Op-Ed: Should Rappers Drop The N Word?

Author’s name withheld. N word
Images courtesy of Mark Seliger and Jason Millstein.

**Editor’s note**
This article is a guest post, but in no way condones the actions of Delaney (the young white audience member who sang on stage with Kendrick Lamar) and her singing the N word as part of Kendrick Lamar’s song.
In case that wasn’t clear enough, Delaney should not have sung the N word.

**Please read the whole article before commenting. Thank you!**

If you’ve been living under a rock, let’s catch you up to speed: rapper Post Malone has cemented himself as an icon.

A couple of weeks ago, he broke a record shared by The Beatles and J. Cole for the most songs in the top twenty. Post Malone had nine hits on billboard’s top twenty! That’s almost half of the positions available. He also broke the record for most simultaneous songs in the top forty, and all eighteen tracks from his new album made the top 100. That’s insane! And that success is due to many qualities. He has a unique sound that gives a light country feel to hip hop. He has the mumble rap sound without mumbling.

And, he doesn’t use the N word.

There’s historically been some serious shade thrown at successful white rappers like Post Malone, Lil Dicky, Macklemore, and The Beastie Boys. Many claim that their success is due to the color of their skin. Admittedly, America is still dealing with a good deal of racism. That racism contributes to the popularity of a white musician over a musician of color. Economics though, might say something different.

I would argue: a musician would be shooting themself in the foot by using the N-word.

As explained by Jay Z when he appeared on Oprah, the goal of the use of the N word in rap was to “take the power out of the word.” According to Jay Z that goal was accomplished. But, it still isn’t alright for white people to use the word. So, the power hasn’t been taken away. The distaste of white people using the N word is evident in the recent outrage over popular video gamers like Ninja and PewDiePie using the N word and by a white woman rapping along to a Kendrick Lamar song at a Kendrick Lamar concert after being invited to rap along on stage.

The latter situation seems so strange. During a portion of a show in which members of the audience are invited to join on stage and sing along, a member of the audience joins and sings along. After singing along she is booed off the stage. She isn’t booed for messing up the lyrics. She is booed because she got the lyrics right. This isn’t a lesser known artist using a mistake like this to get attention. This is Kendrick Lamar, the first non-classical or jazz artist to win the Pultizer Prize since its inception in 1943. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his music. And half his listener base has to edit themselves while singing along to the music. That must be a first for the Pulitzer as well.

Check out the clip, captured here on another concert goer’s phone camera:

Let’s make this strikingly clear once more: Delaney should not have said the N word.

In that situation, Kendrick and others are giving power to the N word. They are saying that white people can still use the word to offend black people. Wasn’t that the opposite of the original rapper’s intent? Jay Z and others wanted to rob the N word of its power by using it in their raps. But, if rappers start to get offended by the use of the N word, they’ve ruined that intent.

By taking offense to the use of the N word by anyone who is not black, rappers are ostracizing many of their fans. They are conveying a message that fans shouldn’t sing along to the music. In fact, fans probably shouldn’t listen to the music so as not to risk using it in another context. They are telling a demographic that makes up the majority portion of the United States that they cannot use a certain word that they are allowed to use. And then, they wonder why a white rapper gets more attention. . .

The black musician community could make the decision that the word is totally appropriate. That way Lil’ Dicky, who recently poked fun at his inability to say the N word in his song “Freaky Friday”, could start to use the N word. Post Malone could use the N word and so could Ninja and PewDiePie. But, there should be hesitation in doing so.

Professor Neal A. Lester, ASU.
Don’t we all wish we had a professor like Neal and classes about current social issues? Photo by Jason Millstein

Arizona State University Professor Neal Lester teaches a whole course on the N word. The course is intended to help others reflect on how words affect their thinking and on how the word is used historically. He doesn’t think that the word is appropriate for use by any white people. Yet, he understands that it is a double standard.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”In their circles of white friends, some are so comfortable with the n-word because they’ve grown up on and been nourished by hip-hop. Much of the commercial hip-hop culture by black males uses the n-word as a staple. White youths, statistically the largest consumers of hip-hop, then feel that they can use the word among themselves with black and white peers….But then I hear in that same discussion that many of the black youths are indeed offended by [whites using the n-word]. And if blacks and whites are together and a white person uses the word, many blacks are ready to fight. So this word comes laden with these complicated and contradictory emotional responses to it. It’s very confusing to folks on the “outside,” particularly when nobody has really talked about the history of the word in terms of American history, language, performance and identity.” – Dr. Neal A. Lester[/perfectpullquote]

He doesn’t necessarily condemn hip hop for using the word. Yet, he believes that the word still has power and a long history of negative connotation.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is on board with Neal Lester. They condemn the use of the word completely. In fact, they put no distinction on how the word is pronounced.

Given the lack of acceptance by the NAACP and others within this community, rappers can’t suddenly make the word alright for everyone. So, where does that leave them? Can a rapper continue to use the word and maintain all of their fans?

Finally, we must examine Will Smith, one of the most popular rappers of all time. His popularity stems from more than just his raps. But, his rise to stardom started as The Fresh Prince, a Grammy award winning rapper. Did he use the N word or any swear words in his raps? Should rap culture take any lessons from Will Smith’s success?

Should hip hop altogether drop the N word?
I think so.

Comment and tell us what you think! And please keep it respectful! And interesting, we like that too.