The N-word. It’s easily the most infamous phrase that’s often substituted with saying the letter it begins with, followed by “word”. More so than any piece of profanity, from ‘fuck’ to ‘cunt’, in the lexicon of the English language. Its history is well-documented, as it’s been completely flipped 180 degrees from a viciously degrading insult towards an entire race, to a term of endearment used by the very same people it once degraded. Blacks have literally taken ownership of this word, giving the ultimate middle finger to the very oppression that made it so scathing originally. But the discussion of the ‘n-word’ overall, from its place in history to whether it’s conversion by Black culture was a “good thing” or not, would literally be endless; let me rephrase that, it has been endless. Rather than that, let’s talk about a specific sub-genre of issues regarding this word, that’s personal to me: white rappers using it in their music.
I’m white, and I rap. I’m aware of the fact that I am a visitor in a completely, unapologetically beautiful Black art form, and I am infinitely appreciative to be accepted into it just for being talented. There is a certain unwritten, unspoken, but understood code of ethics that white rappers are expected follow: know the history of the art you’re making, respect the foundation, and don’t, under any circumstances, say that word. Ever.
But of course, as with any set of rules, they have been broken…numerous times.
Recently, older recordings of one of the most popular white rappers around right now, Action Bronson, have surfaced including him saying the infamous “N word” numerous times. Bronson has addressed this in interviews, and while apologetic, still leaned on his reasoning for using the term being his environment growing up in Queens surrounded by Blacks and Latinos.
Bronson has already been in hot water with some of hip-hop’s pioneers for allegedly “jacking” Ghostface Killah’s sound and rapping style. The only truly accurate comparison between thr two emcees is vocal tone, but that was seemingly enough to garner a good amount of dislike towards Action from the “OG” crowd. Now that these N-word laced verses from his past are coming to the surface, it’s no surprise that he’s beginning to catch some backlash once again.
Here’s an example of the older tracks. Bronson’s verse starts at 2:05:
Do I personally think Action Bronson is a racist? Not at all. I believe him when he says he had a “pass” growing up where he did, and that he used the word as a term of endearment and not as an offensive insult. But I also believe that he had no business saying it, no matter how harmlessly it was intended, and what his friends may have told him. I pose this question to every white hip-hop artist, past and present: if you were to wind up stranded in a predominantly black neighborhood far from home, where you knew nobody at all, would you refer to a Black person as your “nigga” when you ask for directions, or the time, or in any conversation at all?
If you said yes, cut the macho posturing bullshit out. You are lying. None of us would. Because it is NOT our place to use that term in any context. Blame your ancestors (who, somewhere along the line, were racist douchebags, as every Caucasian was at some point), accept that it’s just a word you can’t say, and keep it moving with the literal billions of other words in the English language. Cut out the “it’s just a word, bro” bullshit, and the flimsy “but the Irish were enslaved too!” arguments; just don’t say the shit. Regardless of their circumstances or surroundings, a white person discussing when it’s appropriate to use the N-word is the equivalent to a bunch of virgins discussing their favorite sex positions; we will never, ever truly understand how hurtful, frustrating and anger-inducing that word can truly be.
David Banner explains it better than I can:
Of course, Bronson is far from the first white rapper to use the N-word in his music. Underground legend Cage used the word pretty heavily in the early stages of his career, before completely removing it from his vernacular and switching up his look, from long white tees and sharply-cut fades to “skinny” jeans and long, greasy hair. He’s apologized for putting on what he called “a minstrel show” in the past and has made efforts to separate himself from his past as an artist. Insane Clown Posse affiliates Twiztid and Blaze Ya Dead Homie (yes, they’re all Caucasian underneath that face paint) have also used the word in their music on multiple occasions. They’ve never released a public apology or really discussed it in interviews, but apparently they’ve stopped using it over the past decade.
Note: I don’t know for sure, as doing research on that would involve listening to a lot of their music. I’m good on that, fam.
A much bigger example of white rappers using “nigga” in their music would be Emi-fucking-nem, the most successful Caucasian hip-hop artist of all time. It’s well documented that Marshall Mathers has used the term a few times in his younger years, before stardom hit. He’s apologized for this at length, and hasn’t uttered it in any of his music for about 20 years now. One has to assume from tracks like this one where he refers to his best friend Proof as “my nig” that he was surrounded by Black folks who gave him “the pass”, much like Bronson was. But again, that doesn’t make it ok; Em realized that as he got older, wiser and a hell of a lot more famous. His apology for using it seems to have been a sincere one, and more accepting of the fact that he was wrong, despite whatever allowance his friends gave him to say it, than Bronson’s “sorry” was.
He also issued a lengthy apology for an overtly racist diss track towards black women (inspired by being dumped by one) that he made when he was 16, but that’s another tangent for another piece. The bottom line is, he knows he fucked up as a kid, and has made the appropriate efforts to correct it and prove his worthiness as a participant in hip-hop.
There have been other artists, like Post Malone and Justin Bieber (not rappers per se, but clearly involved in hip-hop in some capacity), who have had old videos of them jokingly using the N-word in the past surface after being catapulted in the global spotlight, and both have made a point to apologize (or their PR teams did, at least). This is a stark contrast to more modern white hip-hop artists who still unabashedly shout “nigga” repeateadly in their music, such as Stitches and V-Nasty. If you haven’t heard of either of them (first off, I’m genuinely happy for your ears), V-Nasty is an ex-convict who’s most known as the sidekick of flash-in-the-pan Kreayshawn (go ahead, Google her if you need to), and Stitches is the son of a cop from the Miami area who became famous for portraying a fraudulent cocaine-dealing image in his “music”. He also claims he has a “pass” from his local friends since he’s half Cuban, which is a huge stretch in itself; then again, neither of these acts have ever, or will ever, rise above “unintentionally funny novelty” status.
Which is a testament to the fact that a white rapper using the N-word in their music will hold it back from being accepted by a large scale audience (other than perhaps confused Klan members), every time. Cash Money emcee Caskey (who is white as well) said in a 2015 interview that he uses “that word” as a term of endearment amongst his black friends and doesn’t see the big deal regarding it.
“It’s just words and [we’re] all people, and when you know somebody’s intentions you can’t, like, get hung up on words so much, you know? Fuck that shit.”
However, not once (at least in released tracks) has Caskey used this word that he’s deemed so inconsequential, regardless of his “intentions”. Clearly, this was a business move and not an ethical one, judging by his attitude towards it overall. But then, there are guys like Yelawolf, whose view is a bit more understanding of history. He claims that he, nor any of his white rapping peers, should use “nigga”, “nigger”, or any other variation of the word, in their music or in life in general. He explained this in a 2011 interview:
“As a white rapper, it’s always been a big no-no, but as a human being, it’s been an even bigger no-no.”
He’s dead right. The level of entitlement a white rapper has to have to feel anything close to offended that we just shouldn’t say one particular word, while being granted the privilege of participating in a Black art form, is off the fucking charts. While he is a controversy-craving troll, Lord Jamar (go ahead and Google him too) had a point when he said whites don’t inherently belong in hip-hop and are privileged to be accepted in the culture. Some rappers have agreed, some have not. But putting his bitter, mildly prejudiced rhetoric inside, it’s true that we should respect the forefathers of this culture in order to participate. And it’s only right that that reverence includes, oh, I don’t know…not saying a racial slur towards their entire race, regardless of the intentions. Just leave it alone, my white brothers and sisters; especially if you make rap music.
We’ve got the magical tool of language at our literal fingertips; don’t get caught red-handed using the worst possible word we ever can. Now go out there and create something dope.
Sincerely, your fellow Caucozoid wordsmith,