Earlier this week, a video of pop superstar Katy Perry performing Jay-Z and Kanye West's "N*ggas In Paris" hit the Interwebz. Regardless of its debatable musical merits, this rendition quickly became vitally important around these parts thanks to one detail: Katy Perry does not say the n-word when rapping the song, she replaces it with "ninja." Here at ego trip, it was a truly revelatory moment, as we'd been using "ninja" as slang for the n-word since the mid-'90s, but had never heard of anyone else also doing so. WTF was going on here?!? Was Katy Perry intercepting our emails and texts?
Well, as egotripland contributor Matthew Africa pointed out to us in the immediate aftermath of Perry's "N.I.P.", "ninja" had actually been in use in the mecca of innovative rap slang, the Bay Area, since waaay back - appearing on 1991's Live From Styleetron , the debut album of rapper Money B and DJ Fuze's Digital Underground offshoot group, Raw Fusion. We immediately realized that it was our responsibility to set the record straight on the history of "ninja" - lest millions of Katy Perry (and ego trip) fans get the wrong idea. So we tracked down DU/Raw Fusion's DJ Fuze to get the scoop. You know, because ninjas need to know.
PEEP DJ FUZE'S RECOLLECTIONS OF THE SLANG "NINJA"... AFTER THE JUMP, NINJA...
When was the first time you remember hearing the term “ninja” used in place of the n-word?
DJ Fuze: The first time I ever remember hearing it was definitely Money B on our project [Raw Fusion’s Live From Styleetron LP]. But I know that E-40 says it too, so I don’t know who got it from who. I mean, 40 made up a lot of slang, so it would lead one to believe that it was 40 who made it up. But I’m not sure. It was kinda something that was in our personal culture, just our own crew of friends. But this was from at least around 1990, or maybe even earlier.
And there are two songs on the Raw Fusion album in which it’s mentioned.
DJ Fuze: Yeah, “Throw Your Hands In the Air,” and a song called “Nappy Headed Ninja.” [ laughs ]
So as a non-African American, when you were first introduced to the slang, what went through your mind? Was it relief?
DJ Fuze: [ laughs ] Well, I didn’t even say, “ninja.” I’m one of those White guys who hangs around with Black guys who doesn’t go there with that word ever. Because I’m educated about the history of slavery in this country and rape and murder, and I just stay away from it. Even though people might say I have no sense of humor, I just stay away from it. I even stayed away from “ninja.” The funny thing is my friends would call me the n-word and sometimes I would just bust and call them, “peckerwood” or “cracker” just as a joke. I’d get back at them with a White derogatory word that I thought was funny.
Ah, so that pre-dates even the "Krazy Eyez Killa" episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm when Larry David would say to Krazy Eyez Killa, “Are you my Caucasian?” Interesting.
DJ Fuze: It was basically like that, but I would straight up use, “cracker.”
Did you ever encounter anyone who said “ninja” in place of the n-word and caught heat for it?
DJ Fuze: A White person? No. The thing is, that wasn’t a very popular slang to me. That piece of slang - at least where I’ve traveled and been around the Bay - it never really caught on that much. A couple of guys said it. But it wasn’t one of the big ones. It wasn’t like “hella,” or “off the hook,” or “player hater” or stuff like that.
But why not, though, why do you think that this one failed to catch on?
DJ Fuze: “Ninja”… I don’t know. I have no idea, dude. I don’t think it’s extremely catchy. I guess it’s a good way to say something that doesn’t get radio bleeped.
Well, you know, we might be at a turning point in history - because of Katy Perry performing “N*ggas In Paris” and saying “ninja" instead of the n-word.
DJ Fuze: I think that people might appreciate that she’s sensitive enough to change it. There’s so many artists who just busting out saying that word now, not in context. Sarah Silverman drops that word like it’s nothing. But I guess she’s doing it as a comedy routine. I know people who don’t like her at all because of that.
Do you think Katy Perry’s an E-40 or Raw Fusion fan?
DJ Fuze: [ laughs ] I’m sure she’s never heard of Raw Fusion. I bet she mighta heard about E-40 in passing. You never know nowadays, man, with these big pop artists.
Well, even though you never embraced the word yourself personally, you guys pioneered it. And now, look - Katy Perry is using it. Do you feel any sense of pride?
DJ Fuze: [ laughs ] My sense of pride has nothing to do with the word, “ninja.”
EXHIBIT A: Raw Fusion's "Throw Your Hands in the Air" music video (1991)...
Check for the "ninja" at the 1:40 mark.
EXHIBIT B: Raw Fusions's "Nappy Headed Ninja" (1991)...
The title says it all.
EXHIBIT C: Katy Perry's "N*ggas in Paris" performance (2012)...
Check for the "ninja" at the 2:13 mark.