The One Story: HBCUs And The Gatekeeping Of Black Culture
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Over the past year, Megan Thee Stallion‘s star status has risen tremendously and she’s become a celebrated figure in rap music. However, a recent NPR Tiny Desk performance has sparked debate over the boundaries of censorship and whether NPR is to blame for the outcome.

The topic came about when Howard University Professor Greg Carr tweeted a clip of her performance, which was a part of the Tiny Desk Fest and streamed live Monday evening. In the snippet of the performance tweeted by Carr, Megan can be heard rapping the explicit lyrics to her song “Freak Nasty” without censorship. This included repeated use of the N-word.

Carr, an associate professor and chair of Howard’s Department of Afro-American Studies College of Arts & Sciences, accompanied the tweet with two words: “Without comment.” His cryptic comment prompted a long debate in his comment section as to what exactly the professor meant.

One user thought he was using “respectability politics” to attack Meg and her use of explicit language. Another user wrote, “Her flow is smooth. Her delivery is steady. And her cadence is rhythmic. Although I’m not prudish about pornographic lyricism, I really don’t like hearing any African queen objectifying herself as a sexual tool and young African queens viewing such a person as a role model. IJS.”

Then, Dr. Carr clarified, “I was talking about vomiting ‘nigger.’ I’m setting aside all the other conversations about sexuality, performance, etc. I don’t care who is using it.”


What followed was an extended back and forth with Twitter users who seemed to take exception at, if not confused by, Carr’s commentary. Was he mad at Megan using the N-word unabashedly? Was he mad at NPR for letting her say the N-word?

Eventually, Carr clarified his thoughts with another tweet that some people said was still slightly vague.

An emailed request for Carr to comment was not immediately returned.

Megan’s explicit performance and use of the N-word does spark a change for NPR’s usual censorship. Its Tiny Desk performances have been streamed and uploaded online for years and, usually, artists censor themselves if they have explicit lyrics. If you watch rapper Gucci Mane‘s Tiny Desk performance or even one by the Wu-Tang Clan, each act intentionally takes out certain curse words from the songs, including references to drugs and gun violence.

It’s not clear if these artists, including Megan, were told to censor themselves or if they did so voluntarily out of respect for the specific platform or their audience. Like the others before her, Megan’s performance was live and the recorded video has yet to be uploaded to NPR’s site or YouTube channel as of Wednesday. The uploaded video could very well be an edited version with all her explicit lyrics cut out.

Until the full video is uploaded, you can check out some of the reactions to Carr’s comments and thoughts on censorship below.