Filed under: Bronx Bombers,Features,Interviews,Steady Bootleggin'
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Note: This wasn’t included in the first version since it was meant to be used for a print mag. Turns out they didn’t run it anyway!
You know how there’s always a guy you know who just never stops talking when you’re trying to enjoy a beer and annoy some dames? KRS-One is sort of like that, except he usually says something worth hearing – either because it’s so spot-on, or just completely bananas. Sometimes it’s a combination of the two. When I got the chance to pick at his brain to celebrate the release of his new album with former rival Marley Marl (as well celebrate twenty years of releasing music) we covered a number of topics, but it was one question in particular that seemed to really spark his interest. So much so, that it took-up half of the interview. But given that race is always a hot topic in America, it’s only right that one of hip-hop’s most outspoken and articulate representatives has the chance to speak his piece.
Robbie: What are your feelings on Russell “Rush” getting on Bill O’Reilly and apologizing to him? Talking about banning words – it seems kind of ironic considering he used to sell dust and promoted all kinds of ignorant Def Jam artists, and suddenly he wants to be holier-than–thou. What are your thoughts on that situation?
KRS-One: Well you just said my thoughts. That’s really it. Russell’s a great friend – not a best friend – but a great friend and a great ally. Russell’s an intelligent man – he is hip-hop. His legacy in hip-hop is unmatched. Def Jam is an institution in our culture, no doubt about it. But everything you just said is my feeling and is my thought. We’re talking culture now, we’re talking community now. We’re talking within the culture now, and when you look at Russell as a brother now – not a mogul, not a CEO – no Russell, you just a hip-hopper like the rest of us now. And we’re now sizing-up your contribution, and sizing-up who you really are now. Here’s where these questions come in now, and they’re to be kept in this context as well. What are my thoughts on it? First of all, for me, we need more niggas. I don’t think we need less niggas, we need more niggas. I was with Afrika Bambatta last night, and Bam was explaining to me the use of this word “nigga” – we need to chill with that shit, totally. According to Bam, it is degrading. We don’t need to be calling each other niggas, bitches and hoes. We just don’t need to be doin’ that. We need to call ourselves Gods, Goddesses, queens and kings. I take my orders from Afrika Bambatta. That’s where I get my orders from. Al Sharpton said the same thing – we need to ban the use of the “N” word. Russell Simmons has said we need to ban the use of the “N” word. Afrika Bambatta has said “we need to ban the use of the “N” word”. I take my cue from Afrika Bambatta! But I take my cue from Afrika Bambatta because he’s a real nigga! No doubt! And he’s surrounded by real niggas – no doubt! I was with real niggas yesterday – Afrika Bambatta and I hung out, then I went over to his radio show, and I started talking about this. “What is your stance, Bam? What is Zulu Nation‘s stance on this use of the word nigga?” And Bam is real surface with it because he know what time it is. We not really banning the use of the word nigga – you’re not gonna do that. But….can we teach our children something different? Bam’s thing is balance. If you’re gonna call your brother a nigga – call him God, too. Don’t just call him nigga. Call him God, call him king, call her queen. That’s where Bam is coming from, and I’m taking my cue from that.
The other side to it is – you can’t make no demands unless you can physically back ‘em up. I’m part of Zulu Nation’s military wing as well. So when Afrika Bambatta speaks, it’s not that their looking to kick my ass – ’cause I will fight to the end – but we are all part of the ass-kickin’ committee. So when Bam says: “Yo, I think we need to chill with the word ‘nigga'” we then leave Bam and we have a discussion amongst ourselves. “Well I think we need this word ‘nigga'” Somebody else says “Nah, man. We don’t need that shit. That shit is foul” We had a serious discussion on the use of the word nigga and the improper use of it, and it boils down to balance. If you wanna call yourself a nigga, then go ahead. You a nigga. But if I call myself God, you gonna respect me as God. And that’s the point – if I say “Peace God” – white folk aren’t respecting that either! So if I say “Whaddup dog! My dogs in the house!” – they ain’t respectin’ that either! “Yo my nigga!” – you ain’t respectin’ that either! The bottom line is – you just not respectin’ me! That’s Zulu Nation’s stance. I think Al Sharpton is highly respected, I think he’s sharp. I like Al Sharpton, personally, but I think he’s on the wrong side on this one. We don’t need to ban the use of the word “nigga” we need to keep it where it is. We need to say “Listen, if you’re gonna upgrade yourself to a higher level – a superior level – if you’re really gonna go there, call yourself something different than nigga”. But if you are not gonna elevate yourself and the word “nigga’ is in your tongue, then we’re gonna treat you like that. There’s certain rules for niggas, you know what I’m sayin? There are! Niggas get shot and niggas go to jail. Niggas are climbing through your window and shit. Niggas is fightin’ in the street, niggas is shootin’ and doin they shit. That’s niggas. But even in the midst of all that? I can depend on my niggas. I get love from my niggas. My respect comes from my niggas. The people that call themselves African-Americans don’t respect me or my views. Fat Joe – he Puerto Rican, and he says he’s a nigga. “He’s an ill nigga” is what Fat Joe would say. [chuckles] He Puerto Rican, but he’s a nigga. And at the end of the day when I say “Yo! Where’s my niggas at?” – Afrika Bambatta knows exactly what we talking about, and this is where we flip it now to the next level, from Zulu Nation, and we say “We need more real niggas! We need real niggas, right now” Not N-I-G-G-E-R. N-I-G-G-A. We own that word. That’s our word. We need more niggas.
Now jump to the Temple of Hip-Hop – the Temple of Hip-Hop says: “Wait a minute, let’s hold-on to this word “nigga”. “Nigger” is clearly disrespectful, we don’t use that term. That is a racist epithet…but so is the word “American”. In England, in the 1600’s, to be called an “American” was to be called “nigger”. It was the same thing! It was a lower race of people! It was a lower standard of people. In fact, the British people who came to the America’s, their argument back to the British Crown – the King – was that Americans – this “lower group” – deserves the same rights as British citizens! They said “We’re British citizens! We’re not Americans!” Because English Englishman were calling these, lower-class Englishmen, “Americans”. Because they would frequent America, hang-out with these Native Americans and these Blacks and these Mexicans that were over here. These white folk would be hangin’ out with them, come back with their hair cut like ‘em, talking like ‘em, doin’ they music – just like hip-hop today – and they would them Americans. It was a racial epithet. It was not a good title to be called “American” in the 1600’s, like being called “nigger” or “chink” or “wop” or “cracker” or “spic”. Same thing with “Christian”. “Christian” was a racial epithet until Constantine made the religion legal! So what do these words mean? The Temple of Hip-Hop would argue that none of these words mean anything without a graphic description. If I say “nigga” to you and a man hanging from a tree comes to your mind, then that’s your problem! If I say to somebody else “nigga” and immediately the image in his mind is safety, trust, honesty…somebody on my level , my brother, family member, my sister. If that’s the image that comes into your mind, then what’s the problem? If I say “bark”, and bark means the bark of a tree, the bark of a dog, to embark on a mission…we gotta know what we talking about!
So this whole argument of the use of the word “nigga” really stems along the lines of cultural illiteracy. Our older generation is not taking the time to learn what they’re children are saying. It’s kind of embarrassing, because we’ve now taken control of the word. We’ve taken that worse word – “nigger” – and turned it into a tool of empowerment. That is God! That’s hip-hop. That’s self-creation. Here’s a final view – the view of Al Sharpton and Quincy Jones: The term “nigga” could never mean brother, it could never be a term of endearment. When we use the term “nigga”, it’s just like saying Britney Spears is hip-hop. In the future, our children may be like “Go Britney! Yo, Britney Spears was hip-hop back in the days! Dad, lemme show you this! Yo, Paris Hilton was hip-hop cause she had a spliff in her hand!” Our children can say that if we don’t get this right. Now imagine Al Sharpton and Quincy Jones and Jesse Jackson, who were raised in a time when you were called “nigger” and shot at, and Black men were hanging from trees! Imagine them now today, hearing their children call each other “Nigga! Nigga! Yo nigga nigga! My nigga! Your nigga! These niggas!”? They must be going crazy! And if we respect them at all – even though we could philosophize the word “nigga”, we can have stances on the word “nigga”, we can rationalize the use of the word, we could socialize it, we could politicize it – even though we could do all of that, if our parents say “The word offends us”, why don’t we just stop? Why don’t we just stop using the word? If we have any love for our parents, why don’t we just stop using it? Fuck what we think! Fuck the rationalization and shit. We should stop using it, because mom said she don’t like it. Because dad said he don’t like it. Why we can’t just do that? I think that’s the argument that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are waging. There’s a spiritual part, there’s a cultural part that we can’t see because we were not part of that other era. We were children – we weren’t even born! But they were, and they can see an importance to the use of the word “nigga” or the not use of the word “nigga”. They can see an importance to why we should or shouldn’t be using this word. I think we should trust them on this and just stop using the term. So that’s all the terms and that’s the stance.
Boogie Down Productions - “P Is Free (original version)”
KRS-One TV Spot from 1988:
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