The time Kriss Kross dropped the N-word

Posted by Leor Galil on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 2:00 PM

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When I read Steve Bogira's excellent cover story about a local teacher suspended for using the N-word in class, I was reminded of a used LP I recently picked up at Reckless: Da Bomb by Kriss Kross. You remember them, right? Chris Kelly (aka Mac Daddy) and Chris Smith (aka Daddy Mac), the Atlanta duo best known for the kid-friendly 1992 rap jam "Jump"? The group that's reuniting next month to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Jermaine Dupri's label, So So Def Recordings?

Anyway. "Jump" lit up the charts, and for a decade it was a go-to song for bar and bat mitzvahs and middle-school dances. But rather than repeating their successful formula for the follow-up to Totally Krossed Out, Kriss Kross transformed their style so that they sometimes barely resembled the group people had come to love.

They dropped Da Bomb in 1993, and in retrospect it sounds like a huge mistake—in fact Complex magazine called it one of the "50 worst rap album fails." Kriss Kross ditched the carefree, clean-cut pop-rap that had worked great as an alternative soundtrack for a Nickelodeon cartoon about talking babies in favor of something approximating west-coast gangsta rap. The most egregious thing about Da Bomb isn't that Kriss Kross would switch gears so unexpectedly—teenagers' tastes can change quickly—but rather that they didn't fit in their new aesthetic.

On Da Bomb Mac Daddy and Daddy Mac sound like carpetbaggers trying their hand at gangsta rap; their skills are serviceable and the draggy funk beats bump just fine, but Kriss Kross seem out of step when they brag that they "drop bombs like Hiroshima." These formerly huggable guys don't sound like themselves on Da Bomb, and part of the reason is their use of the N-word.

In his feature Bogira covered two polarizing ways the term is used in the context of hip-hop:

. . . as the rapper Mos Def told Blaze magazine in 1999: "When we call each other 'nigga,' we take a word that has been historically used by whites to degrade and oppress us, a word that has so many negative connotations, and turn it into something beautiful, something we can call our own. I know it sounds cliche, but it truly becomes a 'term of endearment.'"

Although in gangsta rap, not always. Consider Rick Ross, in "Hold Me Back": "Niggas ain't gettin' money, but they got an opinion. . . . Niggas watch who you fuckin' just to hate on your bitches. . . . They all pussy-ass niggas, pussy-ass niggas."

When Mac Daddy and Daddy Mac say the N-word, it feels out of place and almost rote, as if they decided to litter their rhymes with it simply because it's so commonplace in the style of rap they were trying to pull off. When the N-word pops up in Da Bomb it doesn't come off as either endearing or derogatory—at least, not entirely derogatory. Kriss Kross mostly sound like kids eager to fit in with their elders, and their efforts are just as awkward as that implies.

Leor Galil writes about hip-hop every Wednesday.

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