Browsing books at a Barnes & Noble in south San Francisco before dinner the other night, I saw a book called Sellout between the aisles, obviously positioned to be noticed. I saw the title of the hardcover, but it was the author's name that drew my attention: Randall Kennedy, a Harvard Law professor who also authored a book a few years ago called Nigger, which wasn't exactly warmly received, but nevertheless saw the light of day in the publishing world.
Kennedy still has a job and an untarnished reputation. Nasir Jones is a different story. Nas, a revered rapper, called by many the "prophet" of hip-hop, has decided to follow his last album, Hip-Hop is Dead, with a work called Nigger.
Nas and Kennedy are more similar than they are different, and very simply, both deserve to be heard and have their product distributed. Kennedy's status as a scholar helps him to get book deals and to get his message across in other ways. And Nas is a product of the projects in the Queensbridge area in New York.
But the fact is that Nas is more of a bridge to pop culture and has more influence than Kennedy ever will. It's likely that the two are aware of each other, and it's important to understand the irony and contrast between them and how their particular art is different and the same.
After some conflicting reports, the latest indication coming from Nas' label, Def Jam Records, a division of the Universal Music Group, is that chairman, Antonio "L.A." Reid, is standing behind the release. Clearly, the album should be released, despite opposition from people like Hakeem Jeffries, a Georgetown-educated lawyer and New York state assemblyman representing Brooklyn.
In my eyes, Jeffries is the main reason Nigger may not see a release date; he has told MTV News that he would work in the state legislature to divest $80 million of the New York pension fund from Universal Music Group if the album is released.
It's clear Nasir and Hakeem are on a collision course, and eventually one of them will win. But there shouldn't be a fight in the first place. If this country is still about the First Amendment, then both Randall Kennedy and Nasir Jones should have an opportunity to release their works of art.
Slav Kandyba is Los Angeles based blogger and writer.