On Monday night, the AmEx Sync Show Presenting Jay-Z took place in Austin, Texas. The star of the show, Shawn Carter, not only performed a phenomenally intimate set in front of a capacity crowd of less than 3,000 at Austin City Limits, but also for those watching the live stream on YouTube and VEVO. Halfway through the concert, once I realized this wasn't a typical concert experience — just in the sense that it wasn't private for simply those of us in attendance — it became clear that a typical writeup was also not in the cards. Writing about the chronology of the concert, the genius transition from "Glory" to "Hard Knock Life," hearing Jay-Z say "all the parents in the house, make some noise," or Hov's mulligan on "U Don't Know" because he messed up the lyrics is interesting, but that doesn't shed any real light into the unique experience of being there.
After numerous songs of Jay-Z utilizing the "crowd fill in the words because you know all of my songs because you are my minions" technique, he got to Track 4 of Ryde Or Die Vol. 1, "Jigga My N-----." Right when I heard that menacing Swizz Beatz-produced alarm sound and realized which song this was, I did a quick scan of the room.
Uh-oh. Good lord, there were a lot of white people in here.
I knew that would be the case before I stepped into
Austin the venue, but I hadn't put it together that at a certain point, this very small crowd would have a decision to make if he played this song. Once the chorus kicked in, this crowd had about six seconds to decide which direction they were going with the lyrics:
Jay: What's my motherfuckin name?
Jay: And who I'm rolling with, huh?
It is at this point that Jay-Z almost complicates the situation by gesturing to the crowd that he wants to hear us say "it." As a former sociology major, what happens in that room when the next lyric is "my n----" is what I dream about. Without knowing every person in that room, each ticket holder has a backstory about why they will or won't say "it." Some would never say it because they were raised not to and wouldn't dream of changing simply because it's a lyric, some will go from screaming the previous lyrics to mumbling "n----" really softly, others will substitute it for another word like "jigga" or "friend" or "associate," and others will scream it at the top of their lungs because, quite frankly, it's a free country.
If you haven't been in this situation, I highly suggest that you seek it out and get involved. It's an exercise in awkwardness, race relations, and a second double-shot of awkwardness. Chances are, however, if you've surrounded yourself with a mixed bag of friends and have accepted pop culture as your Lord and Savior over the past decade, this moment in question isn't the only one of its type. Over the years, these moments have presented themselves, with a few separating themselves from the pack.
The most popular skit from one of the most referenced television shows of recent memory, the Rick James skit from Season 2 of Chappelle's Show, has a moment when Dave (playing Rick) is on Eddie Murphy's white couch and, with his muddy platform boots, proceeds to stomp his feet into the couch. While he's doing this, he legendarily keeps saying "Fuck yo couch, N----." Over and over again. This is one of the funniest things ever to be put to film, and if I can be honest for two seconds, there is nothing more fun for me than sitting on someone's couch, strapping on a beaded, braided wig, and mimicking this move while screaming "Fuck yo couch, N----." I would apologize for my lewd behavior, but I know that I'm not alone in this sentiment or these actions, mainly for the reason that since this skit premiered over eight years ago, I've watched many a person of every race on Earth imitate it — all with different ways of carrying through with the comedic mission, be it saying the phrase verbatim to "Fuck yo couch couch" to just "womp yo couch womp."
The more recent and obvious example of this is last year's debatable song of the year, interestingly not titled "Ball So Hard," but instead "N----- in Paris." As soon as this Jay-Z/Kanye instant hit was released, the way the lyrics of this song were handled by the public could be documented in a very lengthy dissertation. From people referring to it as "Ninjas in Paris" to radio stations simply calling it "Paris" to the fact that the entire song is a buildup to the line "Got my N----- in Paris, and they going gorillas" makes this, again, another case where one of our popular culture's least-discussed yet most-uttered and thought-about words gives people a very interesting decision to make.
My personal beliefs on the matter are irrelevant, but if you insist, I guess I'll say that the action by some of our more famous, influential black celebrities to aid in the okayification (or "deconstruction," if you must) of the word by launching it to the forefront of the pop culture sphere is something I believe to be a good thing. What's problematic, however, is the process of pretending like the word doesn't exist. Trust me, it's real. The decision to say it or not say it is very much up to the person, and I respect that, but it's real and if you are one who has no issue with it being a part of your own vernacular from time to time, you really haven't a right to censor anyone else.
But yeah, great Jay-Z show.