In the packed screening room of the Tribeca Grand Hotel in New York City, Nas premiered “Be A Nigger Too,” the first video off his ninth album — at one point named after the infamous epithet, but now left simply untitled. The stark video, directed by Rik Cordero, doesn’t back down from the controversy that’s been brewing over the album title either, drawing visual parallels between Civil War-era racism and modern day prejudice, climaxing with emotionally charged images of lynching and automatic weapons.
The performance segment takes cues from Spike Lee’s 25th Hour, with Nas rapping in front of the type of mirror where Edward Norton gave a memorably thorough racist rant. The rest of the video has the graceful look of Mark Romanek’s video for “99 Problems” by Nas’ old sparring partner Jay-Z. Here, Cordero presents black and white shots of a multicultural array of actors looking at once pained and graceful while Nas raps “To all my kike niggers, spic niggers, guinea niggers, chink niggers/That’s right, y’all my niggers too.”
Director Cordero told Rolling Stone, “I just wanted to get the message across that everyone suffers the same kind of struggle. That was the challenge, trying to say all that in three minutes.” A good number of the faces he used are famous ones, including Harold and Kumar‘s John Cho and a few actors from HBO’s The Wire. “We made a phone call and people came running,” says Cordero. “It was Nas. It was a strong record which any actor would want to be a part of.”
Nas was also on hand, answering questions from the audience. When asked if an edited version of the provocative video could be made for MTV, Nas said he hoped the channel would be open-minded and could produce on an edited version that didn’t compromise his intentions. Adding, “If not, fuck ’em.”