This situation surrounding the new Nas album is odd to say the least. First of all, people were taken aback to find out that Nas was going to name his 2008 album “Nigger”. If you were paying attention he originally going to name his 2006 offering “Hip Hop Is Dead: The Nigger”. Anyone who made a knee jerk reaction to the title of this new album before doing any legwork or getting any information on it first gets the gas face.
Right before the album was about to drop he removed the song “The N” from the album and decided that he would save his “Nigger” theme for his next album. The title of this album should’ve surprised no one, especially the executives at Def Jam. That didn't stop them from ultimately caving to outside pressure and forcing Nas to deliver the album sans the word "Nigger" on front. We all know what the album is really called anyways so who really cares?
Is the word “nigger” really that shocking to hear or offensive anymore? I mean people that aren't even Black claim that the word makes them “uncomfortable” and all but why? If you’ve ever bought a Rap/Hip Hop album I’m sure you’ve heard the word before. If you’ve been to a Hip Hop show chances are you may have heard the word before. Remember that scene between Romany Malco and Kevin Hart in "40 Year Old Virgin"? Did you laugh or were you apalled and offended at their usage of the "N word" ? Ever laughed during an episode of "The Boondocks"?
We live in a world where Busta Rhymes will do a show to a packed audience of 30,000 and he’ll scream out “Where my niggas is at?” and the entire crowd will make noise even though only about 25-30% of them are of Black or Latino descent. I didn't see Busta get offended, stop the show and chide the "non niggas" in the crowd for making noise so I guess it's whatever, right?
I grew up in Boston and I’ve been all over the northeastern US and I’ve been among White kids, Latinos and Asians that grew up in the inner city and refer to themselves and their friends of the same ethnicity as “nigga” and are called “nigga” as well by their Black and Latino friends and peers.
If you’ve ever seen a comedy routine by a Black comic then chances are that depending on what channel you saw it on he probably used the “N word”. From Richard Pryor to Eddie Murphy to Martin Lawrence to Chris Rock to Dave Chappelle to Jamie Foxx to Katt Williams I'm sure you sat through a "niggafest" or twenty in your lifetimes.
It’s even began to pop up in porn over the past couple of years which is both funny and disturbing in my opinion. I mean, how can I even get offended over a White female porn star getting piped by a gang of Black dudes using the N word when she’s previously had sex with a bunch of Black dudes over her career? Which brings me to another point regarding the word and it’s usage.
You can even have the word “nigger” or it’s derivative “nigga” spoken and used all over an album. You can even have the word or it’s deravitive on the back of the album where it has the tracklisting but it can’t be on the front of the album. Talk about hypocrisy!
In a world where Michael Richards, Dog The Bounty Hunter and Charlie Sheen are caught either on video or a taped phone conversation using the word are we really still that shocked and unnerved by it as a nation? I mean really? If the word “nigger” is really so offensive to non Blacks then people would abandon displaying the confederate flag in public. I find that act 1000x times more offensive than the simple utterance of the word. It tells me that the person who says “nigger” isn’t alone and everyone in the area who allows that flag to fly feels the same way as that one narrow minded, ignorant individual.
If N.W.A. can have a career that exploded due to the fact that with each album the more they said “nigga” on an LP, the better the album sold and the more popular they became then why can’t Nas make an album examining the word and the stereotyped pervading Black culture (the word "nigga" is still there..just backwards!)? Is Paul Mooney allowed to make a career out of it but Nas can’t make this one album? Is Dave Chappelle allowed to do so but not Nas? Is Katt Williams allowed to do so but not Nas?
H. Rap Brown wrote a book entitlted “Die Nigger Die”. John Lennon made a song called “The Woman Is The Nigger Of The World”. Richard Pryor made albums called “That Nigger’s Crazy” and “Bicentennial Nigger”. Patti Smith made a song called “Rock N’ Roll Nigger”. If John Lennon. Yoko Ono and Patti Smith can understand the meaning and usage of the word “nigger” in the context of their own music then how come Nas is getting grief for using the same creative and artistic license in 2008? This isn’t America is it?
How people can get all up in arms over Nas’ album or the subject matter when people in other genres of art and entertainment can freely explore the word in their own way boggles the mind. Did we forget about Randall Kennedy’s book “Nigger: The Strange Career Of A troublesome Word” that dropped back in 2002? If he (Kennedy), a renowned scholar can explore the history of this word then surely Nas can through music, right? It would only make sense considering that he’s a talented and intelligent Black wordsmith and he’s one of the most well regarded artists of the past 15 years.
This album is not a publicity stunt. None of us that were alive back in the 60’s or 70’s that grew up with Hip Hop culture believe that. None of us that were alive when Apartheid was still in effect and Nelson Mandela was still locked up on Robben Island believe that. Those of us that used to get in trouble for coming to school rocking “Divest From South Africa” or Inkatha Freedom Party T-shirts believe that. None of us that remember a time when if you saw a brown face on TV you celebrated believe that.
The word “nigger” is a hurtful word that was created to demean a person and make then feel less than human or insignificant. Knowing the history behind the word and it’s usage make it the nuclear bomb of slurs. The problem is that if you try to cover it up and forget it you are in effect giving that ugly word more power.
When you examine the word and it’s usage and history and context the power that word once had dissolves. Every time I’ve been called “nigger” in my life it affected me in some way, shape or form. I’ve had a wide array of responses ranging from full on rage leading to violence to complete shock and disbelief to me laughing it off and continuing to keep it moving. It all depended on the timing, usage and the context at that particular moment.
In July 2008, Nas is deciding to do what no one else has the balls to do and make an album with real meaning regarding a word that has a prime place in American history whether or not America wants to realize it. Some of us use it daily. Some of us absolutely hate the word and want nothing to do with it. Either way it’s not going away so we might as well suck it up and face it head on.
There is a nigger today. There was a nigger yesterday, and there’ll be a nigger tomorrow! © Gylan Kain