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The dreaded n-word

The other day, I was reading my new issue of XXL with Jay-Z on the cover when I got to thinking about cracka-ass crackas who call their black friends nigga. This seems to be becoming more and more commonplace in the world of hip-hop. I wonder if that’s a problem or not.

Towards the end of magazine, sandwiched between ads for glow in the dark, Juggalo-looking gold fronts, and mail-order ghetto pr0n videos (Bootyville looks tempting), there’s an interview with Ghostface Killah’s tour DJ J-Love, a big Cal from Sanford and Son-looking cracka-ass cracka. I’ve seen Ghostface live twice in the past few months, and even the second time I was like, who’s that big Cal from Sanford and Son-looking cracka-ass cracka. Oh wait, that’s J-Love.

Apparently, in addition to White Castles, J-Love has a penchant for tossing n-bombs. But he doesn’t see it as an issue. As the man himself put it, “I ain’t got a racist bone in my body. I’m color blind. I don’t have no hate in my heart, that’s why I say what I say. Other people may see people a certain way and not feel comfortable, but I grew up on the streets. And that’s the way I grew up talking.” Which makes me wonder if J-Love calls Ghostface “nigga.” Maybe they’re cool like that.

And what about Ghostface’s FBI informant tour manager Mike Caruso. I wonder if he’s all like, Wake up nigga, we gotta show to do! Which would be weird for me not only because he’s white, but because he’s essentially Ghostface’s boss. If Natalie Portman wanted to call me a nigga during sex, I might find it bothersome, but of course I’d be willing to let it slide. But if my boss at the BGM started calling me that, I’d beat that cracka-ass cracka like he owed me money.

So obviously there’s a bit of a gray area.

Back when I started blogging a few years ago, I’d use the n-word every now and again just because I found it a convenient way to refer to black people. After a while though, I began to replace it with the term jig, not so much because I found the n-word offensive, but because the word jig suggests a continuity between the minstrel show era of black entertainment and today, which I find appropriate. The term nigga had almost gotten a bit too empowering.

Of course it’s different for people who aren’t black and write regularly about hip-hop. For example, I noticed the other day that when quoting song lyrics, the Village Voice’s Tom Breihan has begun substituting the term ninja for the n-word. I wonder if this was in response to XXL’s own kris ex accusing him of purposely going out of his way to quote lyrics that include the n-word – a claim which, admittedly, I found rather specious at the time. But who knows.

I’m sure it’s weird for white kids who live hip-hop as much as any black person to not be able to use such a common bit of language, especially when black kids are still throwing it around like it’s going out of style. I communicate almost entirely in offensive humor and even I’d find it weird if I had some cracka-ass cracka calling me nigga as if he was, um, my grandmother. From what I understand though, younger kids and people from “the streets” might not see it that way.

What do you ‘bags think?

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