The rapper told MTV News that he would indeed be naming his new album after the N-word. And he denied earlier reports that the album's title would be spelled "N---a," considered in some circles a less inflammatory epithet.
What I want to address is not whether Nas or anyone else ought to use the word nigger in the first place. The issue is, once the word nigger becomes part of a news story, should the media avoid using it in its reporting?
One could argue that the AP doesn't really need to use the word for readers to know what it's talking about. But at the same time, it's hard to see how the media can conduct a serious, adult conversation about an album title when it can't even bring itself to say what the title is. I'm not all that familiar with the Nas, so I'm only taking his word for it that he has a serious intent here, but if that is indeed the case, it seems to me that the press needs to deal with this intellectual provocation in the form in which it actually exists, not in some sanitized form in which Jesse Jackson would prefer that it exist. To put it terms the baby boomers who run the media can understand, imagine trying to discuss John Lennon's "Woman is the N-Word of the World" or Sly Stone's "Don't Call Me N-Word, Whitey." It's simply not the discussion the artist wants to have. The power of the word is the whole damn point.
And it's not even clear that the euphemism isn't confusing in this case. The AP writes that "The use of the N-word is common in rap." But is it? Nigga is common, but Nigger is less so, which is precisely why Nas's choice is causing a commotion (whereas an album in 2007 titled Niggaz4Life might not). By adopting a style that makes it impossible to distinguish between these two quite different words, the AP makes the news harder to understand.
Given that the paragraph quoted indicates that the wire service is OK with n---a (and, presumably n----r) it would probably be better, at the very least, if they used that throughout, rather than the cutesy circumlocution the N-word. As far as I can tell, the N-word is nothing but a way for white people to be able to say nigger without feeling guilty and uncomfortable. Sorry, but that's exactly how white people should feel when they use a racial epithet. It's not the media's job to let them off that hook.