The N word, set to music
December 27, 2012 4:59 AM   Subscribe

Surely no single word in the English language is more highly charged and laden with complex emotional baggage than the word nigger. Aside from its widespread use in recent years in rap/hip hop, how has the word fared in other popular music genres? Utilized by singers and songwriters since the earliest days of American folk and popular music, let's take a look at the various ways the English language's most problematic word has found its way into musical expression...

We'll start with one of the earliest (and certainly one of the most vile) examples, and go from there in rough chronological order:

"Ten little nigger boys went out to dine
one choked his little self and then there were nine"
Ten Little Niggers by unknown

"If you wanna make a nigger feel good I'll tell you what to do
borrow a chicken from the neighbor's yard and take it home with you"
Bake Dat Chicken Pie by Collins and Harlan
NOTE: There's a bit of background on this song in the book "Popular American Recording Pioneers" pinpointed here (Google Books PDF)

"Nigger loves a possum sitting in (?) the pan
nigger loves a corn juice, seal it (?) in the can"
Nigger Loves His 'Possum by Collins and Harlan
NOTE: There's a bit of background on this song in the book "Popular American Recording Pioneers" pinpointed here (Google Books PDF)

"Nigger love a watermelon, ha ha ha ha"
Nigger Love a Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha! by Harry C. Browne

"Oh run nigger run, well the pattyroller will get you
run nigger run, well you better get away"
Run Nigger, Run by the Skillet Lickers

"Niggers all work on de Mississippi,
niggers all work while de white folks play"
Ol' Man River by Kern & Hammerstein

"Now, the nigger and the white man, playin' seven up
nigger beat the white man, scared to pick it up"
Bottle It Up And Go by Tommy McClennan

"Some white folks in Washington they know just how
to call a colored man a nigger just to see him bow"
Bourgeois Blues by Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter

"I like sugar, and I like tea, but I don't like niggers...no siree
and the NAACP would sure like to get a-hold of nigger-hatin' me"
Nigger Hatin' Me by Johnny Rebel (real name C.J. Trahan), a 60s-era singer of racist songs for the Louisiana-based racist label Reb Rebel Records. More on Trajan (whose "nigger" songs for the label were numerous) in this article. Also note: Reb Rebel Records was founded and run by one J.D. "Jay" Miller, who happened to have produced recordings by various African-American artists for the Excello Records label in Nashville, Tennessee. Strange world. More on JD "Jay" Miller at Wikipedia.

"Niggers change their hair from black to red to blonde"
Niggers Are Scared of Revolution by the Last Poets

"Wake up niggers or you're all through"
Wake Up, Niggers by the Last Poets

"Liquor store is closing and it's Saturday night, run nigger"
Run Nigger by the Last Poets

"We talk real funny down here
we drink too much and e laugh too loud
too dumb to make it in no northern town
we're keeping the niggers down"
Rednecks by Randy Newman

"Don't call me nigger, whitey
don't call me whitey, nigger"
Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey by Sly and the Family Stone

"The legend of nigger Charlie
lives on in you and me"
Nigger Charlie by Billy Preston

"Sisters, niggers, whiteys, jews, crackers
Don't worry, if there's hell below, we're all gonna go"
(Don't Worry) If There's Hell Below, We're All Gonna Go by Curtis Mayfield

"I'm your mamma, I'm your daddy
I'm that nigger in the alley"
Pusherman by Curtis Mayfield

"Only takes one itchy trigger,
one more widow one less white nigger"
Oliver's Army by Elvis Costello

"Woman is the nigger of the world
yes she is, think about it"
Woman Is the Nigger of the World by John Lennon

"And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger
no one doubted that he pulled the trigger"
Hurricane by Bob Dylan.
(note: link is to karaoke version: sing it yourself!)

"Baby got a hand, got a finger on the trigger
baby, baby, baby is a rock-and-roll nigger"
Rock n'Roll Nigger by Patti Smith

"Police and niggers, that's right get out of my way
don't need to buy none of your gold chains today"
One in a Million by Guns N'Roses

"Tryin' like the devil to find the lord
workin' like a nigger for my room and board"
If That Ain't Country, I'll Kiss Your Ass by David Allen Coe

"It's enough to make a man throw up, sure is hard to figure
how any decent girl could ever fuck a greasy nigger"
Nigger Fucker by David Allen Coe

"Where are the obligatory niggers?"
The Classical by The Fall

"but the summer day make a nigger feel crazy

might make me do something out of line"
Long Summer Day by Two Gallants

"I said, say motherfucker, do you know who I am?
he said, hell no, nigger, I don't give a godddamn"
Stack-O-Lee by Samuel L. Jackson

Metafilter readers, are there any songs that you know of that aren't included in this list? Please add them in a comment, if you'd be so kind, with links if possible.
posted by flapjax at midnite (22 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: I truly appreciate that this wasn't meant this way, but compiling a huge list of the "Most-Offensive-Possible" word for any group, used in music/literature/anything, repeating it over and over in a post here, is just really not something we want to feature on Metafilter. This may be better for your own blog or web space where you can be more explanatory about your purpose and thoughts. -- taz



 
if you'd be so kind

And be kind. Please!
posted by Namlit at 5:02 AM on December 27, 2012


Quentin Tarantino could not have done it better. Seriously.
posted by three blind mice at 5:05 AM on December 27, 2012


Quentin Tarantino could not have done it better.

Done what? Painstakingly compile a list of relevant songs for a Metafilter post? Yeah, you're right, he probably couldn't have.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:09 AM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's an off-center example. African-American country singer Stoney Edwards, 1976, Chip Taylor's beautiful song "Blackbird." The use of "nigger" was controversial, but it is clearly loaded with irony. Brave indeed for its time, and a hit.

Then of course there's David Allan Coe's brilliant but problematic poor-white-folks anthem, "If That Ain't Country."

Neither one of these is Johnny Rebel territory. Both explore nuanced and painful implications of racism.

Brave post flapjax, and much appreciated. A word only has power if you let it. I'm with prof. Kennedy on this subject.
posted by spitbull at 5:13 AM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


In Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Mikado," the song "My Object All Sublime" (sung by the Mikado) contains the line "...is blacked like a nigger". However, all post-1940ish performances and recordings have changed the line to "...is painted with vigour".
posted by Melismata at 5:14 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks, spitbull. The David Allen Coe tune is included in the FPP, but the Chip Taylor is new to me.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:17 AM on December 27, 2012


Oh sorry, I didn't see you had the Coe track already.

I always hear that song as a sort of shocking recognition of class similarity over racial difference. A lot of other people can't stand it though, and Coe is sometimes very overtly racist, which doesn't help make the case that this is a brilliant song despite the ugliness it describes. Or because of it.
posted by spitbull at 5:19 AM on December 27, 2012


Whores by Janes Addiction contains the line

Way down low where the streets are littered
I find my fun with the freaks and the niggers


Interesting post flapjax.
posted by Sailormom at 5:21 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


OK, just a warning. Do not look up Johnny Rebel if you're squeamish or easily offended. Fair notice, I should have said it. Horrible racist stuff.
posted by spitbull at 5:25 AM on December 27, 2012


LOL, now I just noticed you had Johnny Rebel on the FPP too.

More coffee needed here.
posted by spitbull at 5:30 AM on December 27, 2012


OK, just a warning. Do not look up Johnny Rebel if you're squeamish or easily offended.

Yup, the Johnny Rebel stuff is beyond the pale, really vile, and I only included one actual link to one of his songs in this FPP, while noting that there are several more. I think the clip I linked to is pretty interesting, though: with the black woman who posted it printing her personal commentary as the song plays, she so beautifully rises above the hideous sentiment expressed in the crudely racist lyrics.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:32 AM on December 27, 2012


Come to think of it Janes Addiction did a cover of Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey by Sly and the Family Stone with Ice T I think.
posted by Sailormom at 5:35 AM on December 27, 2012


*enspouses OP*
posted by infini at 5:35 AM on December 27, 2012


Sometimes it feels like America is broken.
posted by grateful at 5:38 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Skin Game Blues by Peg Leg Howell:

Better let the deal go down, skin game is coming to a close,
An' you better let the deal go down.
Hold the cards, dollar more. Deuce beat a nine, put up more nigger!
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:43 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Surely no single word in the English language is more highly charged and laden with complex emotional baggage than the word nigger.

But lets just ignore all of that and play trivia with its use in music.

The tone deafness in this post is astounding. If the post has been looking at the use of bitch or slut in music, the post probably wouldn't have been made and the accolades would probably be less resounding.

Add in the fact that the post was made during Kwanzaa and I'm just left wondering what the hell. Jesus.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:44 AM on December 27, 2012 [15 favorites]


Oliver's Army-Elvis Costello and the Attractions 1979. A video that was played on MTV's first broadcast day, BTW.
posted by dortmunder at 5:45 AM on December 27, 2012


Skin Game Blues by Peg Leg Howell

Ah! Yes, I know that tune, but didn't recall his use of the word there. Peg Leg sounds GREAT on that! Thanks, Kirth Gerson.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:45 AM on December 27, 2012


But lets just ignore all of that and play trivia with its use in music.

Not ignoring anything, Brandon, but compiling a list of relevant songs for the benefit of documentation and posterity. I'm looking at history, here, American cultural history, and, scouring the internet and having found no good, inclusive compilation of songs that utilized the word, I thought I'd do it myself.

Sorry to offend you, I truly am.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:50 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


And then there's The Dicks 'Hate the Police'

'Daddy daddy daddy
Proud of his son
he's got him a good job
killing niggers and Mexicans'

made slightly more popular by Mudhoney's intense cover.
posted by item at 5:53 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


If the post has been looking at the use of bitch or slut in music, the post probably wouldn't have been made and the accolades would probably be less resounding.

How do you figure?
posted by LogicalDash at 5:55 AM on December 27, 2012


Perhaps relevant to flapjax's response, Skin Game Blues was covered (as Georgia Skin Game) on Geoff Muldaur's first album Sleepy Man Blues, in the early 1960s, including the freighted word. I believe that word's presence may be why the record is not available from Rhino or anywhere else (Muldaur being a white guy and all).
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:56 AM on December 27, 2012


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