Dr. Maya Angelou’s feelings on the n-word have long been made clear: “I hated the word ni**er and never believed it to be a term of endearment, no matter who used it.” With that in mind it’s easy to understand why she is upset with Common for using the term on a track containing her vocals. The song in question is “The Dream,” featured on the Chicago rapper’s latest release, The Dreamer, The Believer.
Per Common’s request, Angelou penned and recited a poem featuring lines like, “From Africa they lay in the bilge of slave ships / And stood half naked on auction blocks /. . . and still they dreamed.” By contrast, Common is heard saying, “Told my ni**(a [Kanye West] I’m ‘bout to win the Grammys now” and the boast “Ni**as with no heart, I’m the pacemaker.”
In an interview with the New York Post, Dr. Angelou said, “I had no idea that Common was using the piece we had done together on [a track] in which he also used the ‘n’ word numerous times.”
Branding the word “vulgar and dangerous” to the black community, the Pulitzer Prize nominated poet said she was unaware that Common used the word. She added, “I’m surprised and disappointed. I don’t know why he chose to do that. I had never heard him use that [word] before. I admired him so because he wasn’t singing the line of least resistance.”
Common insinuated that this story is being a bit overblown, saying the two have since discussed their difference and that, “She knows I do use the word. She knows that’s part of me.”
He did acknowledge that he neglected to inform her that part of him would be fused with her words on their collaborative effort. Common explained: “I told her what ‘The Dreamer’ was about and what I wanted to get across to people. I wanted young people to hear this and feel like they could really accomplish their dreams.”
This is the second time this year that Common has been criticized for his lyrical content. Earlier this year, the White House caught flack for inviting Common to a poetry event. Though the songs cited to fuel the story did contain anti-police and anti-war sentiments, it was still largely much ado about nothing. Indeed, members of the right purposely ignored other entertainers with questionable material in their respective catalogs and were merely complaining from a stance that was partisan versus one rooted in any real principle.
While that ultimately says more about them than Common, what the rapper should’ve taken from that debacle is that it’s best to be on your Ps and Qs when dealing with certain audiences.
And in the case of Dr. Angelou, this is one headline that could’ve been easily avoided. Even if you aren’t familiar with her past comments about the word, there’s this magic invention called Google that allows one to enter phrases and words in order to find the information you need on them. Say “Maya Angelou on the n-word.” Once you enter those search terms, before you know it you come to discover exactly how Maya feels about the word, and thus, have an idea of how you should proceed if you plan on working with her creatively.
Zoom, look at technology go.
To be fair, Dr. Angelou should’ve done her own homework, too. No offense to the NAACP, but many of us — particularly of a certain age — symbolically skipped their symbolic burial of the word. Moreover, with all due respect to Angelou, it’s not like a rapper with an affinity for saying “ni**a” is venturing into unfamiliar terrain.
Still, it was Common’s song and ultimately, his responsibility to be as perfectly clear as possible. Now I’m pretty sure Maya will forgo the option of spitting hot fire on wax in order to state her grievances. So can we just move on from this and maybe, I don’t know, talk about some of the actual themes Common and Dr. Angelou conveyed in the song?