In 1972, Marvin Gaye reached a creative and commercial peak with his groundbreaking work What's Going On. Feeling pressure to record an equally successful followup, he began work on a planned album entitled You're the Man. After releasing the title track as a single--which failed to significantly impact the pop charts--he elected to shelve the project in favor of scoring the film Trouble Man. Now parts of the project have surfaced in a 2019 compilation entitled You're the Man, with one track eliciting a response just from its title: "The World is Rated X." The song embodies the cliché "don't judge a book by its cover."
Featuring Latin percussion and a feeling of foreboding, "The World Is Rated X" resembles the sound Gaye would largely adopt for the Trouble Man soundtrack. Despite the provocative title, the lyrics actually address society's ills rather than sex. From the foreboding strings and trembling congas, an ominous feeling envelops the midtempo track. Assuming the voice of a preacher, Gaye pulls back the curtain on then-current reality. "The world's situation / Should be rated X," he declares. The rating should not apply strictly to films, but to obscene living conditions and overall treatment of each other. "It's life in living color / Fighting, killing and dope dealing, it's everywhere," he cries. Similar to "Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)," he cites examples: killing, fighting, stealing, and overall bad behavior that children may model themselves after.
In addition to serving as a sequel to "Inner City Blues," "The World Is Rated X" addresses environmental issues as well. "Dirty water we can't drink, dirty air, it's so unfair," he sings. Unlike "Inner City Blues," however, Gaye offers solutions to these issues. "When I preach all that I've learned / We'll have happiness and love, it'll be oh so sweet," he states. Walking hand in hand, he sings, spreading love (curiously "still rated X") and defeating hate ("all the way rated X"). Complete with funky guitar riffs and tinkling piano, the song creates tension in the listener yet offers glimpses of hope. God is constantly watching, Gaye preaches, and people must aspire to love, joy, peace, and hope. "You and me, babe, can withstand / All the sin and corruption in this land," he proclaims, inviting the audience to help him spread peace and love around the world.
Gaye's vocals, while emotional, are more restrained than in "You're the Man." No seduction is necessary here; instead, his role is to expose societal problems and urge the audience to join him in solving them. Songwriters Ezra Bolton, Mel Bolton, Robert Gordy (son of Berry), and Marilyn McLeod wanted to provide Gaye with a showcase for his views, and "The World Is Rated X" offers just that. The intriguing title instantly captures attention, adding a layer of griminess to current events. Similar to "You're the Man," these events apply not only to 1972, but to 2019's state of the world as well. While the alternate mix had been previously included on the 2011 Super Deluxe Edition of What's Going On, having it in context of the intended You're the Man project adds meaning to the track.