To some, it's a hurtful racial epithet. For Nas, it's an album title.
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. He said the disc is due out Dec. 11.
"(People) shouldn't trip off the (album's) title; the songs are crazier than the title," he said in an interview posted on MTV's Web site.
But some have been outraged by the rapper's choice.
"The title using the 'N' word is morally offensive and socially distasteful. Nas has the right to degrade and denigrate in the name of free speech, but there is no honor in it," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said in a news release. "Radio and television stations have no obligation to play it and self-respecting people have no obligation to buy it. I wish he would use his talents to lift up and inspire, not degrade."
There were reports that his label, Def Jam, had scuttled the title idea. But Nas told MTV that he has had no opposition from the label, and said his intent in naming the album the N-word was to take the sting out of it.
"We're taking power from the word," he added. "No disrespect to none of them who were part of the civil rights movement, but some ... in the streets don't know who (civil rights activist) Medgar Evers was ... they know who Nas is," the rapper said, referring to the civil rights leader slain in the 1960s.
"And to my older people who don't know who Nas is and who don't know what a street disciple is, stay outta this (expletive) conversation. We'll talk to you when we're ready. Right now, we're on a whole new movement. We're taking power from that word."
A representative for Def Jam did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment from The Associated Press sent after business hours.
The use of the N-word is common in rap, though rapper Chamillionaire recently declared he would no longer use that word or curse in his rhymes.