PR stunt, fashion statement or just plain ignorance?

Last week Sunday, I watched the 50th annual Grammy awards and experienced a number of disappointments: Beyonce’s wardrobe, the background music during Kanye acceptance speech and the word “Nigger” plastered across rapper Nas’s chest.

My initial thought was “I can’t be seeing this on one of the most important nights in music and someone just had to go and act a fool”. To make matters worse he was not the only one wearing this ‘untimely’ (February, Black history month) red carpet get up. The rapper was accompanied by his wife Kelis and about three members of his entourage.

Putting my personal feelings aside towards the term and its many appropriated meanings, I realized that the “Nigger” attire was worn for promotional purposes. To create some buzz for his up coming album conveniently titled, “Nigger”. Rumours had been circulating about the album title since 2006 when Nas wanted to title his last album “the N” however he opted for the less controversial, but equally disturbing “Hip hop is dead”.

For me all this ‘scheming’ seems quite strange as it simply adds to one shady resume. All this coming from the man who delivered one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time 1994’s Illmatic. At a time when Nas established himself as a young gifted poet to the hip-hop world often described as a conscious rapper and a talented lyricist.

So, since then what happened? Some may say he feel off, or he’s getting to old for the rap game…well I think he is doing what many of the major corporations are doing today, he is simply changing with the times. Doing whatever he needs to in order to stay relevant and his attempts through my eyes have worked. Although I am unsure if things had gone the way he or his publicist wanted them to. I watched both pre-Grammy shows on E! and ET Canada but neither of their correspondents spoke to him, however, we can always depend on (the people’s choice) CNN.

 I feel that Nas is trying to take strength away from such a historically racial word with such strong loaded meanings, particularly the fact that “we can all be niggers”. This was supported by his wife, who stated that John Lennon shared some similar views as Nas concerning the term on “Women are the niggers of the world”.

Is he educating the hip hop community or discrediting the hip hop community?

I’ll  leave it for you to decide.


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  1. * Lisa Caroline Leung says:

    This is super interesting, thanks for bringing it up Felesia.

    I’m so conflicted with this. Part of me loves the shock value of it, and (I didn’t see the CNN vid yet mind) if he’s trying to use the word in such a way so as to weaken the word, then that’s commendable, but…it’s still that word.
    I see what he’s doing, and what he’s trying to accomplish (if it goes beyond shock publicity) but it still makes me uncomfortable.
    I appreciate that we can use the word to bring awareness and attention to the situation, but I worry that it can/will/is misused and misunderstood, which then leads to further abuse, etc.
    “Women are the niggers of the world” is true, but do we have to put it that way? In some cases, yes, for the shock. But shock dies quickly and we’ll need another strong way of stating this problem.
    I guess what I’m saying is, I appreciate the move towards changing our society for better, raising awareness etc., but we need lasting, meaningful solutions that benefit everyone, not just Nas + crew.
    I’m not condemning him, I just will not use the word myself (except when talking about it like this) because it simply makes me uncomfortable.

    The N-word issue is one that is truly intriguing, among other things. Why is it okay for someone black to use it? Why is it okay to hear it in hip hop songs? Why do we feel we have to call it the “n-word” despite being ‘okay’ to say other obsenities in public? We all let it go, or support it at different times, in different contexts. I think we’re all confused as a society over something that, in my opinion, should have very little room for discussion. Unfortunately we all know it’s not that simple.

    In many ways the black stuggle reminds me of the female struggle. For so long, people worked so hard to even things out, make them equal. And now, the generation that is reaping the rewards/opportunity seems to be throwing the fought-for rights and standing right out the window.

    I want to end this massive comment with the explanation my friend Mad gave me for why he doesn’t like to use the word. Mad is one of those outstanding young individuals that does a lot for the black community (he started the first black frat in Canada) so I value what he has to say.
    He said (roughly) “I won’t use the word because it was a word that was used for generations to put down my ancestors. Not even far-off ancestors, but family that I still knew, or family that I have pictures of on my wall. It’s closer than that. So when I hear people using the word that was meant to degrade my people and take away their hope and identity, it makes me sad, and it makes me wonder what we fought so hard for.”

    Posted 10 years, 4 months ago
  2. * Lisa Caroline Leung says:

    I’m back.
    THIS is a statement:

    (if that doesn’t work click here.)
    Tommie Smith and John Carlos receiving their gold and bronze medals at the 1968 Olympic Games medal ceremony, raising their black-gloved fists in a TRULY POWERFUL STATEMENT.
    I just watched the CNN clip. Interesting. (And I would like to re-state my prediction from our conversation today: Nas and Kelis are going to make the angriest babies EVER.) I agree with a lot of what he’s saying, but it’s not helping I guess, it’s only going to make people angrier. Yes, we should be angry, and we should know why we’re angry, but this is not the solution. More angry people won’t help. More angry people is not a solution. If the angry people actually do something about the situation, then I guess it can be part of a solution. I hope it works out that way. Problem is, anger is usually counterproductive to solving anything.
    I’m gonna go listen to some Illmatic now. I need some good, ol’ fashioned, regular-strength angered Nas right now.

    Posted 10 years, 4 months ago
  3. * rkbowen says:

    It’s funny how Nas is trying to take the ignorance away from the word, but yet, to many he is seen as ignorant for using the word as the title of his album, and also for his response in the CNN interview. I think that if it really was a political stand for him then his response would have reflected that. All i saw was hostility. And as much as they might say otherwise, it was just an attempt to gain publicity for his album by creating some media tension. I’ve seen him in several magazine articles so clearly it has been working. So much for progress.

    Posted 10 years, 3 months ago
  4. * clothespress says:

    Thanks for the feedback ladies. 🙂

    Lisa, “angry babies” is so right! I find them to be one of the music industries most interesting couples, and I guess that’s why it works.

    Rhonda, I too have listened to several interviews with Nas since the red carpet and have watched several videos as well and I must admit that oddly enough everything I see or hear something, I feel a stronger sense of understanding of why he does what he does. Whether it’s dragging a wooden cross in “Hate me now” or naming his album the ‘N’ word.

    This controversy is all so intriguing. Nas is definitely a complex guy and you can believe I will continue to follow his diverse ploys and no matter what remain a fan of his music.

    Posted 10 years, 3 months ago

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