By: Joe Cardoso
It’s around us daily in some shape or form. From TV to local bars to sporting events, it’s everywhere. What am I talking about, you ask? Hip-hop music. The genre has taken rock’s spot as the sound of a generation if not the world. With the popularity of it, the fan base has expanded so that what was once the voice of the African American community in urban areas has spread out to the American suburbs and the streets in London and Asia. Hip-hop music has become so popular that now non blacks are growing up listening to it. You might even say it has become part of the soundtrack to their lives. The internet has made the world smaller than ever, and it has given us easy access to everything.
Even so, one thing that doesn’t change is the history of a nation. For America, the HUGE black eye in our history is slavery and the brutal racism faced by blacks both in the past and today. With that in mind comes one word associated with that history that also happens to run rampant in hip-hop: the N-word. The meaning of the word is very different depending who you talk to.
Most black people have friends outside of their race who we grew up with; many we consider family. They love hip-hop as much as we do, so what happens when the beat drops and the song starts? What should they do when a favorite MC drops the N-bomb? It’s a question I never thought about until I saw the video of the fans celebrating after Alabama Crimson Tide won the college football national championship this year. After the game, thousands of tide fans, mostly white, were celebrating the win. The DJ, who was black, played M.A.A.D City by Kendrick Lamar. It’s a dope song always gets me hype at the gym or after a bad day at work, but the lyrics aren’t something I would recite to my mama.
“Man down, Where you from N***a?”
“F**k who you know, where you from my N***a?”
“Where your grandma stay, huh my N***a?”
“This M.A.A.D city I run, my n***a”
Now I ain’t gonna lie. I was born and raised in the ‘burbs. The only real struggle I had growing up was Pepsi or Coke with dinner. I’m not ignorant. I know that it’s due to my parents’ hard work that I was, and still am, blessed and highly favored. A ton of issues and events that most minorities go through are not part of my personal experience. Or maybe I have experienced these issues and just been too naive to notice them? Anyway, in M.A.A.D City Kendrick paints a picture of the environment he is from and the mentality of the residents. He wants the listener to feel what it’s like for him and the people in Compton, to know what they go through daily. I have to wonder though, whether a bunch of white people chanting his lyrics is what he envisioned when he wrote it?
Truth be told, I didn’t even see anything wrong at first. I just saw a bunch of hip-hop fans excited about winning a National Championship getting turned up to a dope song. Well, that is NOT how a lot of other people, black and white, felt at all. So I did what any good journalist would do. I went to the people – male and female, black and white – and asked them what they thought. The responses I got ran the gamut of emotions. For me, it was eye-opening how much I didn’t think about when I saw and reposted the clip. My question to them was to describe their feeling about anyone who isn’t black singing the N-word in a song lyric. The responses are below…
“I feel like if they want to abolish the word we should cut it out of society altogether. No one can say it. How stupid is it to say I can say it but you cannot? It’s purposeful sabotage and ignorant coming from anyone.” James Byus
“They can rap… but not that word. Ever.” Letisha Brown
“I might be the wrong person to ask… I have a problem with black people using the N-word. To me, it’s not empowering or ok. When you truly understand the history & the vile hatred behind the word, nobody should want to use it. When it comes out of MY mouth, you’ve pushed me to my limits and it ain’t NUTHIN nice. I cringe and shudder when I hear it. I don’t understand AND never will how folks can use it SOOO easily and not give it a second thought. Images of Emmit Till, Medgar Evers, limp bodies hanging from trees & those 4 little girls that died on that Sunday morning in Birmingham are what it will ALWAYS mean to me…” Laurina Cardoso
“The impact of that word has been lost on the newer generation. It truly doesn’t hold the same weight to a lot because of the music. Me personally… [I] don’t say it. A lot of the impact before our current president was that racism was dead to a certain part of the population, but it only takes one time to be called out your name to remember the impact of the word N***a and to know that it’s not a word for everyone. I heard this speaker once say everything isn’t for everyone…and people need to stop thinking that just because one group does it…they should automatically be allowed to do it too.” Francisco Leonard
“I don’t have a problem with it. I would be a hypocrite considering that I also drop the N-bomb when signing along or just in everyday conversations” Nate Butler
“It’s a new generation and new rules. I don’t see anything wrong with it. Black people are dominating the entertainment world and young white kids want to be cool too. We all knew it was only matter of time before the word “n***a” became the main stream. Some people are upset but I see it as a form of flattery.” Dave Matthews
“I’ll start with I don’t like the word personally in any form – with an ‘a’ the end or ‘er’ – I’ll get back to that later – and no one should use the word because it’s offensive. But in my opinion – this, like everything, has to evolve and what I mean by that is hip hop is not going to stop using the word in song lyrics and if that holds true then the thinking has to evolve – meaning if an artist is going to put the word in song lyrics then they have to understand that white people will be buying their product and will be singing their songs and lyrics – even if it includes words that some find offensive. That artist can’t really be can’t be offended – they are happy to take both the album sales $$ and ticket sale $$ – it’s not a situation of ‘do as I say – not as I do’ like our parents used to tell us. If the word was truly offensive to the artist, then I feel they wouldn’t/shouldn’t include it in their lyrics. And if the artist wanted others to stop the use of the word they would stop using it themselves – they know that what they wear their fans will buy that is why artists do endorsement deals. If they are going to ‘endorse’ the use of the word they have to understand others will use it also – if not, they would a hypocrite to be offended that someone else used that same word. To my comment about the spelling with ‘a’ or ‘er’ at the end – in all honesty, if you’re talking about language it does matter as it can easily change the meaning of a word as seen on Jeopardy this year
“It turns out that ‘gangsta’ and ‘gangster’ are both listed separately in the Oxford English Dictionary, each with its own unique definition,” the post read. “Nick changed not only the song’s title but also its meaning-making his response unacceptable.”
So to give you a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer is somewhat difficult, but I don’t think the word – in any spelling form – should be used. As a side note – I believe it’s an anchor that gives racist white people something to cling to and if it was removed from more peoples vocabulary it’s one less item to ‘teach’ others about hatred if there isn’t a word that is synonymous with it – like the N word is” Matt Smith
To say this brings up all types of emotions from people is an understatement. I know it certainly took my thoughts all over the place. I’ve been a fan of hip-hop for years and can recite lyrics to almost anyone, but I don’t use the N-word in everyday conversation; never have. I’m not sure why, but it’s just not me. I think because of how I was raised and who I was raised around, I don’t find myself being offended when people who aren’t black rap along to a song we BOTH love. Also my white friends don’t use the word around me…
For sure the topic is sensitive to an entire culture and will always be, but when it comes to the entertainment industry have the rules changed? What do you think?