The song begins with Wonder describing the life of a boy born in "hard time Mississippi". His family is poor, but his parents work hard and encourage him, in spite of the dreadful conditions they live in, which include lack of food and money, and racism. As the track progresses, the tension and anger build in Wonder's voice, matching the growing frustrations of the subjects in the song.
A spoken interlude midway through the song has the young boy, now a young man, arriving in New York City for a new beginning. He is tricked into transporting drugs, arrested and sentenced to 10 years in jail. The tension in Wonder's voice boils over at this point into an angry growl, but then subsides again as he ends the song on a positive note. In commercial radio airplay, the spoken dialog is usually edited out, possibly because the word "nigger" is used as he is thrown into a jail cell. Also, the last two verses, following this scenario, are omitted as well.
The spoken interlude can be seen as an electro-acoustic experiment, exploring the composer's main sensory input. Stevie Wonder's growling voice reveals the inner rage that has been building throughout the song, accentuating the social commentary of the lyrics.