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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Nas Nixes “Nigger”
Friday, May 23, 2008

Although all parties involved are saying the decision came about mutually and was not a result of any pressure whatsoever, Nas’ upcoming album has had its title changed from Nigger to Nas. Now, anyone with half a brain knows that someone in marketing said “Wal-Mart isn’t going to stock this if it’s called Nigger. Wal-Mart is the number on retailer of CDs. Clearly the title needs to be changed.” I actually have no problem with this for one very big reason; it had become clear that the album had been named Nigger not to spark any kind of intellectual debate, but rather just to hype an album. This, I feel, is disgusting.

If Nas had wanted to spark some kind of nationwide roundtable about the language of racism I would have been all for the naming of his album Nigger, but I never heard any talk of the sort. What’s worse is the press, my own peers, didn’t help matters by dancing around the subject. The big question people were asking everyone was “what do you think of Nas naming his album Nigger” rather than the more pertinent questions of “how do you feel when you hear the word nigger,” “what is your comfort level of hearing the word as an album title” and “how will an album named Nigger affect the word itself?” No no, it was what do you think of Nas’ decision. It was all about Nas, not the word, which leads me to believe this was not a social statement at all, but rather a publicity stunt to get people talking about him again, much like his much ballyhooed beef with Jay-Z.

An album named Nigger by an artist who still has credibility to many as an MC who can make in impact could have been a huge step in the right direction in terms of dealing with the ugly lexicon of hatred. During the months leading up to the album’s release we could have been hearing about the history of the word, why it’s so reviled, and why it should make everyone feel uncomfortable. Nigger is still one of the most powerful words of hate in the English language and continued conversation about it is an important thing if we want to educate the masses about it.

I remember speaking with a friend of mine who is an English teacher. He was reading aloud to his high school class from a book that used the word nigger. My friend is white, one of his students is black. He told me this student was “cool” and she didn’t say anything about it when the word came up. My reaction was she would have been much cooler had she stood up and said “I know you’re the teacher, but that’s a very offensive word.” Of course the appropriate response is then “I know, and I would never say it on my own, but it’s part of this text, which is historical. During the time it was written the word was, unfortunately, used regularly.” It may seem like a small exchange to some, but it’s an important one. It would have shown all the other white students in the class that despite the word being in a book the language is still inappropriate. It also would have opened the door for further discussion about the role of race and racism in the book and in society in general. Most importantly it wouldn’t have just left the word out there, like it was a part of everyday language. That’s actually one of the most dangerous aspects of all of this, the lessening of the impact of the word.

Nas’ just sort of left the word out there after he announced he was planning on naming his album Nigger. There was no call for debate. It didn’t accomplish anything. The Nas album will forever be known as the missed opportunity to create a discussion within a youth culture about the language of hatred. So while I agree that an album titled Nigger could make an impact, apparently Nas isn’t the right artist to make that happen. I’m sure it wasn’t his decision to change the album’s title, but in the end that doesn’t even matter since he wasn’t using the situation to its fullest potential. Perhaps someday we’ll find an artist with the kind of moxie to release an album simply titled Nigger, but for now we’re stuck with Nas. It almost seems like he lost a battle he never had any intention of winning. Was it really all about the hype? If so, don’t tell me you’re trying to make a social statement when the only statement you’re really looking to make is “look at me.”

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posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:59 AM  
3 Comments:
  • At 8:51 AM, Blogger Ketchums said…

    When the album title first got out there, I was really indifferent about it. But after hearing the song that leaked, "N.I.G.G.E.R.," I'm really looking forward to hearing what he talks about. The first verse of that song really heightened my expectations of this, because it looks like he's taking it seriously. Plus, peep the MTV preview of it...they talk about some songs that are really heavy conceptually, esp. the "Project Roach" song.

     
  • At 2:20 PM, Blogger Beyond Race said…

    Nas needs to move "Beyond Race."

     
  • At 1:22 PM, Blogger Claudia Alick said…

    I have a poem where I call my older brother and Condelessa Rice house niggas. I feel very conflicted about it. It's a post modern critique on african american and gay republicans but it utalizes the tools of oppression. By using the word the way I do I become a house nigga opressing my own brothers and sisters (even if they have stupid fucked up politics) I've performed the poem in front of countless audiences- conservative, liberal, gay, black, european, american, city, small town, white--but check this biggest responce I ever got was in Montanan where a white lady stood up, scrreamed "you should be more respectful Condellessa is your hero!" and stomped out. Awesome! This was what I was trying to do by using such a charged word. I think it's extremely telling that wall mart is cool with folks SAYING nigger but they don't want to see it on the cover of the album. Racism is OK as long as you keep it in the closet..much like many gay republicans...HOUSE NIGGAS!

     
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