In Defense of Nas & Hip-Hop

While “Ants at Nas’ Coon Picnic” raises some thoughtful and persuasive critiques of the rapper’s diatribe against “sellouts” in media and entertainment, the author’s fundamental premise is flawed, his opinion misinformed, and his tone quite elitist. Morris O’Kelly deserves kudos for pointing out the factual errors in “These Are Our Heroes.” Nas, by saying on […]

While “Ants at Nas’ Coon Picnic” raises some thoughtful and persuasive critiques of the rapper’s diatribe against “sellouts” in media and entertainment, the author’s fundamental premise is flawed, his opinion misinformed, and his tone quite elitist.

Morris O’Kelly deserves kudos for pointing out the factual errors in “These Are Our Heroes.” Nas, by saying on wax “whatever happened to Weezy/the Red Foxxes?/never won Emmys but were real to me,” misinformed many unaware listeners, who might use him as a reference in an argument or conversation and get embarrassed when their audience points out they’re wrong.

Mr. O’Kelly deserves even more kudos for pointing out that Nas’ praise of Weezy, Red Foxx, and, presumably, their contemporaries are definitely problematic. In the minds of a great deal of people, these actors were the “coons” of their era. The rapper’s unqualified remark ignores the fact that Red Foxx and Isabel Sanford arguably reinforced pernicious stereotypes about blacks in their respective roles. The lyrics also ignore the fact that the black community was sorely ambivalent about the TV portrayals Foxx, Sanford, and others provided for mainstream consumption. Perhaps the strongest point in Mr. O’Kelly’s critique is his assertion that Nas’ clearly calling out non-rappers for buffoonery, but only dissin’ other artists subliminally on the track is somewhat hypocritical and opportunistic. It’s kind of unfair to mention the WB and UPN in a discussion about “cooning,” when Lil Kim is runnin’ around with blue contacts, blonde weave, fake breasts, and is a ‘hood poster-girl for Old Navy.

Despite these worthwhile merits, the author’s primary argument- (in his own words) “our castigation of fellow African-Americans for supposedly not being ‘Black enough’ [is] usually misguided…if not all-out wrong…[Nas] is a case in point”- is fallacious. The MC’s observation that Tiger Woods, Taye Diggs, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Kobe Bryant are sellouts is correct!

Mr. O’Kelly weakly tries to dispute this observation by highlighting what he thinks is a contradiction in Nas’ logic.

The author wrongly assumes that the rapper’s beef with Tiger, Taye, and Cuba is solely that they have white wives. He says sarcastically, “I get the joke. The common thread here is that all three have White wives.” He then tells readers that the real heroes Nas suggests we emulate (eg. Jim Brown, Stokely Carmichael) had relationships with white women too, thus the rapper’s reference to Tiger and ‘em as sellouts is bogus, or inaccurate at least. So happy that (he thinks) he has sonned Nas, Mr. O’Kelly asks an irrelevant rhetorical question: “[since Richard Pryor married a few white women], was [he] ‘less real’ to you, Nasir, than Red Foxx?” He even says arrogantly in a following line, “I’m beginning to think you’re not even sure what point you’re trying to make.”

The problem is Nas’ admiration of Jim Brown, Stokely Carmichael, et al, who also had penchants for white women, is easily reconciled with his disgust with the three jiggaboos in question. The theme of “These Are Our Heroes,” as the title so obviously implies, is that “our heroes,” the few blacks that have achieved fortune and fame in the mainstream, are not saying or doing enough for the advancement of black people, especially those of us that reside in the ghetto. Why the pompous author missed the whole point of the song and believed that Nas dissed Tiger, Taye, and Cuba just because they had white partners, I can only speculate. Not everyone is preoccupied wit’ white folks.

Jim Brown, Stokely Carmichael, Red Foxx, even Richard Pryor, who the author also mentioned, all were clamorous about the racism and relative poverty that African-Americans still endure, despite the personal hardships such outspokenness brought them. Jim Brown’s grassroots organizing efforts are well known. Stokely Carmichael’s work on behalf of black folk is nearly legendary. Red Foxx and Richard Pryor both became famous for stickin’ it to mainstream America.

In contrast, Tiger Woods will not even publicly acknowledge he is black, never mind say anything about anything or do anything substantial for the rest of us. (Can you pronounce Cablanasian?) What else has Taye Diggs done concertedly for blacks besides pave the way for other, similar-pigmented actors to participate in scripted interracial relationships on screen? Cuba Gooding, Jr. embarrassed us all by literally doing a back flip for winning an Oscar, for best supporting actor of all honors, for a grossly offensive role in Jerry Maguire. (Show me the money!) Media outlets everywhere captured his unbridled hysteria with snide humor long after the end of the ceremony. His shall indefinitely remain the most undignified, dare I say, stereotypically slavish award acceptance.

Kobe Bryant, who has not exhibited any solidarity with his fellow (mostly black) ballplayers until late, mentioned another black man’s name in a police interrogation room. (They call that snitchin’ where I come from!) He intentionally slandered his own teammate, Shaq, without provocation; while completely aware of the consequences his allegations could have on the latter, even if false. In other words, he nearly marred another black man’s persona in order to deflect attention away from himself. What could be more slavish, more “coon” than that- tellin’ M#### bout da otha field hands to keep da whip off of ya own back ‘n earn da ova see’as good graces? Again, how Mr. O’Kelly missed the obvious juxtaposition of the “heroes” and the “villains” of the track is somewhat mesmerizing.

Perhaps, the message eluded the author because he ostensibly is not a fan of Nas or rap music in general. Anyone who would write and have published the words, “You [Nas] specifically and Hip-Hop historically have not [held education in high esteem],” obviously knows nothing about the MC or his genre. He must not have listened to or understood “The World Is Yours,” “Poison,” “The American Way,” among other songs by Nas, which would also explain his simplistic, inaccurate depiction of Nas as a misogynist.

Who else nowadays would release “I Know I Can” as one of only two singles from his LP? Mr. O’Kelly also must not have been around in the ‘80s and early ‘90s when rappers overused terms like “mathematics,” “science,” and “knowledge of self.” He must not have ever purchased a Chubb Rock, Jeru Tha Damaja, OC, Ras Kass, Paris, KRS- One, MC Lyte, X Clan, Poor Righteous Teachers, or even, a Public Enemy album. He must only be familiar with the “bling bling” brand of rap that became popular after 1997/1998.

In most hardcore circles this lack of knowledge would disqualify him as a true rap fan or critic. It’s ironic that the same comment he makes about Nas applies to himself- he’s in over his head.