The Controversy of the “N-word” in Rap Culture

Since the hip-hop/rap genre burst into the mainstream in the 1980’s, general discussion of the “N-word”– its meaning and who can and cannot say the word– has surrounded many music listeners, regardless of race.

Recently, the word and its usage at concerts has been especially a topic of controversy. The question being asked is: if a rapper writes and performs using the “n-word” as part of lyrics to songs, are people justified in simply singing lyrics to a song even if the word is considered to be a slur against black people if used by people are not black. Popular rappers have begun to come out in support of the word being as a part of lyric recitation, but the majority of black rappers who have spoken on the issue declared their opposition to the word being used by anyone except black people. 

Schoolboy Q has often come out in support of people singing any and all of his lyrics at his concerts, here he explains why:

Kendrick Lamar, who is signed to the same label as Schoolboy Q – Top Dawg Entertainment, feels quite differently on the issue: in this now infamous video he stops a white fan from singing because of her use of the “N-word”. 

Kendrick Lamar is perhaps one of my favorite artists of all time. He is truly a master of his craft. But even as a fan of his, I hesitate to support his reaction to the girls use of the “N-word”. It is unreasonable to me to say the least to expect someone to censor themselves when singing the lyrics to the song, especially in the literal and metaphorical heat of the moment. Whether or not the N-word should be used by non-black people is for another discussion, but to me it seems clear that the actions of this girl and anyone singing the lyrics to a song should be considered reasonable and at the very least, excusable.


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