NEW YORK — If anyone could relate to the tsunami of criticism that came crashing down on Quentin Tarantino after he laced his script for “Django Unchained” with the N-word, it’s Nas. Back in ’07, the Queensbridge MC set off his own wave when he announced to a stunned Roseland Ballroom that his ninth studio album would take its title from what’s arguably the most loaded racial epithet in the history of these 50 states.
So when MTV News caught up with the rapper on Tuesday night — the occasion was a celebration of his brand-new partnership with Hennessy’s Wild Rabbit campaign — we asked what he made of the controversy around the Oscar-nominated picture. Dapper in a luxe black silk suit and recovering from a cold, Esco told us he’d not only seen the Jamie Foxx flick, but that he couldn’t really see why some critics were up in arms.
“I didn’t see what the big fuss was about,” he said matter-of-factly, pointing out that the term worked in the context of a Spaghetti Western revisiting the horrors of slavery, from a director known for his “language” and “goriness.” “It’s a movie, movies by [Tarantino], why should we be surprised if the movie is raw?”
The director brushed off the uproar, too, when MTV News’ Josh Horowitz asked how he dealt with negative reactions to his making liberal use of the racially charged word onscreen. “I think it’s kind of ridiculous, because no one can actually say with a straight face that we use the word more than it was used in 1858 in Mississippi. So since they can’t say that, what they’re basically [saying] is I should lie,” he argued. “I should pretty it up. I should lie, and I don’t lie when it comes to my characters and the stories I tell.”
For his part, the intellectually minded Nas got in the ring with everyone from his label to Fox News to the NAACP before tossing the polarizing album name. But 2008’s Untitled was still provocative, sharing some of the grisly imagery of “Django” by showing Nas’ back crisscrossed with lash marks on the album cover. With a résumé like that, the Grammy nominee, maybe unsurprisingly, had high praise and a fierce defense for Tarantino.
“He’s one of the greatest filmmakers of our generation, and we don’t go there to see anything less than rawness,” Nas said before adding, “He’s an artist, and artists have to express themselves.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Django Unchained.”