Flashing lights and major media outlets awaited the music industry’s finest on the red carpet of the 50th Annual Grammy Awards. Many of the lights met designer suits, dresses and shoes. However, Grammy-nominated rapper Nas opted against debonair, sporting a black T-shirt displaying the name of his upcoming album and arguably the most controversial word in U.S. history Nas is hoping to ease the sting of the word “nigger” by taking away its power.
“I think it’s genius personally,” said Pharoh Martin, co-founder and editorial director of Streetz Magazine. “He’s not approaching this subject from an ignorant point of view. He’s a poet so whatever he says is meant to be proactive in order to get his point across.”
Kelis, the songstress wife of Nas, exhibited the same word on the back of a black jacket in large gold letters. Originally scheduled for a Dec. 11 release, the couple took music’s biggest night to push forward an album title that some see as being problematic.
“The word does not become any less ignorant when a prominent figure in hip-hop uses it as a title of an album,” said Hakeem “DJ Anonymous” Harmon. “That’s like Justin Timberlake naming his album Willie Lynch. It’s unacceptable.”
Amid comedian Michael Richards racial berating of a heckler and Don Imus using “nappy headed hoes” to describe the Rutgers women’s basketball team, racism has been at the climax of black issues. The NAACP ceremonially put the word into the ground, and representatives are not advocating Nas’ ninth studio album.
“Nas has the right to degrade and denigrate in the name of free speech, but there is no honor in it,” said Rev. Jesse Jackson in a statement. “I wish he would use his talents to lift up and inspire, not degrade.”
Martin said Nas “isn’t the first person to put out a work with the word in the title, but he’s being crucified. Dick Gregory did it and Randall Kennedy wrote a book with that title and this much backlash didn’t happen.”
Randall Kennedy, a Harvard law professor wrote “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word,” which outlined the word’s usage from sports to film. Dick Gregory wrote “Nigger: An Autobiography,” which was a No. 1 seller in America upon its release.
Not a stranger to controversy, Nas’ Grammy-nominated album “Hip Hop Is Dead” brought much ire among southern rappers, who have been blamed by some for curtailing the quality of music. Nas pointed to the public’s way of thinking being dead with this title, and a sense of understanding for his upcoming venture.
“The meaning of the word is supposed to be ignorant,” Nas told a white CNN correspondent. The world also applies to “me and you,” he added.
In a climate of declining record sales, eyebrows have been raised on whether Nas’ Grammy attire was a statement, or a stunt. The album’s delay brings predictions that the title will be changed, but Nas’ red carpet appearance shows confidence that critics will have to remain up in arms.
“You can’t judge the title,” said DeVaughn Ward, a senior legal communication major at Howard University. “The title is controversial, but I still think Nas may have some artistic approach to the world that may provide a new point of view on race relations and stereotypes in America.”