Christian Hip-Hop and the N-Word: a Distraction or Expression?
I know, I know. The second the infamous N-word is mentioned people start to yell — let’s not do that. We’re going to keep our voices at a tolerable level and instead have a discussion led by grace and backed by scripture.
Before we begin we need to lay down the foundation. The N-word is a word that has a horrendously violent, racist, and vulgar past. It was a word attributed to folks with Black skin and in this country, was originally used as a slur by White people towards Blacks. While the history is important — the purpose of this article is not to discuss who can and cannot say this word — you can read a thread on the linguistic and pragmatic usage of the word here. My focus is rather on if those who have the “right” per se to use it should be saying it in music that glorifies Christ; the sole purpose of CHH. There are two stances that I will touch on — both are Biblical.
It’s distracting. For some Black CHH artists, the N-word has no place in their music — they consider it a distraction and do not see how it can be good and pleasing talk — as found in Psalm 19:14: May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
One could argue that the use of derogatory language, even by the accepted group, is not pleasing to the Lord. A great example of this is Paris Chariz who, in a Twitter exchange, said that he simply uses the N-word too much and views it as a hindrance to his listeners. He made a decision to cut it out of his vocabulary entirely.
“So I think I’m done using the N-word. It’s been hard too among other things but 2018 we making strides. I’m starting with my tongue. Help Me”
This is a personal choice made by the artist and we must respect it. I understand his viewpoint and have a handful of Black friends who agree with this. The repetition of any “taboo” word can be a distraction from the song as a whole — however, it is worth noting that most CHH artists do not use the N-word and even when they do it is not a constant reappearance.
I feel as if there is a difference between cursing and profanity — this includes the N-word. In certain contexts, it can be suitable and in others, like when purposefully trying to offend, it shouldn’t be used. As stated by Rev. Barber:
Theologically, there is a difference between profanity and cursing. To curse is to pronounce harm.
I agree with this. If the N-word is being used by Black CHH artists to cause harm and therefore curse others — this is not loving. It is not Christ-like and therefore it can be detrimental to the overall content of the message. If it is being used in reference to oneself or close companions — I see no issue and to be honest I have yet to see or hear an example of the former.
My thought process is a mixture of personal conviction, freedom, and all of Romans 14, which you should read here. Romans 14:1–3 reads:
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.
This is important to note — for God has accepted them. If we are accepted by God then, “we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:8.) Another illustration of this can be found later in the same passage in verses 5 and 6:
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.
Do you see what I’m getting at? In good faith and a clear conscience two individuals, who both follow the Lord, can have differing opinions on a matter, and can still love and worship Him and both can be accepted by God.
In the grand spectrum of life, a Black CHH artist choosing to say the N-word or choosing to refrain from it isn’t a big deal — neither is it a big deal if a CHH artist decides to abstain from eating meat or if another does not. We should not and cannot let small disputable matters divide us as Christians. What we should focus on is our relationship with Jesus and if we are living a life dedicated to Him and are carrying out The Great Commission.
For some listeners when artists use the N-word or other “secular” tidbits of language it can resonate with them and create an environment of familiarity between artist and listener — it can help make their music relatable. On the other hand, to non-Black listeners, it may be a distraction and I understand that completely.
If CHH artists feel personally convicted to not use the word — then so be it and if other artists feel free to use it — so be it. Just because something makes you uncomfortable doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong. We also have to remind ourselves that we are the consumers — not the content creators. If we find a problem with the content then maybe we should spend our time and money elsewhere. However, I urge those who find it an issue to not let this be a deciding factor on whether a particular artist is really preaching and living out the Gospel or not.