NEW YORK — There is no divide at Def Jam: They are fully onboard with Nas. At the Manhattan premiere of "American Gangster" at the Apollo Theatre on Friday night (October 19), Island Def Jam Music Group Chairman Antonio "L.A." Reid balked at reports that his company isn't supporting Nas' decision to title his December 11 album Nigger.
"Really, who'd you hear that from?" Reid said, acting as if he were surprised. Earlier this week, Fox News reported that someone from his office said the company did not want to release an album with such an explicit name.
Reid said that is not the case.
"We support everything our artists do, everything!" he added. "We stand firmly behind and beside our artists with pride and with pleasure. Anything Nas wants to do, I completely stand beside him. Nas is prolific, he's prophetic, he's a genius, an amazing artist of respect. So, while I'm not sure exactly all that [the title] entails, I know it's smart, so I stand behind him. That's real."
Common, who is in "American Gangster," was also vocal about his support for Nas Friday night.
"I love Nas," he said with a grin. "Nas is always bringing something new, bringing something for us to think about. He's one of the best ever. If it wasn't for Nas, a lot of cats, including myself, wouldn't be rhyming the way they do. So I mean, I know [the title] is something behind what he's doing, he's making statements. That's something we need in hip-hop. Last Poets did it, Gil Scott-Heron did it, Marvin Gaye did it. We gotta keep making statements."
And while many in the hip-hop community are showing their faith for God's Son, despite not hearing his full explanation for why he gave his opus the controversial title, civil-rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton has condemned his choice of LP moniker.
"Again, I'm opposed to anybody using the term," Sharpton, who has called for total abolishment of word, said on the red carpet. "We're in an age where they are hanging nooses, they're locking our kids up in Jena and Florida. We do not need to be degrading ourselves. We get degraded enough. I think we need artists to lift us up, not lock us down."
On Sunday in New Jersey, while on the set of his video for "I'll Still Kill," 50 Cent expressed some strong opinions about Nas' album title.
"Nas sucks," 50 scoffed. "It's nonsense, man. That's a stupid name. It doesn't make sense. Why would you title it that?"
Nas told MTV News on Thursday that he wanted to take the power out of the N-word.
"I wanna make the word easy on mutha----as' ears," he explained. "You see how white boys ain't mad at 'cracker' 'cause it don't have the same [sting] as 'nigger'? I want 'nigger' to have less meaning [than] 'cracker.'"
"It has all the sting in the world when people are writing it on boards," Sharpton answered when told of Nas' quote. "What they're doing is, as we're fighting to make [using the N-word word] a hate crime, they're making it not a hate crime, which is helping out the racists. You don't see [people from] any other race trying to take the power out of names being called to them. People [who use the term in their music] wouldn't put out a record against whites or cops or Jews because they ain't got the guts to do that. They only got the guts to beat up on their own."
50 said he feels Nas' goal is to sell records.
"He just wants to make basic conversation," 50 declared. "You helped him out because you asked me [about it], and people who are interested in me would like to hear the answer. But other than that, there's nothing interesting in that. It's just for shock value."
Akon had a different take on the title.
"That's intelligent," Akon remarked. " ... If you teach our new generation that it don't mean nothing, then it won't be nothing. It's just a word. That's all it is. You create the power for that word when you support it in a negative way. It's just a f---in' word, like the word 'f---in'.' That's why I can put out a song with [the word] 'f---in' ' in it and it becomes a hit."
Method Man, meanwhile, opined that there's too much over-analysis going on.
"Nas knows what he's doing. He's a smart brother. He keeps his name in the game," Tical offered. "Last year, when he put out Hip Hop Is Dead, I was being interviewed, everybody was asking me what I thought about his album. ... I think it's too much emphasis on just the word. I know a word worse than 'nigger': Darfur. Real talk. I'd like to see Reverend Al take a walk out there. Let's stop focusing on the wrong sh--."
[This story was originally published at 10:54 pm E.T. on 10.19.2007]