The N-Word Still Alive and Well in Hip-Hop

Eight month after the hip-hop community gave the word a funeral, it hasn't died

To hear Fat Joe tell it, though, both Sharpton and Simmons are being hypocritical. He recounts private, less politically correct encounters with the two. "Russell Simmons says, 'Fat Joe, you my nigga.' Reverend Al Sharpton says, 'Yo, what's up, Fat Joe? You the realest nigga I know.'"

Most black rappers and promoters agree that white folks have no business using the word. With rare exceptions—New York loose cannon R.A. the Rugged Man, for example—most Caucasian rappers stay away from it. But white hip-hop critics often find they don't have any alternative, and they face criticism for quoting the word. In July 2006 on his XXL blog, hip-hop writer Kris Ex—who is black—took issue with Village Voice music critic Tom Breihan, who is white, as someone "who would never say the N-word, but seem[s] to go out of [his] way to quote rap lyrics that use it."

"I was pretty pissed off," Breihan says now. "But I reached out to him, and we talked a bit." For a while, Breihan began substituting the word "ninja" in its place. He quoted lyrics from a Lil Wayne mixtape, for example, as: "And a ninja drink like the late Fred Sanford/And a ninja smoke like there is no cancer."

The campaign to hear no, speak no, see no N-word isn't gaining traction with some black hip-hop artists and rappers.
Kyle T. Webster
The campaign to hear no, speak no, see no N-word isn't gaining traction with some black hip-hop artists and rappers.

"I did that instead of using [asterisks or dashes] just because I thought this way was funnier, and it kind of defused the situation," Breihan says. "It draws absurdity to the situation. I'm a white dude writing about rap and, obviously, on a certain cultural level, very much out of my depth."

His readers didn't like it, however, and Breihan recently went back to using "nigga."

Kris Ex is no longer mad at Breihan but says he doesn't have much admiration for Russell Simmons. "I'm severely disappointed with him for jumping on this bandwagon," Ex says. "I think he should have a more nuanced position. Because it's not about the words people are using; it's about the intent behind those words."

Buckshot, a black rapper from the Boot Camp Clik who employs the word in his rhymes, agrees with Ex's sentiments. "Ban the word? No, because the more we entertain it in a negative way, the more it just becomes something to feed off of," he says. "My answer is to move on. We've got much bigger issues than that."

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