Inquiring Minds

Can Non-Black Rappers Use The N-Word In Their Music?

Some rappers happen to be thoughtful, intelligent people. Every Monday (that isn't a national holiday) Rocks Off will have some of them here discussing issues relevant to their culture.

This Week's Panel: Chuckway, Paul Wall, Fat Tony, Yung Redd, Coast

Not Invited: The Rev. Jesse Jackson

This Week's Prompt: Last week, radio talk-show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who is white, got into a dispute with a caller, a black woman married to a white man, about why it was or was not okay for white people to use the N-word - specifically, the form ending with an "a" as opposed to the universally reviled "er" - if black people say it all the time. Dr. Laura cited the word's use by black comedians, but it lends itself well to a discussion about rappers of any color.

All types of logistics and qualifiers could be brought up here, but mainly the question is this: Is it okay for non-black rappers to use that word in their music? For the sake of this discussion, let's address inherently non-aggressive uses of the term.

Also, are there different boundaries for different types of non-black rappers? Like, can a Latino or Puerto Rican rapper say it in his song and it be less incendiary than if a white rapper does? (We'll call this the "Fat Joe vs. Eminem Corollary.") How does that work? Or should just no non-black rapper ever say it, ever? Or is it cool if every non-black rapper says it, always, so long as it's within a song and not blatantly offensive?

Chuckway: Yeah, its okay. It's 2010, ain't nobody trippin' on that word no more... unless a nigga use it in the wrong way [laughs].

Paul Wall: The word is an offensive, derogatory word, so no matter who uses it, it is equally offensive. You didn't ask if it was offensive if black rappers use the word, but the way that I was raised is that its not okay for any person to use the "N" word, regardless of ethnicity.

That word is never gonna go away or be less offensive as long as our society allows it to be used by anyone. There are some complete idiots who say "if it's okay for them to use it, then we should be able too." That's retarded. No one should use it. If Eminem uses it, it's no different than if Fat Joe or Dr. Dre uses it. It's equally offensive.

Fat Tony: I think everyone can say it except white rappers.

Rocks Off: Very well thought out, well verbalized answer, sir. Thank you.

Fat Tony: I'm so educated. You ain't know?

Yung Redd: I feel that the word nigga should only be used by black people, but other races have been enslaved and took from their home too. so maybe thats why they use it, but we can all tell when someone uses the term incorrectly. I think people know the limits of using the word, but in this case maybe the host wanted to cross the line or just get an understanding... you never know.

Coast: As a Hispanic, I've used the word as far back as I can remember; I'm talking elementary school. I think I picked it up from rap music way back then. I was introduced to the word as a casual term of endearment, not as a word of racism.

Even as a kid, I was able to differentiate the contexts of "nigga" and "nigger." As a child, I knew the use of the word could be hit or miss depending on who said it. When other Hispanic people said the word, I caught myself listening for the "a" or the "er." If I heard the "er," I would think the person who said it is racist. If I heard the "a," I'd think nothing of it.

Do I use the word in my music? Yup. I aint never used it in a derogatory manner. I can't think of any non-black rapper who ever has used it in a derogatory manner for that matter. I personally don't see anything wrong with the word "nigga." I do see the problem with using the word "nigger." So the lady hosting that talk radio show is full of shit. As educated as she wants people to believe she is, she's still showing her idiot badge.

I do however intend to pull the word "nigga" from my vocabulary when writing music. I for one don't feel it's an issue to use it, but others do, and by that I mean I've been confronted by other Hispanics. I'd been using the word for so many years prior to my beginnings as a songwriter (which ultimately led to touring around the country).

Hispanics out in other markets didn't grow up the way we did here in Houston. I've had people come to me and say "Coast, I really like your music but I can't buy it because you say 'nigga.' I know where you come from it's normal, but we don't say that out here." I understand that completely. Ultimately, I want to be judged by my music, not by my use of "the N word."

Do I think it's okay for white people to say any variation of the word? I can't call it. Some people are granted "a pass" and some aren't. That's all I know.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Shea Serrano