Kendrick Lamar on the n-word: ‘If I say this is my word, let me have that word’

7th AACTA International Awards - Arrivals

Graydon Carter left Vanity Fair months ago, and ever since, there’s been a completely different vibe around the VF celebrity profiles and covers. The unveiling of the new cover used to be yet another white celebrity, usually an actor or actress, and if you were lucky, they would talk about their recent divorce, arrest or love affair. But this is a new era under editor-in-chief Radhika Jones. And this new VF cover profile is a great example: an in-depth and contemplative profile of Kendrick Lamar, arguably the most talented person and one of the most hard-working people in music today. Also: this close-up shot of his face is flat-out beautiful, right?

Kendrick just won a Pulitzer (well-deserved) for DAMN, and at the age of 30, he finds himself in a unique position: wholly admired, beloved and respected by every icon, every peer, every upstart. I’ve read interviews with Kendrick before, and he’s a quiet, self-contained dude who rarely opens up and spills his guts to a journalist. He’s not doing that here either, but I think the fact that it’s Vanity Fair and the fact that they gave him the space to really talk… well, it’s a great read. You can (and should) read the full piece here. Some highlights:

He feels he had a grounded childhood because he had a mother and a father in the home: “It makes a huge difference. It shows you loyalty. When I look around at my classmates and my friends, they all lived with their grandparents. To have a mother and a father in your household—this showed me immediately that anything is possible.”

His mother: “My mother encouraged me to dream—she was very proud of my efforts. My third-grade teacher came up to my mother once at a parent-teacher meeting and she said, ‘Your son used a word that I was totally amazed by—he said audacity.’ Even then, it gave me an advantage in life, to be able to take information, listen to it, and take a perspective without judging it and do my own research.

Whether he really shot someone at the age of 16: “I’ll put it this way: I’ve seen my own blood shed, and I’ve been the cause of other people shedding their blood as well. There was a split second when I felt what my homeboys were feeling—like I don’t give a f–k anymore—and that’s when I knew something else had to happen.” Among the “something else” in his life: two baptisms, the first at 16 and “again in my 20s—just for that reassurance and belief in God.”

Coming from a gang neighborhood, having Bloods in his crew: “I have compassion for, and more understanding rather than frustration with my homies, because I know it’s not 100 percent their fault. When I look at how society has shaped our communities, it’s been generations passed down of putting people in cages to battle each other.”

On the n-word: “Let me put it to you in its simplest form. I’ve been on this earth for 30 years, and there’s been so many things a Caucasian person said I couldn’t do. Get good credit. Buy a house in an urban city. So many things—’you can’t do that’—whether it’s from afar or close up. So if I say this is my word, let me have this one word, please let me have that word.”

His biggest lyrical influence: “It comes from my love of hip-hop. Eminem is probably one of the best wordsmiths ever. There’s a whole list of why, but just bending words. . . . The Marshall Mathers LP changed my life.”

He describes himself an introvert more than a shy person: “I like to be alone a lot. I need that. It’s that duality: I can go in front of a crowd of 100,000 people and express myself, then go back, be alone, and collect my thoughts all over again.”

He used to be a football fan: “I’m less enthused. It’s enraging; I think what Kap [Colin Kaepernick] is doing is honest, and it’s not just his truth, it’s our truth.”

On Kanye West’s statements about Trump & slavery: “He has his own perspective, and he’s on this whole agree to disagree thing, and I would have this conversation with him personally if I want to.”

[From Vanity Fair]

When asked if he read a lot of books when he was growing up, he said, “I read the dictionary.” When asked to make any kind of statement about the current state of the political world, all he says is “I just get too frustrated.” I think people expecting him to come out and say “f–k Trump” have sort of lost the thread… Kendrick IS political, he just saves it for the music, so he can contextual political statements within his personal narrative. Anyway, the VF piece is an excellent read – sprinkled throughout the piece are quotes from everyone from Toni Morrison to Eminem to Chuck D about how important Kendrick is for the culture. I’m glad he got the cover.

MTV VMA Awards 2017 Press Room

Photos courtesy of WENN, cover courtesy of Vanity Fair.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

41 Responses to “Kendrick Lamar on the n-word: ‘If I say this is my word, let me have that word’”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. Tiffany says:

    I love Kendrick, I love the cover and I will be going to buy this magazine.

  2. Roxane says:

    This idea that a word should not be used because white people can’t. It’ just so typical.

    • horseandhound says:

      what he did to that fan on the stage was awful. he humiliated her as if she was being racist when she was just using his words.

      • Tania says:

        She should not use that word! Even when I’m driving in my car, listening to the music, I could never bring myself to say that word.

        I agree completely with what he did. It’s the same as using the word, “Indian” to describe a Native/Indigenous person. I can call myself a crazy Indian, or the only Indian in the group, but you cannot use that word to describe me. It’s taking ownership of a word that your “owners” or “colonizers” used to describe you in a derogatory manner. It should never easily fall from anyone’s mouth. Ever.

      • Jordan says:

        She shouldn’t have used it. Being from GA, rap is my number one as far as what I’m always playing. Not once in all of listening have I said the N word alongside of the rappers I was listening to. You can edit yourself easily if you know the gravity of the word.

      • Jensies says:

        I actually thought he dealt with it really well. If you watch the video of that moment, he didn’t name call, he wasn’t nasty. He just said, hold up, you said a word that you don’t have a right to say. And gave her the chance to try again. The crowd wasn’t feeling it, but that’s not on Kendrick.

        I feel honored to have seen him live twice. He’s one of the best performer I’ve ever seen, and his lyrics are brilliant and thoughtful and subtle and insightful, like him. I love that he’s out there in the world, spreading a whole different message and unapologetically doing his own thing.

      • Veronica S. says:

        In America, the word is permanently married to our racist history. A white woman, especially one who is a fan of Kendrick Lamar, should be well aware of that and take the precaution of not saying it. It was embarrassing, but sometimes being called out is how we learn from our mistakes and rethink our approaches to the world.

      • Rebecca says:

        I believe she was probably in the front row singing the song and the word very loudly before he asked her up on stage. I don’t think he did anything wrong by asking her up on stage and calling her out. I thought he did it in a respectful way.

      • Oliviajoy1995 says:

        I agree what he did to that fan was humiliating. Maybe pick someone from the audience that is African American to come up on stage then. Especially if you know your song says a lot of words you don’t think white people should say.

    • Bridget says:

      The idea is that the word shouldn’t be used because it is foul, period.

      • eto says:

        No that’s your idea, not what he said.

      • Lizzie says:

        no – the idea is that black people use the word as a subversion of its intended meaning. to take ownership of a word and idea that has threatened their existence in all white cultures for hundreds of years. in the black community embracing it, flipping it on its head, it doesn’t belong to white people anymore. that is the idea.

      • Killjoy says:

        Honestly, these ownership arguments, and whatnot shouldn’t even matter. It’s educational to hear what Kendrick and his peers have to say about it, but I don’t say the word, because I’m white, and therefore it has racist connotations when I say it, no matter the context.

        I think he was saying something along those lines – that black people have been told so long what not to do, if they want to do this thing that absolutely does not hurt white people, wtf are white folks getting upset about it. I’m not going to start policing other people over their speech, and deciding if “taking ownership of the word” or “artistic use” or whatnot is a good enough reason why black people should be able to say it and I shouldn’t. I’m just gonna mind my own, and continue not to say it.

        Also, love this cover, and Kendrick.

      • horseandhound says:

        I really don’t understand his point of view. I don’t mind him saying whatever he wants, but in my mind if some white people used to humiliate blacks by calling them the n-word then why would a black man say that about himself? it’s like somebody wanting to humiliate me by calling me an idiot and then me starting to call myself an idiot to own the word. no. the expression is offensive and there is no reason for anybody to say it. not to another person and not to oneself.

  3. Pansy says:

    Hate the word, but I see his point.
    He is KILLING IT at life right now though. Receiving the Pulitzer at 30 as a POC is exactly what we need to hear about for a breath of fresh air in this climate of ours.

  4. Lala says:

    We didn’t get the 40 acres and a mule…
    We didn’t get separate but equal…
    We’re STILL fighting for the right to vote…
    We’re STILL dealing with horrific discrimination on EVERY level…
    We took the “n” word…like we took the weeds out of the gardens and fields and the discarded meat from the farm animals and transformed it into “soul food”…we did the same thing with that word…for us….

  5. Renee2 says:

    I agree with him on the topic of white entitlement with regard to the n word but, um no. Why do you need to re-claim/claim it? It’s disgusting, it’s tied to such unfathomable levels of violence and terrorism…I remember being called that name and spit on , I don’t need to re-claim it. It’s so gross and disgusting. Why is it that we always have to take what is abject and swaddle ourselves in it.

    • Veronica S. says:

      In fairness, that’s not just black culture. A lot of women have gone after bitch/c*nt for reclamation purposes, same with f*ggot in some sectors of the LGBT+ community.

      • Asiyah says:

        Very true. I can say the word b*tch but no man can say that to me.

      • Renee2 says:


        Here’s the thing though – most women do not call each other bitch or the cword as a term of endearment, they employ it as a derogatory epithet. Similarly, although the term queer has been reclaimed, as have terms such as dyke, and even gay, they are usually not employed in the same manner as a he nword, and straight people overall don’t feel so entitled to use them.

      • Veronica S. says:

        I understand what you are saying (although, I think bitch is used more casually these days than c*nt, that’s for certain), and I don’t entirely disagree. I’m just saying that the idea of subverting derogatory language for purposes of empowerment isn’t entirely unique to the n-word. As to whether that approach is acceptable or productive, that is an argument for the black community – of which I am not a part and have no say one way or another.

      • Bridget says:

        Let’s get real. It’s not “bitch” that’s anywhere near the n-word. It’s c$&@. Do you call your friends c$&@s?

    • Capt Mo says:

      I don’t say the n word and even if I was a black person I still would not use it BUT if a black person uses the word in a non-racist way then I’m not bothered by it all and respect their right to use the word.

  6. minx says:

    Love him.

  7. Lucy says:

    Great cover and interview. He seems like such a smart and insightful person. It’s crazy to think he’s only 30 years!

  8. Veronica S. says:

    Honestly, I’m just shocked that he’s only thirty. What a talent.

  9. Lila says:

    as I white person I never ever said it, never wanted to. I once went to karaoke with my Asian American coworkers and they chose rap songs and did sing/say it, it made me cringe soo hard. anyway, I also don’t get why black people use it as well. Don’t get me wrong, it’s NOT the type of argument “why can’t I use it and they can”. I don’t want it, thank you. I just don’t get why they would use such a demeaning word towards each other.

    • ValiantlyVarnished says:

      It’s not for you to get or even understand. There are things within the black community that you will never be party to. And white people need to get over that.

      • Jensies says:

        @ValiantlyVarnished +1

      • Lila says:

        @ValiantlyVarnished it’s easy to say something cliche like “take a seat” or other mediocre thing. I’m not REALLY concerned about this situation and I don’t think about it unless it’s brought up (like in this article). Rappers use it as if it’s cool. I don’t get how can a word be “cool” when it was imposed by an oppressor.
        I’ve heard the argument about “taking it back”, but the demeaning meaning of it didn’t change. Black people still use it to insult each other.

  10. Nene says:

    Even though im black, ive never been on the ‘lets reclaim the n word’ train. I cant even say it when Im alone because it stems from so much hatred.

  11. Asiyah says:

    “So if I say this is my word, let me have this one word, please let me have that word.”

    Perfectly summed up. Do I like the word? No. Do I think people should say it? No, not even black people, but I am not black and I would never tell them they shouldn’t use this word. As he said, this is their word, and let them have it. I grew up in Harlem and have lived in the Bronx and know so many people like me who are non-black POC who grew up using the word the same way black people did. Most of us did, HOWEVER, when I got older and was told that isn’t MY word to use, I got the point. It doesn’t matter how cool I am with black people, that I grew up with them, that is THEIR word, and I’m going to respect that and let them have it. It doesn’t bother me that I can’t use it.

  12. leskat says:

    I find his face and eyes to be so warm and so deep and this pictures highlights that x1000. I love Kendrick.

  13. Betsy says:

    I’ve never understood white people wanting to use this word. It’s peppered liberally in the songs I’ve been listening to lately and I just don’t need to use it. I don’t care if African American people choose to use it, except around my children – it’s like the f word and I don’t want my kids hearing it, let alone using it.

  14. Adonia says:

    The beginning of greatness. #neverforget

  15. Rescue Cat says:

    And remember not to use the F word either if you’re not gay.