Kreayshawn, a young up and coming female rapper from Oakland, might just be high on her own hype — among other things. How else can one explain her recent series of unfortunate run-ins with the n-word?
The 21-year-old multimedia artist (in addition to rapping, Kreayshawn directs videos and does graphic design) is facing some tough questions in the wake of a series of confusing and seemingly contradictory statements and behavior involving her use of the infamous n-word.
The controversy is unfolding just as the rapper’s career is beginning to blow up. Her infectious single “Gucci Gucci has almost 3 million views on YouTube, and she was recently signed to Columbia Records for a rumored 1 million dollar record deal. Her internet presence is ubiquitous: she maintains a website, Tumblr page, and Twitter feed, all updated regularly with seemingly personal and original content— which is where the difficulties surrounding her use of the n-word originates.
Her n-word strife began last week, after she tweeted the following:
People are actin so funny omg lol—-1 got 200K views…not 200K dollars…WTF YOU WANT FROM A N***A? DMX VOICE
The comment has since been removed from her feed. And although it could be argued that her use of the n-word here is referential — she’s quoting a DMX and Sisqo song — it still managed to raise some eyebrows and inspired enough outrage that she was moved to delete it.
Perhaps if this one tweet represented the extent of her dealings with the polarizing term, the controversy might have blown over more quickly. But her engagement with the n-word is not limited to this incident — she’s been known to use the word in the occasional freestyle as well.
What is she thinking? Interviews and public statements on the matter help clear up Kreayshawn’s stance. In an interview with OC Weekly posted on June 8, the rapper expounded on her a philosophy, defending her decision to use the word in the heat of the moment, but not in written rhymes, and touting her “low income” background as partial justification.
“If I’m freestyling and I said it, that’s just for that point in time. Any songs I’m writing I don’t use it. But like I said in Oakland…everyone calls each other that. I feel like that word is used in the low income community more than anything….I was raised around this…People call me that. But personally I’m not flaunting it around,” she said.
But in a seemingly contradictory move, when theGrio asked readers on Twitter if they thought it was ever OK for the white rapper to use the word, she replied right away:
@theGrio of course it’s not! That’s why I never used it!
It’s true that the word doesn’t appear in the majority of her music. But despite her emphatic protests, Kreayshawn’s comments and freestyles indicate that she uses the word comfortably, if sparingly. She also continues to associate with white female rappers who use the word, most notably fellow White Girl Mob member rapper V-Nasty, who released a freestyle tape last week in which she drops the n-word loosely.
theGrio is currently pursuing an interview with the rapper to set the record straight once and for all on her feelings about using the word. In the meantime, the larger question looms: is it ever OK for a white person to use or repeat a word that has been called upon to oppress and dominate black people, and still conjures images of violence and degradation for many? Even if that person manages to establish a legitimate amount of street credibility by growing up in “low income” east Oakland among violence and poverty, rocking bamboo earrings and an asymmetrical bob cut, and associating themselves with black rappers, as Kreayshawn does, can such casual and culturally-specific justifications ever hold up to a real historical wake up call?
Kreayshawn is hardly the first white person to inspire this question, in part because she’s hardly the first to appropriate elements of black culture and use them for profit.
But white rappers before her, no matter how bold, ballsy, or pioneering, have generally treated the word as completely off limits. Eminem, one of the most famous and well-respected white rappers in the game, refuses to use the word, and has repeatedly apologized for a slip up that occurred on a tape he recorded as a teenager in which he let it fly. “It’s just a word I don’t feel comfortable with,” he has said of the n-word. “It wouldn’t sound right coming out of my mouth… It’s not meant to be used by us [white people].”
Leah McSweeney, founder of the original “white girl mob” (streetwear brand Married To The MOB) expressed similar sentiments in a recent interview with Dr. Jay’s earlier this month:
I don’t know about the ‘n’ word. I do not say it or would ever feel comfortable having it in my vocab. I don’t know what or if there’s any kind of pass where a white person gets to say it and it’s okay. It’s a very touchy subject.
Given this history of deference and avoidance towards the n-word among white rappers, perhaps what’s most interesting about Kreayshawn’s tentative n-word position is that it could set a new precedent for white rappers to come. No matter your opinion on her talents, it’s hard to argue the point that Kreayshawn is currently positioned as a hyped, fresh, white face in hip-hop right now, and thus has the power to set the stage for acceptable and non-acceptable behavior moving forward. As Kreayshawn struggles to define a position toward the n-word that feels both authentic and respectful, her actions and behaviors will surely have real implications for the future of hip-hop and identity.
But as that future unfolds, she should remember that we’re far from achieving a true “post-racial” reality, and neither her success as a white woman in a predominantly black and male hip-hop industry, nor her use of the n-word, can transcend this hard truth.