You Can’t Use that Word: Epilogue

The N WordPost script:

After this op-ed essay went to final editing and was readied for posting I was engaged in a conversation with a co-worker about the essay and he brought to my attention a particular song  and its lyrics by the HipHop/Rap artist Nas. I think it is very relevant to the the topic at hand and I now include a short discussion as follows:

On October 12, 2007, HipHop performer Nas announced that his next album would be called “Nigger”. Both sides of the fence from so-called black progressive activists, such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, as well as right wing venues, such as Fox News, strenuously objected to the album’s title.   Jackson, in fact had been calling on all entertainers to stop using the word after comedian Michael Richards (aka Kramer on Seinfeld) used it onstage in late 2006. Pressure and controversy grew from inside the recording industry as the album’s release date drew closer. Nas’s own management team worried that the album would not be sold by chain stores such as Wal-Mart thus limiting its distribution and of course potential profits. NAS

And while there were supporters who believed and trusted Nas for his use of the word nigger as the title of his album, eventually on May 19, 2008, Nas decided to forgo an album title. In a statement Nas said “It’s important to me that this album gets to the fans. It’s been a long time coming. I want my fans to know that creatively and lyrically, they can expect the same content and the same messages. The people will always know what the real title of this album is and what to call it.”

The album was ultimately released on July 15, 2008, untitled.

I do not count HipHop as one of my favorite forms of entertainment or music but in Nas I readily admit that while I may not thoroughly enjoy his “rap” I am enthralled with his erudite and ingenious use of words as well as eye-opening and intelligent use of poignant historical and social imagery sometimes so obscure that I run scurrying onto the internet to enlighten myself to what he is making reference. One selection in particular from his “Nigger” album was  brought to my attention that is chock full of examples of his genius and thought proving word play which is the cut entitled, “Y’all My Niggas”. In the lyrics to this selection he makes what I consider some very salient points that I believe go hand in hand with my views on the word nigger. The opening words to his lyrics are exactly what the truth is about the word nigger and I have included those words, as well as the lyrics in their entirety here.  I have highlighted specific sections that I believe to be relevant, (and surprisingly similar to my own words and thoughts) to his discussion on this volatile word:

“Y’all My Niggas”

We use the word everyday
Now we don’t know the capacity of this word
Are we headed for conflict or not? (Yes sir)
Because we did not break down the capacity
Of the same what (The same word)
Brothers and sisters, this is why we hung up the consciousness
We’ve been taught wrongJesse

[Verse 1]
Find a room to lock yourself in and close the door
It’s some heavy concepts that we gotta explore
We gotta strip the word down rugged and raw
The rhetoric of Martin King just ain’t around no more
Du Bois ain’t here, James Baldwin neither, they all were leaders

But they ain’t help me get this Porsche two seater
A lawyer left the hood, he never looked back
To be a Forture 500 CEO and took rap
So what if my pants sag with my hat turned back?
The same swag got our merchandise flying off the rack
Marketing companies is hiring blacks

Fresh hip-hop lingo for your campaign ads
Controversy surrounds who could say it and when
Some niggas are full time, some play and pretend
So fuck that, no apologies on the issue
If it offends you it’s meant to, it’s that simple

Tryin’ to erase me from y’all memory
Too late, I’m engraved in history (I’m here my niggas!)
Speak my name and breathe life in me
Make sure y’all never forget me (‘Cause y’all give me life!)
‘Cause y’all use my name so reckless
Whether to be accepted or disrespected (And I love it!)
And I love it, especially when y’all do it in public
And I’m the subject
‘Cause y’all my niggas

[Verse 2]
Yo, I was thinkin’ a little bit
What would it take to authenticate my nigganess?
Ball ridiculous? 26 inches when I call up the dealership?
Aww that’s some nigga shit

We only out for our own benefit?
We havin’ too many kids?

We Claudines? Welfare recipients?
The infamous free clinics is the sickest shit

Make me think what the hell they clean they syringes with
Everybody bleeding, the cops are the demons
Courtrooms full of goons, jail buses leanin’
Handcuffs squeezed too tight on youth life

If you fight they just give in, people used to do sit ins
They got Nigeria and Niger, two different countries
Somehow Niger turned to nigger, and shit got ugly
The problem is we started thinking like the colonists
‘Til Noble Drew Ali started droppin’ that consciousness

[Chorus] soda

 [Verse 3]
My father was not a banker, neither was my neighbor
When it came to gettin’ paper

who the hell was gonna train us?
Oppression couldn’t escape us through the ages

We changed the basis of derogatory phrases
And I say it’s quite amazing
The use of ghetto terms developed our own language
No matter where it came from
It’s celebrated, now people are mad if they ain’t one

Every word we use, it has a capacity
And if you don’t understand the words you’re using
And understand the capacity of it
You are using words that is creating a destiny for you
That you don’t even know, or even conscious of


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  1. I have to admit that some of this series did make me uncomfortable, but I applaud you for having the conviction to write on this topic as well as you did, and for posting this prologue.

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