Nas: Between Innovation and Controversy

Nas announced he was naming his 8th album the N Bomb. Once again, the N done started something.History has a funny way, in a Paul Mooney kind of sense, of repeating itself. Just when we think that the power of innovation has no bounds, the proverbial artistic rug is pulled from under our feet, leaving us suspended in mid-air hoping for a more familiar place to land. But for trailblazers likes Mr. Nasir Jones, pulling a carpet from up under his stance is similar to a magician yanking a table cloth cleanly from under dishes—Nas remains unaffected.Nas has been an innovator in his field since his explosion on the scene in ’94. His peers were either one of two things; influenced by him or were “too much of a man” to say they respected him. It wasn’t about hit singles to Queensbridge’s Five Star General; he strived to push the music that he holds so dearly to his heart, forward. But when he hit, he hit hard and strong, achieving milestones and etching his name in the stone along the way.To recognize innovation is to understand that, in the public eye, your efforts to push a medium forward can easily be framed as controversial. On December 11th, Nas will walk the line between innovation and controversy with his ninth studio album titled, NI**ER. From the initial break of this news, lines have been drawn between the supporters and those that opposed Nas’ decision. Internet message boards, talk shows, barbershops and salons across this country have been set ablaze with opinions, which either brought everyone together, or systematically tore them apart.More seasoned debaters were cunning enough to bring up the fact that Nas isn’t the first to title his project the N-bomb. Maybe in Hip-Hop, but not across the board [Ed. Note: If you want to get technical, let’s not forget N.W.A]. Few brought up the fact that author Dick Gregory along with contributor Robert Lipsyte wrote, NI**ER – An Autobiography published in1964. The book sold seven million copies. And most recently, NI**ER – The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, written by Randall Kennedy was published back in 2002. So why all of the media attention for Nas in 2007? Nothing more valuable to a heartfelt debate than the here and now. Nas is here, and Nas is now. And similar to the daring men before him, Nas has solid support where he needs it most, with Def Jam Chairman Antonio “L.A.” Reid telling MTV News he had the label’s support. But on the other side of the coin, Nas has his opposers. Among them Reverend Al Sharpton who also told MTV News he was, “opposed to anybody using the term." It doesn’t take Jadakiss of the Lox to ask the question that everybody in the know would like to ask Nas–and that question is, “Why?” spoke with a few people about their thoughts on the controversial album title. Here's what they had to say:Chuck D: First of all, you can’t get rid of the word. When I spoke against the word, I was placing it in its proper context; and the proper context is bad. When people started saying that the word ‘ni**a’ is a word of love and started using it to embrace each other, I thought that it was stupid. But there is such a word and it describes the attitude and behavior more than anything. Once a person decide to get in the frame of a ‘ni**er’ state of mind, it becomes counter productive. The difference with Nas taking this word and using it as the title of his album, let’s give him the artistic right to go into it, just like we gave Dick Gregory the artistic right to go into his book. Dick Gregory published his book called “NI**ER (The Autobiography),” was actually saying how he was looked upon by America. I give Nas at least the opportunity to address this word from a context that will actually be educational. And not educational in a way that we all should call ourselves ni**ers, thinking that it’s all good. My question is, which rocket scientist came up with this theory? My thing is, everybody can have an opinion, but we need to evaluate who’s giving their opinion. We should also look at their resume of who’s saying what. Everybody can’t just say everything without a proper background. If you don’t have street education or book education, you’re just making up sh*t in your head. Nas has a background and a resume of conscious thoughts. And it has been a growth pattern in what he says. Nas goes into a wider realm of accepting that he is a man and can never turn back to being a boy again. That’s unlike a lot of cats who are in their thirties or into their mid-thirties all of a sudden feel that they can conveniently step into their adolescence to sell records; which I believe is some bullsh*t.Alicia Keys:

DJ Irie: Knowing Nas to be the prolific artist that he is, there's a strong social statement and message behind such a name. I'm sure Nas has a positive twist on it that will be communicated in the music. Nas isn't your average MC. His body of work not only consists of some of the greatest music in the history of Hip-Hop, but delivers some of our culture's greatest lessons. After all, can the man that gave us Illmatic really do any wrong?If it were any other artist to choose such an album title, I would quickly dismiss [it] as a marketing ploy. Not the case for Nas. Yes, the title alone will draw all kinds of attention and criticism, but let's not rush to judgement. Nas is no fool... there's a method to the madness. Just watch and see.Cormega: To the media and to any Black person making a big deal out of this: "Ni**a please."David Banner: I think that it’s genius! I’d tell Nas that he can name his album however he want it. Tell him that he should call his album, “NI**ER to the Tenth Power.” I understand that Nas wants to save the world, because I am one of those type of rappers as well, but just get back to making jamming a** records dude. It’s cool to be creative and it’s cool to be thought provoking, but Nas, you gotta get back to "New York State of Mind," get back to "Live at the Barbecue." He needs some straight to the point beats to rock to. He needs to just give me his album, sit back and rap. Get back to the old Nas where all these producers would give him tracks and he was just sitting there writing. I want the first Nas; not the second Nas or the fourth Nas. I want the Nas fresh off of the "Live at the Barbecue" joint.Everybody has an opinion. When I did that stuff with Al Sharpton, people wanted to know whether it was a media ploy. No it wasn’t, and who really gives a f*ck? All of this title, all of this hype sh*t, everybody talking their records up and then the shit be wack. I don’t really give a f*ck; he can name his album “Africa”, he can name his album “Ni**a”, I don’t give a sh*t as long as when we turn that record on, it is jamming.DJ Drama: I respect Nas to the fullest! I'm ridin' wit him! That's my ni**a!!I believe anything that creates dialogue in Hip-Hop is healthy for the culture.Raheem DeVaughn:

Mick Boogie: It's not my place to say whether it’s good or bad. I think it could be good, because an intelligent artist like Nas always has something brewing to back up his statements. But as a white man, I can't really walk into Best Buy and say, "Hi, can you show me where the 'Ni**a' [album] is? That's not happening. It's Nas. He always has something to say, even on radio singles. But like he said, if Cornel West did it, it would be revolutionary. So I'm curious to see what happens after it drops.Polow Da Don: I love the title... Nas is very smart. Bruce Waynne (Midi Mafia): It's overall bold, and we need that in entertainment right now. We need to get people excited, as well as thinking.Rich Boy: "I feel like Nas naming his album NI**ER is Nas being Nas. Political and thought provoking and at the same time going against the grain. Hip Hop Is Dead sure made major headlines and was great for marketing. It's going to make people think what's the positive message from such a negative word. Its going to make people want to hear the lyrics and message that an album with the title NI**ER and what does the title stand for.Grandmaster Melle Mel: