Nas debates “Nigger”

By now, every hip-hop fan knows that Nas plans to drop a new album before the year is out, and he’s going to call it Nigger.

Nas has bandied the title since late last year during promotional appearances for his acclaimed 2006 disc, Hip Hop is Dead. According to a Billboard.com story, he changed the title from Nigga to Nigger, presumably to clarify his serious intentions. (With Nigger, he claims that it will be a look at the sordid history of the word itself, not just a clever exploitation of society’s current fondness for the word “nigga.” I think.) Island Def Jam is scheduled to release the album on December 11.

Much like the title of Hip Hop is Dead, Nigger has already generated controversy. Professional blowhard and media whore Al Sharpton told MTV.com that he’s “opposed to anybody using the term.” (Ironically, he made his comments at a preview screening for American Gangster.) More seriously, the Brooklyn Paper reported that New York Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries will exert political pressure to force Universal Music Group’s hand. He said he would try to have New York State withdraw $84 million in investments out of the company if Nas did not change the title.

Judging from comments, essays and articles posted on hundreds of websites, more people have focused on Nas’ ill-timed announcement and the word “nigger” than the implications of censoring him. It was the same fate that befell his last album, Hip Hop is Dead: most people ignored the actual music — a nuanced meditation on maturing as an artist in a genre hellbent on youthful destruction — and instead took the title at face value. Nas may have yet another strong album that goes deeper than its loaded title. But will his fans pay attention this time? As Little Brother once rapped, “nobody’s listening” to the lyrics anymore.

“If Cornel West was making an album called Nigger, they would know he’s got something intellectual to say,” Nas told MTV.com. “To think I’m gonna say something that’s not intellectual is calling me a nigger, and to be called a nigger by Jesse Jackson and the NAACP is counterproductive, counter-revolutionary.”

“We’re taking power [away] from the word,” he continued. “No disrespect to none of them who were part of the civil-rights movement, but some of my n—as in the streets don’t know who [civil-rights activist] Medgar Evers was. I love Medgar Evers, but some of the n—as in the streets don’t know Medgar Evers, they know who Nas is. And to my older people who don’t now who Nas is and who don’t know what a street disciple is, stay outta this mutha—-in’ conversation. We’ll talk to you when we’re ready. Right now, we’re on a whole new movement. We’re taking power [away] from that word.”

Not much is yet known about the music for Nigger yet, except that Nas will reunite with longtime collaborator Salaam Remi. It will arrive only a month after his previously announced Greatest Hits, and will be his first venture solely with Island Def Jam (after the Def Jam/Columbia co-release Hip Hop is Dead).

Stay tuned.

Plug One review: Nas, Hip Hop is Dead

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