Am I Allowed to Say "Nigga"?: A Comprehensive Starter Guide for Those Who Don't Know
*FOR THE RECORD. I DON'T USE THE WORD "NIGGA"*
I am a multi-media artist. I co-own a production company and have worked on a plethora of projects over the years. Trailers, films, web series, pilots, and television shows. I have worked on many TV shows of various genres on multiple television networks. I am currently working on the second season of a TV show on a major cable television network during the day. On nights, and weekends, I work on other projects that pique my interests. Sometimes these projects are as big as editing a 5 part web series or as small as doing creative consultation.
I absolutely love music. My favorite genre is soul music, but I have worked with folk, rock, hip-hop, and soul artist in the creative consultation realm. I met a woman from Northern California named “Jane”, who works in public relations who is interested in branching out into entertainment PR. Jane contacted me raving about a young, talented, musical artist that she saw in Sacramento named “Tiffany”, who impressed her. Jane said that she would like to collaborate with me on artist development and creative consultation with Tiffany. Jane shared Tiffany’s videos with me, and she no doubt has raw talent! Hearing Tiffany sing inspired me. Tiffany’s singing talent made many ideas run through my head. I got vivid ideas of video concepts, photography compositions, and social media strategies. Tiffany typically sings covers of popular artists songs. One of the goals Jane and I have for Tiffany is to make original songs with original lyrics. She needs to cultivate and explore her own sound, tone, and identity. From time to time, I’ll share musical tracks that I get from music producers, with Tiffany and Jane to see what they think. Tiffany also shares videos and photos of herself in the studio collaborating with musicians and recording music every so often for feedback.
In January in the year of our Lord, two thousand seventeen, Tiffany texted Jane and I a video of her with friends in a car rapping and singing to Monica’s “So Gone” instrumental to see what we thought. A rapper of Pacific Island descent starts off with his verse “Ya niggas want beef, nigga I want cheese...”
Ok, let me back up.
Jane is a Mexican woman, born in Northern California.
Tiffany is a Pacific Islander, born in the Bay Area. All of the people in the car are also Pacific Islanders.
The rapper finished his nigga laced verse and I thought, “Tiffany, why did you let this rapper say nigga on your track?” I continued watching and listening as Tiffany sings her verse and she ends it with a playful off the cuff freestyle: “We said don’t holla back nigga/ Or my brother gonna pull the trigga”. They all laugh in the car then the video ends abruptly.
I thought to myself several thoughts.
- Ok, I’m no longer going to work with Tiffany.
- Why did she send me this video with “nigga” in it? Did she not read the Mission Statement of my company, or look at my work to see what type of projects that I attach myself to?
- Is this a joke? Is she sending this to play with me? To rile me up?
- This is that Bay Area thing that I’ve heard about since Kreayshawn and other non-Black people who say “nigga” freely and without reproach.
- Am I trippin’? I’m an 80's baby. This is the new norm, right? Am I just being an uptight “old head” in the making?
- Hmmm, I feel like spazzing. Should I go off?
- Ok, let me try to lean on the side of understanding and take this as a teachable moment.
- Damn, it’s 2017, and I am a little sad and disappointed that I have to even address this at all.
I gave a brief synopsis to a few group chats that I'm apart of to ask them to weigh in on this video situation. “What do ya’ll think about non-Black people’s use of “nigga” Do they get a pass? I mean, she is a Pacific Islander, she has melanin! Am I trippin’? Am I over-analyzing this?”
Here are some of their responses:
- “If you ain't black, you need not say that shit ‘round me.”
- “No passes. If there is a debate on whether black folks can say it, then that means no one else can say it.”
- “Nah sun, no passes”
- “What ethnicity is she? Filipina or Samoan? Ha - I guess it doesn't matter. I'm not rolling with it. No”
Ok, I’m not trippin’. Let me go ahead and take this as a teachable moment. Obviously, she does not see fault in her actions because she shared the video with me, knowing that I’m a Black man.
Ah ok, cool. Thanks for sharing this. That’s dope that you’re getting your ideas out and moving more towards singing original lyrics over covers. I’m lookin’ forward to hearing more of your ideas executed… However, what’s up with ya’ll saying “nigga”? I ain’t rockin’ with that shit at all. None. Whatsoever. I don’t say it, and I know it has been more acceptable of people who aren’t Black saying it conversationally, and I know the bay area and whatnot and Northern Cali is more liberal with it, and how it has been said in contemporary society, that it supposedly has a different meaning these days as slang preferable with “homey”, But nah. Absolutely not. Fuck that shit. NOPE.
I respect it 🙏🏾 my apologies. I'll keep that embedded in my mind for future reference!
I thought, whew, that was a close one, but Tiffany apologized. She wasn’t defensive at all. She didn’t say, “Who are you to tell me what words to say? I’m grown! I’ll say whatever words I want to, when I want to. You don’t own words. I’m an artist. I say nigga all the time and I ain’t Black. Who cares? It’s just slang. It’s a Bay Area thing.”
She didn’t say any of that. She realized the error of her ways. I was a little irritated, but overall, I was good. The shock died down.
Then Jane responds via text, (remember, she is a Mexican woman):
No need to apologize... at least I don't think so... the word itself has evolved from its origins and there's so much background on it. If I can ask Emiliano: I now understand why you stay away from that word, but it is a common word in the music industry. However, it seems like a personal preference rather than anything else.. I'm not opposing but I do want to know more.
Funny thing, after I read that text, somehow, I was hovering over my body looking at myself reading that text. I had an out of body Black experience. My essence descended back into my physical being and my skin became progressively warm. I cracked an egg, and fried the yolk on my fist. I then commenced to eating scrambled eggs off of my skin.
I re-read the texts, and it felt surreal. The first statement that stood out to me especially was,
“No need to apologize”. It is highly irritating when someone tells someone else whether they should or should not apologize on someone else’s behalf. How can a Mexican woman think that it’s ok to tell someone who is not Black that she doesn’t need to apologize for saying a word that is used by Black people?
The second statement that resonated with me was “...it is a common word in the music industry...” Ok. Maybe she had me there. I’m not a music executive. I have worked with musicians from time to time. I’ve worked with some American Idol contestants who went on to become famous and successful. I’ve worked with singers featured on The Voice and made it to the Top 6. I even worked on a web series sponsored by a heavy metal label featuring an award-winning food truck. However, my main focus is TV, video, and film. Maybe, I’m just ignorant of the music world. I hit up a former record executive for a major record company, a former A&R executive at a major record company, a creative director at a major entertainment company, and a celebrity public relations professional who has worked with a wide variety of artists for a major label. Their response? Every single one of them responded, to paraphrase, “That’s not a good look. The ‘N’ word amongst Black artists is problematic, and it is extremely problematic among non-Blacks”.
The third statement from Jane that made my antennas go up was: “However, it seems like a personal preference rather than anything else”. Which basically told me this: “Yes, I am a Mexican woman. And I occasionally say nigga.”
I'm glad that I asked other music professionals about this before I responded to Jane. And boy, did I respond!
Ok, well, if you sing or rap “nigga” at Sayer’s Club in Hollywood, or SOB’s or Village Underground in New York, and you’re not Black, I’d like to see how well that is received. I've never seen it happen. These are venues that break a lot of upcoming artists. I just hit up a few people and got their input to see if I'm mistaken though. None of them co-signed your notion that “nigga” is a common word in the music industry. I'm not a music professional, but I know a lot of people in the music industry and entertainment industry with a lot of experience.
So it is personal, but not per se, because I have been called a nigga, and have been handcuffed and called a nigga by people who weren't Black during the stop and frisk era in NYC. Had that word written on my locker in high school. Mad racist shit that I've experienced. I have my issues with it. And successful Black rappers who say it, still don't let people who ain't Black say it to them, or even on a track. It’s not just a personal preference like I don’t eat pork, it is a racial epithet that some say evolved into something less of a term because of its origins and now it's supposedly cool and accepted by some. I doubt either of you have been called that word in a racist manner in all of your lives because ya'll ain't Black. There is a disconnect there. So it’s bigger than me. Knowing about Black culture, growing up around Black culture, loving Black culture, and being born Black is totally different. Again, I know some people who are not Black say it in conversation, or around Black people, and some Black people don't mind, but that isn't a widely accepted thing, still.
And as a new, talented, hungry, upcoming artist, that's gonna be something that you'll have to deal with as you gain fans, followers, and acclaim. You'll also have backlash too where you'll be judged on not only how you look, but your lyrics, and what you have to say, and you'll be performing in other cities besides the Bay Area. And I'm telling you. In big markets like Atlanta, New York, Chicago, even London, non-Black folks saying "nigga" is not a good look.
If you listen to this song, as well as the annotations on the website for the lyrics. It will give you a deeper understanding too. Even if you don't agree with my perspective, or her perspective, at the very least, you will understand it.
Thanks for sharing this! I put you on a spot for a reason! Your insight of the word is more powerful and meaningful than mine. And although I use that word myself I try my best not to use it. I think you have a great point and you sharing everything you did gave "us" a better perspective of the world we live in and the industry world. It's a learning curve. So Tiffany, I hope we didn't scare you. Emiliano and I like deep conversations like this and no bad feelings here... Keep up the good work!
No hard feelings at all. I have to know these things so thank you both for giving me this extra insight. It's all to make me a better person and artist. Thank you Emiliano. I'll be spreading this knowledge around as well.
My anger diminished a little bit. My body temperature decreased as well. I felt calm again. That entire text conversation could have got really ugly really quick. Name calling, low-blows, threats. But all of us engaged in the conversation with open-minds. No one was stubborn. It did reveal to me, even in this current political and racial climate, that some people STILL don’t know that they shouldn’t be using the “N word”. They legit “don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care what’s going on in the hood”. And oh yeah, if you had to click that hyperlink in that last sentence to know where it came from and you’re not Black, you DEFINITELY shouldn’t be saying “nigga”.
I know that was an extremely long preface, but I deemed it necessary for you to read the aforementioned anecdotal story so you can fully understand the motivation and inspiration behind the starter guide.
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