The Nigga Ya Hate to Love

by Joan Morgan

Snatch 1

Greg Tate calls and strongly suggests I do a piece on Ice Cube's new album, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted (Priority) for The Village Voice. I refuse, which I suspect he expects. It's no secret that I found N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton nothing short of demonic. "but someone needs to do this who grew up in the 'hood." I tell him for the umpteenth time that I'm not the one trying to reconcile my black middle-class intellectual complex with wanna-be down ghetto romanticization. What I don't tell him is I'm still weird Ed out from last summer when I found myself singing the chorus to "Gangsta Gangsta" in the kitchen long after I decided Straight Outta Compton was the most fucked-up, violent, sexist rap album I'd ever heard: "We wanna fuck you E-Z/I wanna fuck you too."

Snatch 2

The next night in Harlem, U.S.A., me and a posse of home boys, ages ten to fourteen, check out a familiar scene. Two white Five-O's are busy looking terribly bored on the most well-lit block on Amsterdam Avenue, seemingly unaware that there's plenty to do a half a block away in either direction. Money Grip turns to his cadre and they break into a midsummer night's ghetto serenade: "911 is a joke/Ow-w-w/911 is a joke." The cop on the right fingers his holster absentmindedly while the one on the left reduces them to little black gnats and waves them away. The kids are not unaware of the gesture. Gnats turn into killer bees and chant "Fuck Tha Police" all the way home. Not thinking a damn about Philip C. Panell, Michael Stewart, or Edmund Perry.

Snatch 3

I'm doing the piece.

Snatch 4

I gotta hand it to Cube. Even if he weren't rap's most proficient raconteur since KRS-One, and even if AMW were straight-up wack, he'd still have to be congratulated on marketing strategy alone. Unmitigated black rage prepackaged for your cathartic or voyeuristic convenience. Hip-hop macabre. It's a brilliant concept. Peep this....

The first track. "Better Off Dead." The empty, echoing footsteps of a young black man's final walk down death row. He and a black (yes, black: turn to "Welcome to the Terrordome" if you need a refresher course, "Every brother ain't a brother 'cause a' color/Just as well could be undercover") corrections officer engage in the following discourse: "You got any last words?" "Yeah. I got some last words. Fuck all y'all." "Switch." Fry. Sizzle. Dead nigger. Then he evokes the specter of the dehumanizing media by using the same emotionless newscaster's voice that matter-o-factly told us that black men in Harlem had a lower life expectancy than those in poorer than poor Bangladesh: "White America is willing to maintain order no matter what the cost." Execution, however, is not quite that easy. On "The Nigga Ya Love to Hate" Ice Cube reemerges as the quintessential Black Phoenix whom even the fires and electric chairs of white racist oppression could not destroy.

I heard payback you motherfuckin' nigger
That's why
Cause I'm tired of being treated like a goddamn stepchild
Fuck a punk cause I ain't him?
You gotta deal with the 9 double M
The day has come that you all hate just think
A nigger decided to retaliate....
He's back, he's black, and badder than ever. How's that for a Rude Boy/Revolutionary fantasy?

Snatch 5

I leave Yankee Stadium, full of good vibes and Mandela fever, and head for the Vineyard. Cape Cod is a sharp contrast to Africa Square but I'm willing to play cultural chameleon for a little sea air and solitude. AMW peeks out from my pile of dirty laundry and I shudder. Ice Cube and South Beach seem somewhat incongruous. Reluctantly, I put it next to my bag of black hair-care products so I don't "accidentally" forget it. We're in the car only twenty minutes before Kianga slips it in the Benzy. I don't rift too much, figuring that even that has got to be more bearable than this pseudo reggae UB-40 shit Leslie's making us listen to. It doesn't take long before Negra, Leslie's sweet, black, and respectably corporate car, is turned into a thump in', bumpin', finger-poppin' Negro mobile. Yeah, boyee. This is work booty music in a big way. Great. Chuck D., Hank and Keith Shocklee, and Eric Sadler gave AMW all the kick that was sorely missed on Fear of a Black Planet. This is straight up, hard-edged warrior music. Like the beats of African prebattle ceremonies, it either makes you want to dance into oblivion or go off and bum rush somebody. Kianga flips the tape to the B side. "Joan, you know this motherfucka must he had if he can scream "bitch" at me ninety-nine times and make me want to sing it." Yep. This one's defter than dope.

Snatch 6

Some say the mob ain't positive
Man fuck that shit cause I got to live how I live
. . . Some rappers are heaven sent but "Self Destruction" don't pay the fuckin' rent
So you can either sell dope or get your ass a job
I'd rather roll wit the Lench Mob.

--"Rollin' Wit the Lench Mob"
Things are not going as planned. How the fuck could I remember to bring Ice Cube and forget my bag of black hair-care products? There's not a bottle of T.C.B. anything anywhere to be found and the most tan we got today was in the parking lot, waiting three hours to get on the ferry. By the time we get to the beach I'm a walking time bomb. Leslie, Kianga, and I get into a thing because they think I over intellectualize everything. Maybe. But what's so cute about "A Gangsta's Fairytale"?

Little boys and girls they all love me
Come sit in the lap of M.C.I-C-E
And let me tell you a story or two
About a punk ass nigga I knew
Named Jack
He wasn't that nimble
Wasn't that quick
Jumped over the candle stick and burned his dick
Went up the street cause he was piping hot
Met a bitch named Jill on the bus stop
Dropped a line or two and he had the ho
At that type of shit he's a pro
So Jack and Jill went up the hill to catch a little nap
Dumb bitch gave him the clap.
Just what our community needs. Ghetto fairy tales. Andrew Dice Clay style. I ask Leslie if she would want her kids singing this? Exasperated, she asks if everything has to be political.

Snatch 6 1/2

Not a baby by you
The neighborhood hussy ... all I saw was Ice Cube in court paying a gang of child support
Then I thought deep about giving up the money
What I need to do is kick the bitch in the tummy
No cause then I'd really get faded
That's murder 1 cause it was premeditated....
Leslie is appalled. "Do we have to listen to this shit?" I crank up the volume. The sense of pleasure I feel is almost perverse.

Snatch 7

The Vineyard is a romantic place. Leslie, Kianga, and I become products of the environment and spend three quarters of our "weekend away with the girls" talking about the men we left at home. We can't figure out whether it's the combination of the beach, the fog, the gazebo, and the lighthouse or the fact that the few brothers we did see on the island were all cut from the same soft, prep-school, young Black Republican cloth. Either is enough to make three streetwise, ex-prep-school sisters very homesick/homy for what they have at home.

"I need the element, my sister," says Leslie.

My mind races back to a scene that took place two weeks ago. I'm listening to AMW when my terribly significant other emerges from the shower, wet, glistening, and wrapped in a towel. My audio catches up with my visual and I hear him singing, albeit softly. "I'm thinking to myself, Why did I bang her./Now I'm in the closet, looking for the hanger." That's great, Z. Just great. "Sorry, baby," he says, "it's crazy seductive." He reassumes gangster position and nods his head to the beat. I look up and see the beads of water dance around the slight snarl on his lip. Seductive? . . . Yes, Lord.

Snatch 8

We catch a four o'clock ferry. There's a carload of black folks behind us playing Ice Cube stupid loud. There are carloads of white folks looking over at the car, extremely uncomfortable.

"Damn, Kianga," Leslie says, "maybe that's what we should have done last night when that ignorant white waitress asked you if you didn't have an easier name to pronounce than 'Kianga'!"

"Word, that bitch didn't even want to take the order. What the fuck, is my name supposed to be Mary, or Sue?"

I suggest we run back up in there with a broom and cold-blast that shit. We all laugh. Bum rush fantasies. Kianga stops. She looks away and touches my arm. Home boy is holding a baby girl in his arms. She's about a year old and nodding her head to the music. That's the problem with unmitigated black rage. It grabs white people by the jugular with one hand, and strangles black folks with the other.

Snatch 9

Yo, Ice Cube, man why you always kickin' the shit about the bitches and the niggers
Why don't you kick some shit about the kids man
The fuckin' kids.

--"A Gangsta's Fairytale"
I'm back on 125th Street. One week later folks are still buying Mandela T-shirts at almost the same rate they're buying the Black Bart T's. I stop in Sikulu, the record shop of the righteous, to find out how AMW is doing. Reluctantly, they tell me it's one of the top five sellers. I'm looking for a young urban male type to talk to about it. For some reason they're few and far between today. I move and stand in front of the children's clothing store that has those black mannequins. I realize that I've stood there umpteen times and never noticed how fucked up they are. I'm transfixed. They're all white models that were painted shit-brown. The boy mannequin has his head contorted to the side, like his neck is broken, and his hand is missing: it looks blown off. The bright red shoulder-length wig sadly parodies the weaves that keep the Korean hair store down the block in business. At least the "negative" images Cube feeds us are our own. A posse of young bloods walks by. All of them have heard it but they're as reluctant to talk about it as the sister in Sikulu. Finally one asks me what it is I wanted to know.

"I want to know what you think about it?"

"What I think about it?" He looks at me like I'm from Mars or Martha's Vineyard.

"Yeah, do you like it?"

"Yeah, I like it. I like it a lot . . . Money can rap."

He reads in my silence that I'm waiting for him to say more. "I like him." "But why? . . . Why do you think he's good?" It took me a while to realize that the look he was giving me was the same look Andy Kirk, the legendary swing bandleader, gave this young guy in my elevator when he asked him what made those old jazz greats so great.... Because they could play, son. They could play. Home boy mouths the words again for me, slowly. "Because . . . he . . . can . . . rap."