The Nas controversery regarding naming his new album "Nigger" should be contextualized.
The casual use of the word “Nigger” or “Nigga”* is counter revolutionary & self destructive. It’s an externalization of the reactionary self-hate complex characteristic of post-traumatic slave syndrome. However, the deep-seated psychology behind its common use and acceptance must be dealt with in a variety of prescriptive & therapeutic methods. Many of the conventional methods sought to deter its use are ineffectively weak in appealing to the broad segment of our society who naively underestimate its negative consequences and are most disenfranchised by its perpetual use (or mis-use, to avoid semantic dissonance).
However, I do draw a distinction between its common reactionary use and its pro-active revolutionary use within the context of art, & intellectual critique. The art medium is undeniably one of the most effective mediums of universal communication with the potential to be used as a negotiative, persuasive voice to convincingly deter the casual, careless use of the term “Nigger”. At the risk of mounting cliché’s (or stating the obvious), art influences life and vice versa. It must also be recognized that art offers an extremely valuable opportunity to effectively communicate complex socio-political-economic concepts to those who would not ordinarily seek information on their own terms. Art in its highest expressive form is an appealing, effortless, penetrating invocation of pertinent, useful information that speaks directly to the soul of each individual in a uniquely effective way. Art is often perceived to have spiritual dimensions, which lack the political disingenuousness or political motives that are perceived to be hidden behind informative mediums such as books, newspapers, conferences, the church, "leaders", etc…. In other words a critical intelligent assessment of “Nigger” within the context of art maybe the most effective and direct medium to achieve what many organizations are attempting to achieve indirectly. Hip Hop has the full undivided attention of the youth whom are most disenfranchised by its use.
While beyond the scope of this discussion, it must be stated that this whole debate takes the focus and pressure off the shady music corporate system of payola and the corporate A&R’s and talent scouts who carefully hand pick and nurture artists to promote decadence. Our energies should be focused on forcing corporations to incorporate intelligent artists, with thoughtful lyrics into their corporate promotional playlists, rather than focus our efforts on censoring the artist's available palette of words which are essential for full, articulate expression. The wholesale censorship and banning of words will unfortunately only result, in the rebellious, resentful desire to use "Nigger" even more. Angry pundits will only add flame to the fire.
“Nigger” has enormous significance within the cultural psyche and vernacular of black folks and must be given room for proper and gradual exorcism & expulsion.** A ban on the word from those perceived as ‘uppity’ (those who appear unsympathetic or out of tune with the ordinary everyday life experience of the working class) is ironically perceived by it’s embracees to be an attack on their “culture” and their expression. Many so called “street” brothers are endowed with a certain pride in their perseverance of “staying street” in spite of the systemic forces designed to kill or punish them (prison, army service) for their rejection & non participation in the system. In recognition that they have been disallowed & isolated from the best jobs and legitimate, worthwhile opportunities within the system they become reactionary outlaws with hopes of circumventing the system to achieve economic success. The embrace of this outlaw mentality is a form of pseudo maroonage, that rejects indoctrination or spoilage by the “mainstream”, “corporate” culture. Hence, “street brothers” or “G’s” are suspiciously resentful of the corporate class of blacks who they feel do not possess the moral high ground, or conviction or authority to dictate codes of conduct. My gut perception is that Nas’ announcement of a “Nigger” album is a symbolic gesture intended to openly reject the dictates of the uppity black bourgeois who he may perceive to be arrogantly overlooking the constructs of “thug legislature” or the moral G code that governs this outlaw way of life. Nonetheless, this move puts Nas in good standing with street brothers who recognize the significance (of this chess move).
I personally doubt that Nas has the ability or is the right person to pull off an entire constructive and meaningful “Nigger” concept album. He is undeniably inconsistent in producing positive songs and is not truly indebted to the “street code”*** that he professes. His own admission of being a "Columbia Record Slave" on his song Black Zombies should raise a flag and set off alarms!!! However (who am I to judge another man), I recognize that the positive songs that he has done are in many cases brilliantly complex (listen to Second Childhood) and indicate that he has the potential to pull it off. I've heard it said that If Malcolm X (El Hajj Malik Shabazz) had not been given a second chance than the world would have been denied his brilliance and we would have only known a pimp named Malcolm Little. Hell, even Prodigy (Mobb Deep) is threatening to become a Malcolm X. No one, should be denied an opportunity to create an album because of critical pre-determinism (which is just as bizarre and unjustifiable as pre-crime or the Bush administrations logic for preemptive-war). Much of the criticisms presented to date are based on 20 second sound bites of what the Media has selectively chosen to disclose on the issue. Moreover, it’s impossible to constructively critique the art without an example of the art at hand. While it is apparent that this album title is unlikely to materialize into reality, our energies should be spent critiquing the album if and when it does come into existence.
Notwithstanding, Mos Def’s classic “Mr. Nigga” is a justifiably, provocative, artistic rendition of the familiar social complexities of modern black life embroiled within the prevalence of white America’s unrelenting depreciative view of Afrikans as “Niggers”, in spite of the perceived advances in race relations. Denying Mos Def of the opportunity to use Nigger almost certainly would have robbed the song of its potent message and symbolism. When “Nigger” is used in the proper artistic context it can actually be effective in demonstrating the absurdity and acceptance of its widespread embrace. (Which reminds me of how paradoxical it is that BET invites rappers like Ludacris to explain the ludicrousness and illogicality of its acceptance and assimilation within so called ‘hip-hop’. That's Ludicrous.) I also commend Mos Def and Bun B for being the only rappers to show up in Jena for the rally. Nas, and other artists could really help their own cases if they were involved in these grass roots efforts.
*For purposes of this dialogue, I do not make a distinction between the terms “Nigger” and what some refer to as “Nigga”.
**The average brother’s vocab is extremely limited. The unfortunate reality is that by taking “Nigger” away from the streets you’ve effectively reduced the functioning vocabulary of the hood immensely. The reality of a limited functioning vocabulary is largely contributed to by the culmination of inherited slave language (Ebonics), a rejection of intellectualism as interpreted through the public ‘fool’ system’s version of education and the educational and socio-political deficiencies that exacerbate the dire circumstances of post slavery Black America. Consequently there is an over-relliance on derogatory emotional terms that take the place of more efficient expressive choices of words and terms.
***The “street code” referred to within this context refers to the distorted, glamorization, of a falsified gangster ideology that modern rappers toss around just as carelessly as they do the term “Nigga”