US musician's use of racial slur sparks controversy

Talented 10th LP cover

On a daily basis, Sho Baraka has to face a dual reality in terms of his race.

The Christian rap artist, whose latest album, Talented 10th, debuted at number one on the Billboard Top Gospel Albums in February, recalled, in an interview with Sphere of Hip Hop, walking out his door with his wife while a group of people drove past.

He could hear them yell the "N-Word" from their car. Though he has faced racism in this context, he has also felt distant from some in the African American community because some think he's not "black" enough.

(Photo: Wikpedia)W. E. B. Du Bois in 1918

Like a lot of people, Sho Baraka finds himself defined by race.

He finds himself trapped on an island built by people, an island he refers to as "Nigga Island" in a song entitled "Jim Crow" off the his Talented 10th LP.

The word nigga is so offensive in the United States it is often referred to as the "N-Word" due to its use to degrade slaves and people who were not pale skinned.

Within the last year, the use of the "N-Word" has blown up in mainstream media.

From Gwenyth Paltrow's reference to a popular Jay-Z song to Django Unchained's use of the word over 100 times in the film, it's no surprise the press and Christian community would respond to "Jim Crow" in an elevated way.

In discussing DJango Unchained, Quentin Tarantino defended the use of the word in the period film placed in the time of slavery.

Slavery and racism wasn't a topic Tarantino was willing to sugar coat.

Sho Baraka holds a similar perspective.

"I think it is a very important song. I do understand the weight of it. I do understand the potential controversy it can cause. I do understand that some people would not like the song," he told Sphere of Hip Hop.

"But, what I do feel is, the benefit of the commentary is going to outweigh what people have issue with."

Talented 10th is a record inspired by a speech by W.E.B. Du Bois. In the speech made in 1903, Du Bois said, "The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men.

"The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the best of this race that they may guide the mass away from the contamination and death of the worst, in their own and other races."

In an interview with CNN, Sho Baraka discussed Du Bois' inspiration.

"Exceptional people should use their gifts, talents, and treasures for the benefit of other people," he said. "I was inspired by W.E.B. Du Bois because he used his talents for the improvement of other people."

Though he doesn't agree with everything Du Bois stood for, Sho Baraka, as a Christian, believes that the wisdom, intelligence, and gifts to help society come from the Lord.

In addition to directly being inspired by Du Bois' Talented Tenth, Sho Baraka's latest record also draws inspiration from Du Bois' racial, social commentary.

Racism has always interested Sho Baraka. But creating music that reveals it in its grittiest form had been an issue for Sho Baraka while he was signed to mainstream Christian label Reach Records.

"I struggled with the idea of my faith and the cultural and social issues I am passionate about," he told CNN.

"When I left my previous label, which was a Christian label, I made it very clear this is the new direction I am going in. I will never be safe," he said. "I will no longer be palatable for a Christian music market.

"I never said I was going to shun this idea of being a Christian artist. I am what I am. I'm a Christian, and I love the Lord," he continued. "Everything that comes from me will come from this Biblical worldview that I have."

Though he has received favorable responses with his new record under his new label, Sho Baraka has garnered some negative press in the past month regarding his use of the "N-Word" in the socially conscious song "Jim Crow."

"It's definitely not the kind of song you want your five to 12 year-old to be quoting because there are strong words. But, I think it is important for our culture, especially a culture that is afraid to deal with race in the election," he continued.

One theme referenced to by opponents of the song's use of the "N-Word" comes from the Biblical idea that professing Christians should be of the world, not in it.

Opponents believe Sho Baraka's new artistic direction and word usage shows his conformity to secular hip hop culture.

Out of context, this may ring true, but, within the context of the song, one may see this argument differently.

Sho Baraka may remain in the world, not of it because he takes a different approach to the use of the "N-word."

From the title, one can assume the song plays off the "separate but equal" mentality of the Jim Crow Laws that were around from the late 1800s to the mid-1960s. In this time, people who were "black" or "colored" were separated into certain sections and called the "N-Word" without contention.

For Sho Baraka, racism is still a part of his life and connecting his 21st century song to the days of the Jim Crow laws is his attempt to unveil the hidden layers of hate that, for him, continue.

He differs from mainstream secular hip hop artists because, much like Tarantino, he puts the "N-Word" in its cultural place whereas a secular artists would probably use it in a casual, vulgar, or exploitive context.

"Christian hip hop artists are growing up and are starting to deal with things that they feel are hitting home for them. I think it's great people are doing this," Sho Baraka said. "Not for the sake of shock value but for the sake of being vocal, the purposes of addressing issues everybody deals with."

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