Uncle Russ Wants To School Us On The N-Word and Why It’s Cool For White People To Use It
I figured Russell Simmons would make a statement about this sooner or later, and sure enough the Global Grind founder wrote a post on his site yesterday asking, “Why Is Everyone So Cray About Gwyneth’s Tweet?” Uncle Rush essentially defends the use of the n-word by anybody—black artist, white fan, etc.—and starts with a little anecdote about white folks in Carnegie Hall singing “Ain’t No N*gga” in harmony with the black people in the audience like it was the 1900s and they were singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” while holding hands. For someone who was around at the start of rap’s entry into the mainstream I guess it might have been the equivalent of that to him, but anyway, here’s the full letter:
A few months ago, I went to the Jay-Z charity concert at Carnegie Hall. It was pretty exciting to watch hip-hop’s biggest star play the world’s most prestigious venue. However, there was nothing more exciting than him donating 100 percent of the proceeds to charity, including my $25,000 donation.
The third song that came on during the show was “Ain’t No N*gga”… the song I signed Jay to Def Jam on. Everyone in the hall was singing every word to the song. Every white girl (and there were a lot of them) was singing it to their man…“Ain’t no n*gga like the one I got!” EVERYONE was singing every word of every song for the entire set, which ended with “N*ggas In Paris.” White, black – everyone was singing along.
But a couple of nights ago, a similar milestone occurred in Paris with Jay and Kanye’s Watch The Throne Tour. It was at this show that my friend Gwyneth Paltrow tweeted something that got me a little twisted. I follow Gwyneth on Twitter and when I saw her tweet about the “N*ggas in Paris” show in PARIS, I said ‘Damn everybody is there but me.’ I’m a bit older and I don’t get to jet-set to concerts like I used to, but when I saw Gwyneth was there, I must admit, I got a little jealous. The tweet she sent has since angered some in the black community, since she used the n-word. But when I saw it, it didn’t faze me – not even one bit.
I have to throw my hand up and stand up for Gwyneth. I know her intentions were not to be offensive … she was just proud of her friend, Jay-Z. My words are in defense of her.
I don’t have a permanent answer to the n-word controversy that appeases everyone. I remember when I tried to fix it and said we should maybe beep that word and a few others on the radio, Oprah quoted me as if I said not to use the n-word. However, for the record, I have NEVER told any artist not to use that word or any word in my life and I never will; a poet can choose their own words to describe whatever they want in their art.
And in the case of “N*ggas in Paris,” it is clear that these two poets are celebrating the fact that they now travel the world and are literally ballin’ in Paris … it started as a badge of honor, something to be proud of, something to poke their chests out at. Because for them, when they were kids, Paris was a million miles away and now it’s a private jet ride. The idea of being in Paris with a movie star, whether she’s black or white, is incredible!
There is something truly inspiring about black culture and black music, hip-hop culture and hip-hop music. No matter what color skin you might have, there is an overriding good effect that this music has on you. It is contagious. It was this explosive expression that spread out of the inner cities of America into the walkmans of kids like Gwyneth Paltrow during their childhoods in 1980s and 1990s. It allowed white kids to begin to sympathize with the plight of many in black America. And these kids have overwhelmingly become progressive in their politics and their social concerns. Having any Hollywood starlet at your concert was unimaginable, and having her quote your lyrics as a badge of honor that she was hanging out with you, you never would have dreamed of that – until your poetry hit the market and changed the world.
So, for Gwyneth to tweet out her excitement about hip-hop taking over the planet is a good thing. She didn’t mean any harm, she just was trying to ball so hard, and like Jay-Z says, “motherf***ers can’t fine” her.
You can tell what era of rap Russ grew up in because he’s quite nostalgic about a time when the music was progressive and aired social and political concerns. You can’t deny rap is still contagious and explosive but white people are hardly sympathizing with any black plight these days. They just want to be n*ggas for as long as the three- or four-minute song their singing lasts and then go back to their inherently privileged realities.
What’s interesting about this whole thing is that it’s come out that The Dream is actually the one who sent the tweet from Gwen’s phone that night and had he spent more time explaining that from jump instead of that “context is everything” statement, this would have died out. But apparently he wanted to make a point like Russell Simmons: The n-word is fair game for any and everybody. I guess (not.)
What do you think about Russell Simmon’s post?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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