Two weekends ago I was the most excited I’ve been in a while. I was going to see one of the most prominent figures in Hip-hop music and culture: Kendrick Lamar. I was hype because although I’m a Hip-hop dancer, I really don’t get down with a lot of rappers. Kendrick, however, is one of the few rappers who I consider to be an artist within the emcee element of Hip-hop culture. I don’t agree with how he says a lot of things, but that is beside the point as he produces products that allow for one to take an introspective look into their character, their relationships, and their society. Kendrick’s lyrics personally encourage me to search for a deeper knowledge about the different cultures I represent and how that affects the way I negotiate myself within the structures of American society. Whether it’s replaying the words of Tupac Shakur in order to discuss a philosophy of revolution that spawns from the enlarging gap between the rich and the poor, or providing historical knowledge of the convoluted n-word that goes beyond the African-American experience of slavery, I can count on the words of Kendrick Lamar to constantly help me question what is happening in today’s society. So yea, I was pretty hype to let loose and enjoy the concert; and I paid enough money, waited enough time in line, and suffered through enough bad weather to deserve enjoying that concert! However, I quickly realized that my being at this event was not for my blissful enjoyment, but rather for a heavy educational experience.
I’ve been thinking a lot about black males who identify themselves through Hip-hop culture and how stereotypes of that demographic serve as evidence for mainstream audiences to justify devaluing black males within American society. All cultures have their own stereotypes, but there may be no other demographic whose stereotypes affect the way they are seen and treated in society as much as black men in America. Stigmatizations such as the dangerous thug, the uncontrolled sex symbol, the violent drug dealer, and the primal athlete aid in many people’s reasoning as to why so many black males are incarcerated, why so many black females are single mothers, why black-on-black crime is so high, and why the black male academic dropout rate is so high. And, Hip-hop culture, specifically rap music, is constantly dealing with receiving ridicule for enforcing these stigmatizations.
So, I’m observing Kendrick Lamar express what I believe to be an authentic and artistic description of his life—an on-going struggle to find a sense of true and positive self in the midst of growing up in one of the most dangerous urban areas in America. As a result, lyrics with themes such as violence, drugs, gang life, and more are being portrayed as a representation of the culture in which Kendrick grew up in. And, in what I believe is an attempt to keep it real as an artist, the word “nigga” is constantly flowing from the voice box of Lamar’s throat to the ears of a sea of Caucasian college students in Columbus, OH (the crowd had a diverse mix, but still… it was mostly white folk). And, surprisingly—or maybe not—they are repeating the word right back to him.
Without going into the complication of the n-word in contemporary society, I just want to say that the historical baggage of the word has not lost its power regardless of whether its nigga or nigger. If a white person calls a black person a nigga in many contexts, especially out of malice, somebody is dying…just kidding…but not really. The point is that although the n-word still has the power to devalue a black person within a society that still carries the stench of racism within its foundational structures, all races in America find it okay to use the contemporary version of the word, and its mostly if not completely because of Hip-hop culture. Now, to go back to the concert, is it Kendrick’s fault that all these white people have no problem yelling out nigga? Many people would answer yea because he is responsible for the lyrics that he produces. Others have made the argument (and I’m generalizing) that these white people are going to say it anyways, so why not just be real with it, especially if the lyrics are authentic to the rapper’s experience?
Despite what side you’re on, and there are quite a few sides, there lies the fact that the word “nigga” is not used simply to describe a comrade. It is used to represent a commercial portrayal, specifically through Hip-hop culture, of what it means to be “real” as a black male in society: aggressive, strong, materialistic, misogynistic, homophobic, violent, and more. Yet, being “real” is exactly what is aiding in the devaluing of the black male in American society. For people who cannot understand the struggles of living against those stigmatizations on a daily basis to be yelling out this word, to me, is just ignorant. Furthermore, people who know about this struggle yet decide to say the word anyways…to each is own I guess. And, I get it. I’m a privileged black male from the burbs. I didn’t grow up in Compton or anywhere else where these stigmas are your daily reality. I just will never completely understand why anyone, especially black males, would so frivolously aid in the stigmatization of their own demographic within this hierarchical society.
So, anyways, yea…that’s why I couldn’t enjoy the concert featuring my favorite rapper.