The power of words can never be underestimated. Throughout World History, words have put events into action that resulted in numerous deaths (Wars), famine, anarchy, and the mistreatment of millions globally. Words have also been the catalyst for peace, prosperity, and laws that seek to establish somewhat of a balance in day to day life and equality. Of course each Country has a language, culture and “Way of Life” that dictate how words are used. Our ancestors pass down terminology and tradition for us to have a sense of connection. Our roots manifest into our offspring. In the case of African Americans (Black People), the leaves on our Family Tree have branches that were forced to endure generations of tough winters. We are the children of Slaves, so there is power in words because we’ve heard insults for hundreds of years in the United States. Yes, I’m well aware that if many of us trace our bloodline, we are decedents of Kings, Queens, and Warriors, this goes without saying. I’m simply talking about various storms we’ve faced as Americans.
Words have always been a powerful tool in the fight for justice and also how we’re perceived in terms of our very existence. You have to remember that at one point in the history of this nation, Black People were considered less than human. I mean, let’s not forget the Three-Fifths Compromise where Politicians literally debated if Slaves would be counted in regard to a State’s total population for legislation and taxation purposes. Yes, we were pieces on a Chess Board and disrespected in the worst way. The same disrespect was also in the way we were verbally attacked, abused and assassinated. Unless Black People were saying nice things to each other, we only heard negativity for decades upon decades. We had to find a way to love each other in the mist of hate. This has always been the case for Black People in American and to a degree, this reality remain to this day. At any rate, talk to your oldest living family members about the power of words. Over the past 300 years, Black People (I hate this term as well) have been described as Niggers, Pickaninny, Porch Monkey, Apes, Boy, and a long list of derogatory words that insulted, demeaned, and tormented us on a regular basis.
In the entertainment world, we watched Minstrel Shows depict Black People as savages. We had to watch ourselves being clowned and treated as primitive, uneducated, and violent individuals. This was also being done during the time great minds such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey and Madame C.J. Walker were alive. During a time when Blacks were starting to develop businesses and awareness post Slavery; D.W. Griffith released his award winning movie, The Birth of a Nation (1915). The NAACP attempted to campaign against the release of this film but were unsuccessful, of course. Surely you didn’t think White America was going to allow this, did you? Let us also remember all of the Black Students excelling at PWI during this time who were insulted by this film. The Birth of a Nation showcased the rise of the Ku Klux Klan (a Terrorist Group that still match over 100 years later) and actors in “Blackface” who were aggressive towards White Woman. Yes, this narrative sounds all too familiar and has resulted in Prison or Death for many Black Men. The movie had no sound (silent epic drama) but the imagery was damaging. Oh, in case you didn’t know, Woodrow Wilson allowed the screening of the movie to be viewed at The White House. Other movies, songs, and events in Pop Culture categorized us as NIGGERS. The term NIGGER is the most popular word in American History.
I would be remiss of my duty if I didn’t reference the 1904 short film (4 minutes running time), A Nigger in the Woodpile. The title has two meanings. One meaning is about runaway Slaves in the Southern States and the other meaning is when a White Woman has a baby with a darker complexion, it must be by a NIGGER. You see, NIGGER is American as pie. Presidents, Politicians, Police, Lawyers, Judges, Businessmen, Entertainers, Educators and even MINISTERS have called us NIGGERS for Generations. We heard this word from Slavery to Civil Rights Movement. We heard this word from Reconstruction to 80’s Drug Legislation. At some point in American History, Black People changed the narrative. Before we changed the narrative, we used the term NIGGER at some point during Slavery as well. There are different stories in regard to the context in which we used it. As we transition into more modern times, the word transitioned from NIGGER to NIGGA. In the 60’s and 70’s, a lot of Black Men would call each other “Brother” and at some point, “My NIGGA”. We were use to hearing NIGGER and NIGGA only as insults by White People. There are various stories in regard to this transition and timeline. We took the word and used it as a term of endearment. You know, “That’s My Nigga”. If there was a disagreement within the Black Community, the term “NIGGER” was often used with the same aggression adapted from historical mistreatment. I have a much bigger issue with NIGGER as opposed to NIGGA but that's just my opinion.
In Music, no other genre has embraced the word NIGGA like Rap Music in the Hip Hop Culture. Rap Music is Black Music. Rap Music originated in the Black Community during a time where the term NIGGA was in our daily vocabulary and conversation. For the past 40 years, we’ve embraced this word on every socioeconomic and academic level within the Black Community. In Rap Music, the word took on a life of its own within the art. The lyrics in Rap Music are often a reflection of our day to day lives. The lyrics in Rap Music also reflect the Rappers personal experience. Some of the artists are from Drug infested, Poverty stricken, Gang Culture and overall challenging areas. These environments and circumstances are “Projects” created by Systematic Racism and the United States Government. Rap Music is rebellious to the establishment, so it’s not meant to make everyone comfortable. Public Enemy, X-Clan, Brand Nubians, Poor Righteous Teachers and others were conscious but also militant to a degree. When we think about NWA (Niggaz With Attitudes), they were the poster child for how a lot of black youth felt in terms of frustration. We use the term in a loving context as well as a dangerous context within the music. You can’t have one without the other. I think Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest battled the terminology on the track “Sucka Nigga” from the 1993 album The Midnight Marauders.
"Hey sucka nigga, whoever you are"
"Hey sucka nigga, hey sucka nigga
Whoever you are, whoever you are"
I be hating sucka MC's, and the sucka niggas
Posing like they hard when we know they damn card
What you figure, rhyme-wise, I do the figure eight
So concisely, musically we are the herb so sit back
And light me, inhale
My style is kinda fat reminiscent of a whale
Young girls desires for the females dreams
I be the Abstract Poetic representing from Queens
Socially I'm not a name, black and white got game
If you came to the jam, well I'm glad you came
See, nigga first was used back in the Deep South
Falling out between the dome of the white man's mouth
It means that we will never grow, you know the word dummy
Other niggas in the community think it's crummy
But I don't, neither does the youth cause we
Em-brace adversity it goes right with the race
And being that we use it as a term of endearment
Niggas start to bug to the dome is where the fear went
Now the little shorties say it all of the time
And a whole bunch of niggas throw the word in they rhyme
Yo I start to flinch, as I try not to say it
But my lips is like the oowop as I start to spray it
My lips is like a oowop as I start to spray it
My lips is like a oowop as I start to spray the
Q-Tip talked about the term NIGGA, how it originated and the internal battle of using it in our daily walks. This is the struggle many of us fight internally. Now, I believe Q-tip was more or less speaking from a perspective similar to this article. On the flip side, Spice 1 provides listeners with NIGGA in its most aggressive fashion. Ironically enough, Spice 1’s track “Nigga Gots No Heart” off the Menace II Society Soundtrack was released the same year (1993) as A Tribe Called Quest Midnight Marauders album. The depiction of the word NIGGA is given a grim picture of Spice 1’s reality growing up in a Gang Culture. The Gang Culture infested Black Communities after The Black Panther Party were defeated in a fight with the Federal Government.
The nigga gots no heart (a nigga a nigga)
I'm sick up in this game
I'll take no secondary shorts and
Slam dunk these riddles up in yo' chest like Jordan
Menace II Society mad man killer
Just call me the East Bay Gangsta
Neighborhood drug dealer
Quick to make decisions and I'm
Quick to get my blast on
Do a 187 with this bloody Jason mask on
Rollin' up out the cut deeper than Atlantis
Tore his chest apart left his heart on the canvas
Now I gots mo' mayo than the rest of the pushers
Rat a tat tat tat came my Tec from the bushes
I blast with no heart 'cause I'm heartless in nine-trey
A-K blast on that ass if in my way, gangsta
Slangin' 'Cola since the very very start
Much love for this game so a nigga gots no heart
In Hip Hop, artists from every walk of life use this term at some point or another. Don’t get me wrong, you have deep and spiritual artist who choose to stay away from NIGGA or NIGGER. You honestly don’t here NIGGER in Hip Hop at all . You hear the term NIGGA whether it’s in a positive or negative context. Of course positive and negative in this case is subjective. I hate to say it but if NIGGA is not a word for you, you will be hard pressed to escape it in Rap Music from song titles to lyrics. Nas released an album called NIGGER but retail stores would not carry it so the name was changed to Untitled before it could be shipped. You also have songs such as “Nigga What, Nigga Who” and “Jigga that Nigga” by Jay-Z, “Niggas in Paris” by Kanye West and Jay-Z, “The Realist Niggaz” by Biggie Smalls, NIGGA PLEASE album by O.D.B. and a very long list of songs. The song that resonates with me on a deep level is “Mr. Nigga” by Mos Def off his 1999 album Black on Both Sides. The video has been added to this piece for readers who aren't familiar with the song. His articulation of the word is nothing short of amazing.
“They stay on NIGGA patrol on American roads but when you travel abroad, they got World NIGGA Law”. – Mos Def off the track Mr. Nigga
America can’t avoid the “Sins of the Father” and the word NIGGA has been embedded into the fabric of this nation. Black People debate NIGGER vs. NIGGA all the time. There is a segment of Black America that HATES both words. There is a segment of Black America that uses the words in their daily conversation. Georgetown University Professor Michael Eric Dyson has defended the term NiGGA in books, essays and on live debates over the years. At the same time, the NAACP had a funeral for the word over a decade ago in Detroit. I get their idea in theory but in reality is totally different with layers and complications. At the end of the day, I understand the fundamental goal behind the event. Rap Music and Hip Hop have crossed cultural lines and this has been a comfortable and uncomfortable situation. Fans have debated whether it was cool for Fat Joe and Big Pun (RIIP) to use the term NIGGA. Latino Americans were there in the early stages of Hip Hop and because they are minorities, the culture embraced them. On the other hand, as much as we respect Eminem, he is well aware of his lyrics and has walked a thin line as a White Rapper, making sure he doesn’t insult the masses. White fans of Rap Music globally have their own perspective of the word NIGGA in rap lyrics. Some White (non black) fans will not use the term as they sing along in concerts or in general. Some don’t see an issue because Black People put the word in the lyrics and they look at is as “ART”. This is an ongoing debate. At the end of the day, NIGGA is a prominent word in the Black Community and is one of the favorite "Go To" words in Hip Hop Culture. We are married to it, for better or for worse. With no sign of divorce, the internal struggle lives on.
Mos Def "Mr. Nigga"....