Bad, dope, sick, ill, and even crack are all adjetives I’ve used to describe something good, exceptional rather. I mean really good, not just anything, It has to be really cool to warrant such potent vanacular. You know, I’m talking something thats off the chain! This kind of vocab makes sense to most of my generation, kids born somewhere between Malcom X, and DMX, but not quite generation X. I googled generation names and it turns out being born in 85 makes me a part of generation (wh)Y, a millinial, an 80’s baby; but being born in Harlem in the 80’s to parents of Jamaican, African American, & Puerto Rican descent , the label I identify with most is the Hip Hop generation. I grew up in the Boogie down, and it wasn’t long before I was exposed to the culture and language of Hip Hop, and by a preteen I was fluent and lyrically killin it! We didn’t invent the slang we used, most of it had been passed down from generation to generation, particularely in the urban context, but we sure did remix them joints. After all, what is Hip Hop if it isn’t taking something that already exists, and giving it a totally new purpose and meaning? Hip Hop is infamous for redefining things, from style, to language. Perhaps the conditions that birthed Hip Hop contibute to the way we view and use words. See, in the 60’s the Bronx was on fire, literally, and out of the ashes came Hip Hop; something beautiful out of something broken. Today we say “thats fire!” when complimenting someone or something. The N word we redefined and used as a term of endearment, synonymous with friend, or brother, but also generally synonymous with people. Instead of saying ‘people’, we pluralized the N word. I was 9 years old when rapper Biggie Smalls said “I love the life I live, cause I went from negative to positive, and it’s all good”.
The I(N) Word (Crash Course in Culture, Context, Contradiction, and Conflict for Children)
So as a kid the N word was more like the in word. It seemed all the kids used it regularly, it was just the norm. I can’t remember when it infiltrated my vocabulary, but I can remember it rolling off my tongue with ease for over a decade. A few key experiences shaped my relationship to the word, and taught me in live action the diversity of the word’s history, meaning, and cultural application. So rap music is undoubtedly the most influential source of urban slang, and absolutely the culprit that popularized the N word around the world. Within the Hip Hop communities of East Harlem, & the South Bronx the word was sung, flung, but never stung. When my family moved to Throgs Neck the word took on a whole new meaning, which ironically was it’s original meaning. Throgs Neck at the time was still somehwat segregated, and prone to racial issues. Prior to moving there, I rarely thought twice about race. One day while sitting in a park with my best friend at the time, who happened to be white, another older kid came by and sat to talk with us. We looked up to the older kid, because… well because he was older. He spoke about high school, and things that intruiged us. Then he said something I’ll never forget. He said the same word I had been completely comfortable hearing, and saying myself, but with a different tone, and it stung like a killer bee. I stood quiet, embarrassed and ashamed as he made racist remarks unaware that I represented the people he was reffering to in such a hateful way. Another time in math class my teacher who was African heard me use the word and flipped out! Sent me to the office and accused me of being racist. I argued how can I be racist against black people when I’m black!? You see, my pops complexion is light and most people think he is spanish, my mom is light skin, and low and behold I’m light skin as well. A few similar experiences caused me to learn and understand the N word has a different meaning, and effect on different people, in different places, at different times. I remember the day vividly that my brother and I explored alternative words to refer to our friends as we walked through the same park where the N word had left an inward bruise on me.
Remixing The N word
What is Hip Hop if it isn’t taking something that already exists, and giving it new life and meaning? We remix everything, It’s what we do. -Randy Mason
“What’s poppin’ my neighbor?” – Damion B Sanders
A few years ago a friend of mine gave me a gospel Hip Hop CD that his co-worker Dame made, and that joint was fire! One line in particular blew my mind when I heard it. On a Kanye West remix the rapper flipped Kanye’s line which originaly used the N word, and replaced it with the word neighbor. “What’s poppin’ my neighbor?” That line was, and is still one of the dopest lines I’ve ever heard, it’s profound! I loved the CD so much, eventually Dame and I connected and formed a rap duo called Jesus Peace. Fast forward to a few days ago, (that’s an interesting sentence combining future & past tense) Dame and I are at our Church (Elements Church) youth concert where we were performing a few new songs. Prior to us going up, a brother went up to share his testimony. While passionately explaining the life God delivered him from he slipped up and said the N word. Oops! Everyone kind of shockingly laughed it off as he apologized. As an urban church we knew exactly where he came from, what he meant, and how any of us could potentially slip up like that; especially when talking about our past life. So when Dame and I went up to do our song, I referenced our brothers raw testimony, gave God thanks for transforming his life, and lastly told the congregation that Neighbor, is now the new N word.
Biblebonics (Everything New)
Jesus flipped a lot of generational traditions, and cultural idealogy’s on their head. Because of the “new” perspective he brought someone once asked Jesus “what is the greatest commandment?” If that isn’t a loaded question I don’t know what is. In Jesus’s response we discover the two things that God esteems as paramount for humanity.
Matthew 22:36-40 New International Version (NIV)
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
So here we are in the year 2015, a lot has changed, and a lot is still the same. In regards to race in America things are once again beginning to intensify. In regards to Hip Hop culture and music, “consciousness” seems to be making a return as rappers address racial/political/social/economical issues in their music and interviews. Hip Hop & Christianity have a lot in common. From the underdog achieveing the impossible, to the remixing of culture, traditions, and perspectives; Most importantly the transformative aspect that they both employ; producing beauty from brokenness. So yo, consider this a Jesus Peace public service announcement: Neighbor is officially the new N word. Effective immediately. Tell a friend, tell all your neighbors. We have an opportunity to make history! Lets make it so that when people look back at this time, and at our generation, they will see a cultural shift in language and slang, when the N word was officially abolished and a new term flourished.