The song tells the story of a guy who goes to jail for armed robbery and finds himself in the middle of a prison riot.
As the inspiration for the song, songwriter Jerry Leiber cites radio police dramas he had heard as a kid, particularly Gang Busters
. In the book Hound Dog: The Leiber & Stoller Autobiography
, Leiber says, "Gang Busters
had a dynamite opening - a siren followed by a burst of gunfire, and the announcer hyping this week's episode. I was in love with Gang Busters
as a ten-year-old back in Baltimore, but now I was twenty. I couldn't remember any of the stories, but the sounds were still in my mind."
Meanwhile, fellow songwriter Mike Stoller says when asked about this song, "We can't and won't claim credit as the inventors of rap, but if you listen to our early output, you'll hear lots of black men talking poem-stories over a heavy backbeat."