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Sir Paul McCartney

Pierre Suu/Getty Images

Paul McCartney admits that he lacked an understanding of offensive words and phrases growing up in Liverpool in the '50s and '60s.

"When I was a kid, you were racist without knowing it," he told the Daily Mail On Sunday. "It was just the normal thing to use certain words you wouldn't use now."

McCartney continued, "Along the way we suddenly realized how it would make the people you were talking about feel. I don't think until then we'd ever even thought about other people," he admitted. "It was like a joke between ourselves."

However, he explained how that came to change over time. "But then someone points out, 'Well, that's denigrating…' you know, in my case, black people. And then the penny drops, and I think that's what happened for a lot of people. Certainly a lot of people in my generation used to use words you wouldn't use now."

Still, McCartney does understand why some artists—like his recent recording partnerKanye West—use slang terms in their music.

"Kanye's an artist. He can say what he wants. It's the freedom of speech, literally," McCartney explained. "The n-word, to a lot of black people, particularly younger black people, it's almost a term of endearment. It's a slang word, and I think the good thing about it is that it kind of takes the sting out of it. It just becomes a word, rather than the derogatory word it could be used as."