Who gets to say the ‘N word’? Not you, white lady

Pulitzer Prize-winner Kendrick Lamar has made clear who gets to say the “N word” at his concerts. Not you, white lady in Alabama.

Lamar invited a woman on stage to rap M.A.A.D City with him, a piece of art with several uses of the “N word”, so many that it’s pretty hard to rap it without saying it, and that was Lamar’s point. He likely knew exactly what he was doing. How could he not?

She didn’t self-censor, the crowd turned on her , and Lamar stopped the concert, the BBC reports.

Warning: You may find this offensive.

Publicity stunt or social commentary?

His reps did not respond to Newsweek’s request for comment.

More: Should white people ever sing the N-word? (BBC)

  • MrE85

    I have removed that particular word from my vocabulary, and my ability to communicate my thoughts with others has not suffered. I need to work on removing some others.

    • It was actually IN your vocabulary at some point?

      • kate 8

        Perhaps he bought some Brazil nuts or Sugar Babies in 1952?
        I find people with open minds that never quit learning and growing the very best kinds!

  • Mike

    So what would have been his point in inviting her onstage to do something like that? To incite the crowd against a particular member of the audience? That’s obnoxious at best, criminal at worst.

    • RBHolb

      She was not the only one invited up on stage. Several other people had gone before her, and all of them self-censored.

      • Mike

        Seems highly passive aggressive to invite people to sing along and then ask them to self-censor. To each his own, but it seems we’ve reached peak PC when that happens.

        • Not using the N-word is well beyond the “PC” pejorative. Well, beyond.

          • Mike

            I was referring to the invitation to perform, then demanding self-censorship. That’s PC on steroids. If a term is considered so toxic that some people shouldn’t be using it, perhaps it’s not a good idea for anyone to use it.

            Again, what’s the artist’s motivation here? To embarrass or humiliate a fan? It doesn’t say much about either the artist or the fan.

          • Jay T. Berken

            I would hope that I would have self censored myself if I was in that predicament, but what Lamar did was a really good shot across the bow. Through all his shows, he has probably heard white people sing the word thousands of times while in the crowd. He just called it out.

            Now using the word in his music, well that is his personal history and experience which I really can not have a say about. He has the First Amendment behind him. It is censored on our public radio air waves.

          • Mike

            Let’s untangle this a bit:

            – It’s purportedly good for people of all races to buy his music, to pay money for something that contains words that are supposedly extremely toxic.
            – It’s bad (only for certain people) to sing along to the music they have purchased – due to the toxicity of certain words contained therein – even when invited on stage to do so.

            To say the least, that’s a highly unusual set of rules for pop music.

            Is it a sin to sing them in the car too?

          • Joe

            Is this really that hard to grasp for you?

          • This’ll help you.


          • Jay T. Berken

            Those are some stone cold issues that you have. I hope you have someone to feel your issues too.

          • Jared

            This isn’t a set of rules for any specific music genre. The general rule is white people shouldn’t be saying that word, which is applied to music here. If you think white people should be allowed to use the word then that’s a different issue.

            As for Kendrick trying to “catch” this fan, he had other people up with no issue. When she first used the word he asked her not to and when she wasn’t able to rap the song without it he sent her back in the audience. Doesn’t seem like he was trying to trick her or anything.

          • RBHolb

            We’re veering awfully close to the old “Why can rappers say the n-word, but I can’t?” complaint.

            I have no idea what went on at the concert, or what point Lamar was trying to make. He may not have been trying to put on just another sing-along. Lamar seems to be an intelligent, thoughtful man, so I wouldn’t discount the possibility that he was trying to make some broader point about the word, and who can use it, or even whether it should be used..

    • Sergio Robert Andrade Jr.

      Criminal? What’s illegal about admonishing someone using racial slurs? What legal code are you reading?

  • Ralphy

    I coached middle school aged summer baseball in south Minneapolis many years ago. That word was part of a team conversation and using it (along with a few others) would be rewarded with running laps. It didn’t matter if the kid was white, black, green or brown. Nobody owns that word. That word is divisive, rooted in violence and anger, and not an acceptable form of expression under any circumstance on our team.
    Now the team is our community, and for my family (which includes African, European, Hispanic, Native American and Mediterranean heritage) that word is banned outside of a historical context.

    • John O.

      I used to referee youth soccer and had a somewhat similar experience. During a tournament at the National Sports Center, a young nonwhite player (it was a U14 boys match) came up to me and pointed to a white player who he accused of using that word. I did not hear the word myself and–for the record–I would have given the young man a straight red card if I had heard him use that word.

      I stopped play and went to the team side of the pitch, called both teams and their coaches over and explained what had just been alleged. Everyone clearly understood that racism in any way, shape or form would not be tolerated by me or my assistant referees. If we heard any racial epithets, it would be a straight red card and I would see to it in my match report that the young person was deemed ineligible for the remainder of the tournament.

      Without any prompting from myself, both coaches addressed both teams and the match resumed without further incident. Both thanked me afterwards for facilitating a teachable moment.

      • Ralphy

        You handled that very well! Thanks.

  • Guest

    Can whites do rap then? Not just this occasion, but any use of the n-word in entertainment?

    I applaud the “owning” of the word by blacks because much like any insult “Yankee Doodle” if embraced it loses it’s sting.

    Still, there is a long and nasty history associated with that word and polite company knows this…..See National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

    Very little reason TO use, lotsa reasons to REFRAIN from use.

    • wjc

      You can rap without using that word. People do it every day.

    • jon

      //Can whites do rap then?

      Um, Vanilla ice proved white boys can rap back in the 90’s…
      (and also that they probably shouldn’t…)

    • Barton

      Dessa raps quite stunningly, and she is a woman and white.

      • Justin McKinney

        As well as Cecil Otter, Sims, Brother Ali, and (before his untimely death) Eyedea (RIP).

        • Christin Crabtree

          As white people I encourage you to interrogate the way whiteness is being centered by the references to Dessa, Sims, Cecil, Ali and Eyedea. Lets be mindful of paternalism in regard to a culturally black art form. Using the “N-word” or not doesn’t make the art less stunning. Every rapper you named is a guest in a black space, and they KNOW it. I get the point you are making, but lets show some respect for the history of hip hop and for the many stunning artists who might feel less comfortable to you.

          • Christin Crabtree

            Here is video of Dessa’s speech at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum in 2012; much of it is relevant to this post.

          • Justin McKinney

            Thank you very much for posting this. It reinforces my admiration for Dessa.

          • Justin McKinney

            I didn’t mean to cause any issues, or appear as though these rappers are more comfortable to me because they’re white. I also listen to Jurassic 5, all manner of early 90’s hip-hop (both West and East Coast), and a lot of indie stuff. I’m not much for a lot of the new stuff coming out in the mainstream hip-hop scene (including Kendrick Lamar), simply because I choose to spend my time listening to acts closer to home. I am a huge fan of Rhymesayers and their entire group of performers, and I like the less mainstream stuff.

  • chlost

    There has never been an occasion in which I felt any need, desire, context in which to use that word. I feel uncomfortable reading it. Of course, I am just an old white lady.

  • Barton

    I sing/rap a long to a lot of earlier rap music (I’m old, NWA, A Trip Called Quest – you’ll find the word used a lot in the first group and not a lot in the second). It is quite easy to self-censor when this word comes up. Just like I self-censor when singing along to British punk and they use the 4-letter word beginning with “C” that has a different meaning to the Brits than it does in the US.

    And I totally understand why Kendrick called the woman on it, especially when others self-censored.

  • Jerry

    Now if only we can get Kendrick to call Quentin Tarantino up on stage.

  • Jared

    Bob, maybe I’m misinterpreting your second paragraph but I don’t think this was meant as any kind of trick. While I haven’t been able to listen to the video yet, the song in question is really easy to rap while self-censoring (or as easy as rapping it otherwise I would guess). The chorus uses it multiple times but is really slow and the main verse only uses it once. I don’t think this was an attempt at a gotcha but rather Kendrick expecting an enthusiastic fan to know better.

    • “Trick” certainly isn’t the word I would use. Intentional is the word I would use. As I said on the podcast today, if it was, it was a brilliant method of making a point. If it wasn’t, then he’s just another guy on a stage. I’m going with “brilliant”, which I think is confirmed — in my opinion — by his team’s not commenting on it. It creates a really good and important conversation, which is what art is supposed to do.

      • X.A. Smith

        I agree with Jared. He didn’t get angry, he was pretty polite through the whole thing, he didn’t seem to be out to shame her or anything. This is at worst a learning experience, for everyone involved, including this comments section.

        Your contention that it was intentional is a guess, nothing more.

        • Yes, that’s right. I think he’s brilliant so I’m believing this was a deliberate attempt, not to shame, but to make an artistic and cultural point, choosing the perfect place — Alabama — to make it.

          But, yeah, maybe not. Maybe he’s just another guy with a gig to play.

          I don’t think so, though.

  • Brian Simon

    Interesting. I don’t know Lamar’s music at all, so I don’t know whether he’s guilty of a double standard; in rap / hip-hop, the ‘b’ word is quite prevalent, yet it seems to me that its use is not restricted to women. Should it be?

    • Yes. For the reasons Coates outlined in the video I posted.

      • Brian Simon

        I’m more of a reader than a watcher.

        • Well, umm… hmmm…. I don’t really know how to respond to that. But you asked a question that didn’t appear to be rhetorical — but maybe it was — and there’s 4 minutes, 59 seconds (and probably a lot less) standing between you and the answer from a pretty important perspective. Watch it. Don’t watch it. Your choice, of course.

  • lindblomeagles

    While I hate the N-Word regardless of who says it, I understand why the white woman sang that word. Most of us have favorite songs we listen to, and part of listening to a song is singing the words or verses of that song, be it biblical, hard rock, rock and roll, pop, rhythm and blues, country, folk, or hip hop. And if you want your music commercially viable, then you’ll promote said music to everybody. Thus, it is totally naïve, disingenuous, and ignorant to market hip hop to the world while simultaneously telling everybody in the world who isn’t black, “Now don’t say the N-Word,when singing along to the hip hop song I want you to hear and enjoy. You can clap your hands, wiggle your rear, and move your head from side to side, but when you get to that N word, bleep yourself.” We, as African Americans, really can’t have it both ways. If we don’t like hearing that word from others, then we really should demand hip hop clean its lyrics.

  • Paul Drake

    Is there a master list of bad words and who can or can’t use them?