anti-drugs, following on from similar songs on Give 'Em Enough Rope such as "Drug-Stabbing Time." The lyrics had slightly more credence this time as the band generally shied away from hard drug use during the London Calling sessions, so the portrayal of helpless heroin addiction in the present song ("Anything I want he gives it, but not for free. It's hateful and it's paid for and I'm so grateful to be nowhere") has more weight to it.
The words also contain an emotional reference to Joe Strummer's good friend Sid Vicious, who had recently died from a heroin overdose ("this year I've lost some friends"), and indeed if the entire song is discussing heroin addiction, it could be said that the whole song was inspired by Vicious' sorry demise.
"Hateful" struggled to find a place in the Clash's live repertoire, and was only ever performed live three times: at their July 1979 shows in London at the Notre Dame Hall and the Rainbow.