in Black Folk

Nas, The “N-word” and the veneer of artistry

If you haven’t yet heard about it, Nas — the rapper — has decided to name his newest album Nigger.

That’s right. He’s going to blunt the word into irrelevance. Or so it seems. Is this a remarkable show of hubris from an artist or there something else at play here?

It’s actually pretty simple, I think. Nas will be accused of pushing the envelope and probably feels quite passionately about what he’s doing. But I’m not quite sure it’s all that complicated, really.

My suspicion is that he figures for hundreds of years, the word was used to dehumanize a group of people. Being a seemingly well read (if completely confused) guy based on his past body of work, Nas is clearly figuring that “I’d rather profit from the word, because that’s the ultimate sign of defiance.”

Cute. And the marketplace will reward and revile him at the same time. And the delicious irony of certain kids going to music stores to request the album probably will be worth the price of admission — provided it were charged — although no one buys music on wax or CD anymore. really doesn’t matter after all.

Here’s a single from the album. I won’t even tell you the title. It’s too annoying.

I imagine this lil’ publicity stunt will irk his base more than it’ll provoke actual dialogue. But he’s not concerned with that. After all, it’s all about ‘moving units’. (that’s selling albums for the uninitiated.) At it’s best, the whole scheme is intellectually lazy. His peers in the ‘rap game’ will defend their use of the word to their graves, are just going to be enabled by this. Copycat albums from southern rappers will follow, with gratuitous use of the world sprinkled liberally as if it were sugar in my oatmeal. It would’ve been far more clever to call the album HNIC or something else. At least then, it’d have a small sliver of wit involved.

But nope. no such cleverness or creativity is to be found in the era of

Perhaps one of the best things that could come from this is that people will hear the word enough that they’ll be disinclined to use it. Not because “words hurt”, but instead because there are a myriad of other words that would be far more productive and would expand the ways in which those inclined to say it could express themselves. It would be pretty hilarious if it could induce rappers to engage in contests to see who can use bigger words in their tracks. Or use them in the proper context. Is that what this is all about anyway, expression?

No one complains about rock lyrics, because they don’t matter. Rock music doesn’t take itself very seriously, even when the artists are serious about their craft. Hip-hop at its core is all about the verbal jousting and wordplay. The verbiage is the frosting AND the cake. Sure, great beats help. But the words will sell a track in the end. The double standard might suck, but it is what it is. And with hip-hop having gone pop, the bar isn’t anywhere near it used to be. It’s much less a hurdle now and merely a puddle to avoid on the way to stardom and infamy.