Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Nas- pushing the envelope with the N word

After getting plenty of fans peeved when he laid flowers on hip-hop's grave last time, rapper Nas is pushing buttons again by resurrecting the N word even after it seemed to get buried in the backlash against Michael Richards' racist remarks. His new single "Be A Nigger Too" takes off from the old Dr. Pepper ad ("wouldn't you like to be a Pepper too?"), with proudly anti-PC lyrics. Like Lenny Bruce before him, he knows the power of harmful words and tries to deconstruct them, even if it means he'll take heat for it (which he has already).

After starting out by announcing "Real niggers are back on the radio" (which is funny because something like this wouldn't be played on the radio), he pardons himself for Islam, brushes off criticism of the NAACP and frames the inner-racial conflict as: "Fighting in public in front of these arrogant fascists/they love it." Is he mad at Eminem for dropping the N word? Nope, he says "we all black within," which you can take to mean the hip-hop community or maybe even something wider about humanity.

Then comes the really un-PC stuff, which you can take in a number of ways. Nas talks about showing off his cars and bling and getting rich off the N word (and telling critics to pucker up at his crotch)- maybe he's spitting in face of the PC police or maybe he's also thumbing his nose at rappers who blindly spew out the N word.

But then after copping the Pepper theme ("I'm a nigger, he's a nigger, she's a nigger, we some niggers, wouldn't you like to be a nigger too?"), he ups the ante:

"To all my kike niggers, spic niggers, guinea niggers, chink niggers, that's right/you're all my niggers too"

If that's not pissing on political correctness, I don't know what is. And as much as I hate derogatory, racist terms like those (I'm Jewish myself), I also think that Nas is shoving our face in our own still-racist society to say that we're not over it yet and we still have issues to deal with, much like Barack Obama tried to tell the nation after the Reverend Wright controversy. Or you can take that as Nas trying to juice some controversy by throwing around racial epithets.

But to Nas's credit, he doesn't leave it there either. To anyone who admires hard-ass rappers and wants to be like them, he has a message too.

"They like to strangle niggers, blame the niggers, shooting niggers, hanging niggers/still you want to be a nigger too?"

The reaction to this single has been ranging from excitement that Nas is back to anger over his controversial lyrics and the feeling that he's trying to stir up trouble again. Even if you don't agree with everything that he's saying, he's not only got a right to say it but he's also brave for diving into the murky waters surrounding these controversies about race and semantics. It'll be interesting to see if fans follow him there and think about what he's saying too.

When he proclaimed "Hip Hop is Dead," there was a lot of anger, followed by a lot of soul-searching. Maybe the same will happen here.


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