None of us were sure of the rules.
I’m pretty sure none of the 59,997 others around did either.
Near the end of our second day of our first Lollapalooza experience in 2006, Cory, Rachel and I stood in Chicago’s Grant Park, ready to see Kanye West take the stage. We’d been hyped for this particular performance for months, but despite all of our preparations, we still had one question that remained unanswered:
When singing (or in this case, rapping) along with Kanye, do we say a certain racially insensitive word or do we censor ourselves?
Valid arguments were made for both sides.
Saying the N-word
Pro: Remaining true to Kanye’s artistic vision, saying his words, each of them, exactly as he intended, even the ones that might not be so artistic.
Con: Inciting a full-scale race riot and/or getting our arses kicked.
Not saying the N-word
Pro: Showing our support at the ugliness of the word, the hatred of a term filled with venom.
Con: Drawing even more attention to the word as a mostly white audience goes mute, leaving only Kanye to say it, thus inciting a full-scale race riot and/or getting our arses kicked.
We ultimately decided to self-censor, but we also faced another dilemma: what word do we say in its place? Sure, Kanye helped us with “Now I ain’t saying she’s a golddigger, but she ain’t messing with no broke, broke,” but there was nothing to save us from Jesus Walks’ lyrics in which restless (N-words) might snatch your necklace or jack your Lexus before being told who Kanye West is.
Rap music is all about the rhythm and flow of the words, so it’s not really possible to just replace the N-word with a more politically correct term – “Now I ain’t saying she’s a golddiger, but she ain’t messing with no broke African-Americans.”
So, we stressed.
Kanye, though, is a step ahead of most people, and no doubt sensed this large crowd of white concert-goers all had similar questions about rap etiquette. Prior to the song, he told the crowd that this was one time in which white people could say the word without any repercussions from anyone.
The crowd let out a massive cheer at his words, which, honestly, was a bit off-putting. I’m not sure if they were applauding his progressive stance or the fact they got to be freely racist.
Most likely, they were simply breathing a huge sigh of relief, knowing that the decision had been made, thus allowing them to rap along without incident. Our little trio felt much better about things.
But not for long.
A gentleman (who happened to be black) next to me took great exception to Kanye’s one-time waiver of N-word reprisals, yelling: “Noooo! No, Kanye. Don’t let ‘em. Don’t let ‘em.”
In a sea of 60,000 people, we happened to stand next to the one militant black man who would no doubt kicked three behinds in a single swift swoop had either of us so much as let out a peep of the word in question.
So, we stayed quiet, rapping along when we could, staying uncomfortably silent when needed.
The issue, however, has returned, as Cory and I prepare to venture out Saturday to see Jay-Z in concert. Jay-Z has far more use of the term than Kanye, thus providing a bigger problem than the one three years ago.
Further compounding matters, Jay-Z also refers to himself as “Jigga,” and I’m not 100 percent sure that’s not racist when coming from my lips.
Being as there’s no acceptable PC replacement for “Jigga,” I’m going to take a different approach – anytime there’s an N-word (or even a J-word), I’m simply going to insert my first name, which should be rather fun during “Strother what, Strother who.”
OK, so one down. Now I only got 98 problems.