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Music by VICE

Is it OK For Middle-Class Rap Fans to Drop the N-Bomb?

Skimming the queue at Watch the Throne to find out if it's "Niggas in Paris" or "[ ] in Paris".

May 22 2012, 11:00pm

From last Friday till Tuesday night, Jay-Z, the biggest artist in the world and recent supporter of gay rights, and Kanye West, recent supporter of Kim Kardashian's ass, have been entertaining thousands of people at The O2 in London under the moniker of their recent collab' album, Watch the Throne. The duo's five-day residency at The O2 has been ranked at around third in this year’s most-culturally-important-event-in-the-UK stakes (narrowly pipped to the post by the Olympics and the Jubilee). It has also been soaked by an incessant shower of glistening reviews. On Sunday revellers were even treated to a guest appearance from the Barbadian sugarplum Ri-Ri-Rihanna.

The Watch the Throne show has also given thousands of predominantly white, middle-class men and women a great excuse to sing along to “Niggas in Paris” out loud, gaily dropping the N-bomb without fear of liberal reprimand and being branded a social pariah. But how does that play with their left-leaning sensibilities? We went down to find out whether any of Jigga and Yeezy’s more affluent fans were conflicted at all about the N-word, or if it was “actually art, and everyone should just grow up really and realize the power of such a culturally loaded word is part of its inherent beauty”.

Oh yeah, turns out middle-class white folk look kinda drab and fleecy. So, to avoid you having to squint through tears of mediocrity, we used Photoshop to make them look a bit more interesting and OG. Thoughtful, right?



Dan, 33, real estate and development.

Hi Dan, are you a big fan of Jay-Z and Kanye?
Dan:
More so Kanye. I’ve got the Watch the Throne album.

Are you a big fan of hip-hop?
It depends; I’m more into old-school hip-hop. I’m not a huge gangsta rap fan.

Do you drop the N-bomb when you sing along to “Niggas in Paris”?
I can’t recall. I probably do though. It’s a pretty derogatory term, but in the hip-hop context it takes on a different meaning. It’s less derogatory.



Jamie, 28, teaching assistant.

Hey Jamie, are you a big fan of Jay-Z and Kanye?
Jamie:
Kanye more than Jay-Z. I think I just grew up around Kanye, he’s a bigger influence on me.

Have you always been into hip-hop?
Without a doubt.

Do you think hip-hop is inherently political?
Hip-hop is a force in itself. It’s gonna be around forever. Like disco… or house.

What do you think of “Niggas in Paris”?
Big… Big… Big track!

Do you think there’s a deeper meaning to the song, a political message?
Do you mean like “there are no blacks in Paris”?

Erm, no, I meant like an aspirational theme.
Oh, right yeah! Yeah, it’s a typical, ostentatious track. It’s them, doing what they like because they can. If it was less of a track I don’t think people would give a shit, but it’s such a big track.



Paul, 29, human resources.

Hi Paul, are you looking forward to tonight?
Paul:
I missed out on Glastonbury three years ago when he [Jay-Z] was there, so I thought, 'Tonight’s the night!' This album’s huge, it’s a massive album. The first track, I can’t remember the name, is HUGE. I love “Niggas in Paris”. It’s huge. The bass-line is killer. I think they do it about five times at the end in a row, which is lucky.

Do you sing along to it?
No, no, no! Well, possibly tonight.

You’re OK with dropping the N-bomb?
No, no… Well, in the song, yeah! But personally, no, no I don’t.




Sam, 38, advertising.

Hi Sam, are you looking forward to tonight?
Sam:
Yeah, I’ve read really amazing reviews!

How much were your tickets?
About £60 each I think.

What was the last gig you went to before tonight?
Oh, probably the Scissor Sisters.

What are you most looking forward to tonight?
Just the whole thing really, I think what’s gonna be really great is when it’s the all the songs you know off by heart. When they did this as a collaboration I thought it was brilliant. We’ve done a lot of decorating to this album!

So you’ve bought Watch the Throne?
Yeah, I got it when it came out, listened to it repeatedly! We love “Otis” and “Niggas in Paris” which I hear they play about five or seven times at the end so that’ll be really good.

Will you sing along to “Niggas in Paris”?
Probably, the words I can sing [laughs]

Are you referring to the N-bomb?
It’s just singing song lyrics, really. I saw a list of all the songs and it was just listed as “Paris” and you think, “Oh, for God’s sake.” It’s not what the song's called, for goodness' sake! It’s on the album!

Do you think the song has an important message?
Not really, I just like music for music. I never really look into it.




Andrew, 23, architect and Joe, 23, project manager.

Hey guys, what are you most looking forward to tonight?
Andrew:
Jay-Z.
Joe: ‘Jason Zed’! No, actually, Kanye.

Any songs in particular?
Andrew:
Without being racist, “Niggas in Paris” [laughs].

Do you think it’s racist?
Andrew: Well, no, it’s the name of the song.
Joe: No. It’s the name of the song. It’s not a big deal.

Do you drop the N-bomb when you sing along?
Depends who’s next to me.

Who would you not sing it next to?
Andrew: Errr… Obviously… A black person. I’d probably say, “N’s in Paris”.

Is that not possibly more offensive?
Joe: Errr… Maybe. The last thing we would want to do is offend anyone.

What’s the message behind the song?
Andrew:
I just think they’re showing off how rich they are.

Do you think there might be more to it?
I don’t think so.

You’re not into intellectualizing music?
Joe:
If it’s intellectual music.

Is this?
No.

Andrew: It’s trying to make a point, just not much of a point.

What point is it trying to make?
Joe: “We’re really rich, we release the album, watch us pay several grand for a bottle of champagne to celebrate.”
…I don’t think it matters what colour you are if you enjoy the music.



Greg, 31, financial analyst, Melissa, 30, publishing and Anna, 25, financial analyst.

Are you guys looking forward to tonight?
All:
Yeah, wooooh!

Awesome! Have you got the new album?
Greg: No.

Have you guys?
Melissa:
No.
Anna: No.

...Do you know any of the songs?
Greg:
A couple, none of the appropriate ones.

Which ones?
Errrrr… [lowers voice] “Niggas in Paris”.

You seem embarrassed saying that out loud.
Melissa: It’s not a very nice word.

What about the song?
Anna: The song is nice. It’s OK in the song.

When you sing along to the song do you say it?
Melissa:
Tonight, yes.
Greg: I’ll see how it goes.

What would you replace it with?
Just “[silent nod] in Paris”.

What other songs are you looking forward to tonight?
Greg:
"Gold Digger"… All of them!
Melissa [to Greg]: But, we’ll leave when we like, right?
Greg [to Melissa]: Yeah, we’ll leave for the tube.

You’re not gonna stay till the end?
No, we’ll leave for the last tube.



Alice, 24, market research and Chris, 23, recruitment consultant.

Hey guys, excited for tonight?
Alice:
Yep.

Oh, are you big fans of hip-hop?
Chris:
Yeah, pretty big.

Who are your favourite artists?
Alice: Ummm…I don’t…I like a lot of different music.

What was the last gig you went to?
Chris:
We went to Benjamin Francis Leftwich.

What’s that?
Acoustic.

"Acoustic" is a good genre. Do you have the Watch the Throne album?
Alice:
Yep.

What are you favourite tracks on the album?
Alice:
Ummm… “That’s My Bitch”?

What do you think about “Niggas in Paris”?
Chris:
That’s probably my favourite, actually.

Has it changed your cultural standpoint on the N-word?
Not really. It was used in so many tracks before.

You think it’s already normalized?
Within Jay-Z and Kanye and hip-hop and... that... sort of... umm, group of... people?

Do you mean black people?
Yeah.



Abigail, 32, caterer and James, 25, project manager.

Hey, you guys looking forward to tonight?
Abigail:
Yeah.
James: Yep.

What are you favourite tracks off the new album?
Abigail:
I only got it because we were coming here. For me Kanye is quite sort of middle of the road, I think coming together has took him up a level.
James: I think Kanye’s more mainstream, poppy, pop-rap…
Abigail: PRAP!!!
James: Jay-Z’s more authentic.

Authentic?
Abigail: He grew up in Brooklyn, didn’t he? He was all involved in the, errr, rap scene there. He keeps his authenticity and he doesn’t sell out. He keeps it real.

Has “Niggas in Paris” changed your cultural standing point to the N-word?
James: It’s obviously used quite a lot in hip-hop to try to desensitize the word, because they’re like “We can use it” and it’s always used in rap.
Abigail: I don’t like the word, I don’t think it should be used as much as it is.

Right.
But it is, so there you go.



Lauren, 24, recruitment officer and Bobby, 20, PA.

Hey guys, excited about tonight?
Both:
Yeah!

Big fans?
Lauren:
More of Jay-Z.

What’s your favourite Jay-Z lyric?
Bobby:
“No one on the corner has swagger like us!”

Will you be singing along to “Niggas in Paris”?
Yeah.

Will you drop the N-bomb?
Yeah.

Not bothered?
Both:
No.

How come?
Lauren:
We came to Drake last month and he said it was OK to say that.
Bobby: They’re friends with Drake, I’m sure it’ll be OK.



Eugene, 26, banker.

Hey Eugene, looking forward to tonight?
Eugene:
Yeah!

How much were your tickets, by the way?
Oh, I got corporate tickets.

Nice. What songs are you looking forward to?
Errr… I’m not too much into it… I just needed to go.

Do you like hip-hop?
Yeah.

Who’s your favourite?
Kanye.

What’s your favourite Kanye track?
Errr… I don’t know… I like all of his songs.

What was the last gig you came to, by the way?
I went to Munich for the [Champions League] final.

I meant music.
Oh, it was in New York actually, a musical on Broadyway called the The Jersey Boys.

Follow Josh on Twitter @joshuahaddow