Nigger. A word loaded with a stinging history. Nigger. A choice of album name that elicited a firestorm of both support and condemnation for Queensbridge rapper Nas. The might of Walmart prevailed, but not to be totally silenced, Nas premiered his Rik Cordero directed video for “Be A N****R”, the first salvo from his July 1 release Untitled.
The video begins in black and white, with still shots of tall buildings, some modern glass, some gothic stone, backed by exerpts of Malcom X describing the self destructive tendencies of Black America and segueing into a stand-up comedic Paul Mooney routine describing the creation of the word nigger.
Following the short clips, sharp melancholic piano keys flow in, eliciting a stark dramatic eloquence from Nas. He mentions Tupac, and the Jena 6, as well as other recent racially immflamatory references. Its not quite a capella, but it sets the mood. Nas waxes poetic with clear diction an a strong voice with very little background noise. His delivery is compelling and almost steals the show from the actual song itself.
Interspersed in the video are images of churches, iconic images, like the Wall Street Bull statue in lower Manhattan and flashes of people from all races that pop up at every inference of nigger from the Eazy-E lifted Dr. Pepper homage from the classic N.W.A album Efil4zaggin.
In addition to the modern metropolitan images there is plantation imagery, which was to be expected, but is not quite as visceral as say the PR Cant Truss It video. However it does ramp up the emotion and drama, though its execution isnt as eye popping as earlier crucifiction images from Hate Me Now.
There are a few famous cameos from cult favorite actors like the guys who played Chris and Bubz from the wire as well as a couple others. According to director Cordero, Actors weren’t apprehensive but their management was. It was easy to get them involved. Heard the song and was real supportive of what we wanted to do.”
The video itself closes out with a hanging and ends with a cathedral behind a gate locked with a Master lock. Im sure theres a message to be derived from that imagery. Ill leave it to you to decide once you see it.
The problem with the video and the song is that there is a such a cloud of expectation surrounding it. When you attempt to have an album with that name that conjures the emotions attached its almost impossible to meet that expectation. You almost have to go harder than hard. Nas is still a commercially viable artist and I dont know that he can go hard enough to really nail this, but this video was at least a welcome change from ice and hedonism in the face of 4 dollar gas and people rioting over the price of food. Good luck Nas, the pressure is on.