One of my favorite movies all time is the satire Office Space. You can pick whatever your favorite scene is but the obvious winner for me takes place during the opening credits. The classic Geto Boys’ song “Still” is being played on the ironically named character Michael Bolton’s radio on his daily commute while he’s stuck in traffic.
Expletives and n-words are all dropped throughout the track and Bolton is singing it word for word. Then he spots a black man who’s selling flowers on the highway. Bolton tries, with limited success, to roll his window up to keep his love for gangsta music within the confines of his car and out of the range of this black man’s ears.
Bolton was just enjoying his music. Like Alec Baldwin and his daughter Ireland.
Yesterday, Ireland Baldwin tweeted the affinity she had for Jay-Z and Kanye’s album Watch The Throne, and in particular its Blades of Glory-sampling anthem “N*ggas in Paris”. Ireland tweeted the track’s title and came under fire from her followers and was called a racist and insensitive among other things. Alec Baldwin came to his daughter’s defense, while dismissing anyone who considered to her intentions to be malicious as being a racist themselves.
The last time Twitter was set ablaze when a white girl used the n-word in relation to a lyric was when up and coming white rapper Kreayshawn tweeted a DMX verse a few months ago. She was less than unapologetic when it came to her liberal use of the n-word in the past. Time was, you can go on YouTube and easily find Kreayshawn saying the word in freestyles. I believe the difference between what she did and what Ireland tweeted is really simple. Intent.
There is no point in rehashing the history of what the n-word means to African-Americans. The slur will forever be a touchy for us. With a word that is so heavy and personal to an entire people, when you begin to insert it into mainstream music, there is going to be some unavoidable sonic bumps and bruises along the way.
Hip-hop is listened to by all different races and demographics and that can’t be denied.
When in a mixed crowd, I’ve always thought it a little disturbing when I’d hear someone that wasn’t black repeating lyrics that were filled n-bombs around me. Thankfully it hasn’t happened often but when it has, I usually receive an uncomfortable embarrassed look from the offender or a quick apology, which I then accept and we carry on.
It’s not like there is a look of “White Power!” in their eyes when they say it. What’s done is done. I refuse to be that pro militant person to jump down someone’s throat when they are legitimately enjoying good music. The slur “cracker” is used liberally within some of my most beloved tracks but if we are all playing by the same rules — then am I, or even the artists considered racist? No, and if we continue to have this mindset, we are all heading down a slippery slope.
When in the presence of a lyrical offender, let cooler heads prevail. It really is a judgment call. It’s kind of like an audio red flag challenge on the play. The only time you should monitor the mixed company you keep is if they become, to quote the great Charlie Murphy, a habitual line stepper.