Friday, April 13, 2007

What did you call me!? Songs about the dreaded "N-word"(sort of)

One of the most interesting things to come out of the firing of "The Cryptkeeper"(Imus) isn't that a crotchety old man said some extremely insensitive things about a group of defenseless young women, its how the topic somehow veered off course and became a referendum on rap music. Right wing commentators weren't the only ones who saw this as topical red meat either, even some black social commentators that I dearly respected started beating that very worn drumbeat as well - acting as if that argument wasn't already filled with more holes than Courtney Love's underwear drawer. Even if you saw only a few moments of news coverage over the past week, I bet you dollars to donuts that you saw some black person on your television screen passionately saying something like "We have to do something about rap music! The negative images, the misogyny, this is our chance to put it in check!!" That's the problem right there, many of these highly educated people should really know better based on a truth that I'm sure many parents around the world teach their ten year old's. That simple lesson being that nothing good ever comes out of broad generalizations. Sentences that begin with "All black people..", "Every gay person..", and "All women.." tend to not have the happiest of endings. Hip Hop is more than 30 years old, and it's the only genre that people tend to know nothing about but somehow feel right at home breaking down ad nauseum, the only genre where names like Bill O'Reilly and Wynton Marsalis are synonymous based on their blissful ignorance when it comes to Hip Hop.

The one thing that people of that ilk don't understand is that I fundamentally agree with their arguments, I can sit with them and watch B.E.T, MTV, or listen to the radio and echo the sentiments that what we are listening to is setting our people back 100 years or more. But that's not Hip Hop, that's "Clear Channel Hip Hop" or "Uncle Tom's Cabin" rap if you will, hardly examples that are representative of the artform. It's kind of like telling a Beatles fan, or a Jimi Hendrix fan in the 80's that the plethora of hair bands of the day represented rock music as a whole.

But what is surprising to me is how easily usually well intentioned black folks are getting pulled into an argument that all of us have been universally rebuking since our mother's passed us through their bodies: That argument being "If you can say the word N*gger, why can't I say it?" That's what this is all about, all of the white people who feverishly point to the "bitches and hoe's" in Hip Hop and openly wonder why Imus was fired for using that same kind of language, the black folks so eager to criticize the likes of Snoop Dog that they don't realize the diseased waters that they have been pulled into - the whole debate is just a glorified version of the question posed by white people across the globe: "You can say N*gger, why can't I?"

I won't go into how conflicted I've been over the "N-Word" the past few years, how trying to ban the word is akin to a child plugging his ears and screaming "LA-LA-LA-LA-LA" - I'll just provide some random Hip Hop songs that attempt to tackle the subject, sort of.(Some tackle it, others let it run past for the score. ahem.)Peace to Brother Omi.

Ice Cube: "The Nigga Ya love to Hate"

Jeru the Damaja
: "The Frustrated Nigga"

Mos Def: "Mr Nigga"

Boogie Down Productions: "House Niggas"

The Coup: "I Ain't the Nigga"

A Tribe Called Quest: "Sucka Nigga"

Public Enemy: "Anti-Nigger Machine"

N.W.A: "Niggas 4 Life"


jameil1922 said...

i love mr. nigga! fantastic song.

Anonymous said...

That is something I attempted to get across to many other blogs, but it's hard to get through to a rock!

Belve said...

Great thought provoking post. Sadly it is the proverbial istance of preaching to the choir. I can almost hear it in your tone too, the "I'm so sick and tired of defending something that is painfully obvious and that isn't even given the time of day in normal everyday thought process. Whats worse is I notice when folks shut up and agree because they figure I won that round but don't take the time to listen to what I say. But the Hair Band analogy is great. I will have to use that too.

Also Big Up to using The Coup. I used to play that back when I was even aware of what was really being said.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to respectfully add:
Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. - 2Pac
Wrong Nigga to Fuck Wit - Ice Cube
Shame on a Nigga - Wu Tang Clan

Lola $malls Darling said...

You pointed out that deep down inside white people everywhere are using this to ask the age old question, "If you can say N*gger/ N*gga why can't I?" but what you fail to address after the fact is the double standard. White people, I know that you'd really like to be able to use the N-word ever so freely like you used to. I know your children and grandchildren have all come home suffering a bruise or two from using the word amongst their black friends and while you were consoling their tears you became frustrated wondering why a simple use of the word has caused bodily harm to one of your own when back in the day it would only harm the black person. Well, I am just going to have to let you know, it's a DOUBLE STANDARD. Black people can say it all day long from now until the end of time but it will NEVER be okay for you, my dear white counterparts, to say it. Never.

Anonymous said...

It's not a double standard, it's a clash of cultures.

Post Script: Great blog HC. I've been a lurker for almost a year.

Will said...

I think the best response to "If you can say n*****, why can't I?"


"Why the fuck do you want to call me a n*****? What difference does it make if I give you permission to be a racist prick?"

Will said...

Oh, I thought of another song...

Goodie Mob - The Experience


Leonard said...

Open your mind. "Nigger" is what you make of it. From my experience both white and black people can say it with trust and friendship. But they can also do the opposite. I find it's one hell of a built up word over nothing. (No offence intended) but it's just the same as any other offensive word to me. It's not WHAT you say, but HOW you say it. I can call my friends (both black and white) anything from niggers to gays and they know it is neither derogatory of offensive. It's all about the meaning behind the word, NOT the word itself. People need to lighten up and recognise that. I'm not saying it's entirely acceptable for white guys to call black people niggers and use this as their defense; far from it, I just feel that it's the same as any "cuss" word: It's HOW you use it that matters.

DJ Black Adam said...

Well, I have a different reason for most for not using the word (or trying not to), I believe there are some spiritual ramifications regarding whatever words we chose.

However, you summed it up pretty well; it does go back to the “If black people can say it, WHY CAN’T I” White folk argument.

tom said...

another part of this is how much of black language becomes american english in time, from 'jazz' to 'cool' to 'hip' to all sorts of 'slang' (hell, maybe even the word 'slang'!), so white america is so used to taking over black language that it can't understand why it can't take these words too. in this light, it's almost a tribute to the value of black american culture. imitiation is the sincerest form of flattery.