The Biggest N-Bomb Controversies In History
We have had a long, tumultuous relationship with the n-word in the United States. And each time a celebrity lets their racism slip publicly, the debate pops up again. Here’s a review of some of the biggest n-bombs in history and what the fallout says about when it is and isn’t OK to use the word.
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Do latinas get a pass? Back in 2001, Lopez said “ni**s” in a remix of “I’m Real.” Ja Rule wrote the lyrics for her, but when the song dropped, a New York radio station called for a boycott against her.
Do white and black rappers have license to use the n-word? Back in 1998, Eminem rapped “All the girls I like to b@#e have big butts/ No they don’t, ‘cause I don’t like that n***er s**t/I’m just here to make a bigger hit,” but even after The Source released the video in 2003, folks kept buying his albums.
Do talented racists get away with more? When the world found out that Mel Gibson told his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva that he hoped that she would get “raped by a pack of n*****s” in 2010, it didn’t take much out of his stride. The talented actor and director went on to star in several big budget movies. He’s even rumored to be staring in The Expendables 3. Would his career have continued to go on swimming if he were as marginally talented as Paula Deen?
Is the n-word offensive if you use it against someone white? During a fight back in 2005, Charlie Sheen called his ex-wife Denise Richards a n***er. It was apparently the worst insult Charlie could think of. As far as we know, Charlie didn’t lose any job opportunities or supporters after dropping the bomb.
Today’s technology makes it hard to drop an n-bomb on the sly. Back in 2007, someone caught Paris on camera expressing herself in the club. While she and her sister danced to Biggie’s “Hypnotize,” Paris shouted out, “Were like two n*****s.” And on the same tape, she uses a few more slurs for Jewish and Asian people.
When it comes to racism, things said behind closed doors tend to get a pass. When Dog The Bounty Hunter’s son Tucker started dating a black woman, Duane lost his cool. He dropped quite a few n-bombs in a private conversation to his son. And then Tucker sold a tape of that conversation to the National Enquirer. But after suspending his show for a few seasons, his employers and the rest of the nation seemed willing to extend an olive branch.
Can any n-bomb be forgiven? Few of us will forget the day in 2006 when Michael Richards melted down in a comedy club. Not only did he drop a few n-bombs, he said this: “Fifty years ago we’d have you upside down with a f***ing fork up your a**.” Michael apologized later in hopes of saving his career, but we don’t know if you can come back from something like that.
Not every brother gets a pass. Back in 2007, Nas wanted to name his upcoming album N***er. On it’s cover, he planned to feature a picture of himself with whip marks on his back in the shape of an “N”. But Def Jam made him drop the title. Nas refused to rename the album which remains untitled today.
Sometimes an n-bomb is just a sign of a larger problem. Shortly after Jesse James was outed for cheating on Sandra Bullock, he made the news again. This time it was for asking his ex-wife Janine Lindemulder for a paternity test because “I was told that you slept with a n***er.” After that revelation, a host of people — including James’ own mother — piped up to talk about just how racist James really is.
Is there a such thing as a “n***er pass”? John Mayer claimed to have one (because black people love him so much) in 2010 during an interview with Playboy. But in almost the same breath, he called his private part a “white supremacist” so we’re not really sure what his position on race relations is.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Does being drunk excuse a slip-up? The “Tudors” star had one too many while waiting for a flight at JFK Airport. When flight attendants banned him from boarding his United Airlines flight, he started shouting the n-bomb at them and a few of his fellow passengers.
Do white people get a pass because black people say it? Axl Rose thinks so. Back in 1998, he released the song “One in a Million” that contained these lyrics: “Police and n***ers, that’s right/Get outta my way/Don’t need to buy none of your gold chains today.”
When questioned about it, Axl said:
“Why can black people go up to each other and say, ‘N***er,’ but when a white guy does it all of a sudden it’s a big put-down? I used the word n***er because it’s a word to describe somebody that is basically a pain in your life, a problem. The word n***er doesn’t necessarily mean black.”
Gwyneth Paltrow crossed a line when she tweeted “Niggas in Paris for real” in response to a photo The Dream snapped of her on stage with Jay-Z and Kanye. After the backlash, Gwyneth said she was allowed because it was the name of the song — even though she was referring to the “niggas” on stage in the picture.
John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Is it OK to use the n-word as a political statement? In 1972, John and Yoko released a song called “Woman is the N***er of the World”. John and Yoko said it was supposed to be a feminist statement about how women are the “slaves of the slaves” but British record companies pulled all of the copies from the shelves anyway.
Not everyone gets in trouble for dropping n-bombs. In 1978, Patti Smith released “Rock N Roll N***er”. It’s all about how Patti wants to be an outcast, just like a n***er. Here’s a sample of the lyrics:
“Jimi Hendrix was a n***er.
Jesus Christ and Grandma, too.
Jackson Pollock was a n***er.
N***er, n***er, n***er, n***er,
n***er, n***er, n***er.”
Despite it’s liberal use of the n-word, it became a hit, was remade by Marilyn Manson and featured in Natural Born Killers.