Nick Conrad by Shavonne Bryant

Desensitization to Black Suffering Ep1: Nick Conrad and Selective Outrage

Kicking off the series Desensitization to Black Suffering; an interview with Nick Conrad, a Parisian rapper whose art is so controversial, the Prime Minister himself felt compelled to comment.

 

SERIES PRESENTATION
DESENSITIZATION TO BLACK SUFFERING

In a world where a rich record of murder, torture, and exploitation are condensed onto a few pages in history books, where meaningful discussion about said history is actively discouraged under the pretense that we have “moved on,” the images associated with the details have been widely spread yet seldom understood on an intimate level. That is, until someone dares to exchange the lens through which we view them. Desensitization to Black Suffering is a series that takes a look at the phenomenon of Black trauma–and the horrors associated with it–being made digestible, regular, and unsurprising.

 

NICK CONRAD

Nick Conrad by Shavonne Bryant

© Shavonne Bryant/HEREYOUARE

In January of 2019, during my stay in France, I came across an article about a French rapper named Nick Conrad–it detailed his legal struggle over his song called “Pendez les Blancs (Hang the Whites)” and the visuals associated with it. I learned he was being sued and charged with “inciting deadly violence,” a charge which can land the guilty in prison for up to five years. This song was so impactful, even the prime minister of France had denounced it–and this wasn’t some major artist with influence, Nick had approximately one-thousand followers on Instagram when I discovered him and had even shallower reach before the video went viral. I was immediately interested, not only in Nick’s personal story, but why the government and legal organizations were so shaken by his words.

 

Hi Nick. May I ask you to introduce yourself?

My name is Nick Conrad, I started writing when I was 11 years old, and I’ve been making music ever since. I released my first album, The Magnificent Way in 2008. Following the album, I released four EPs, the most recent being PLB.

Nick Conrad by Shavonne Bryant

© Shavonne Bryant/HEREYOUARE

I did a little exploring, and discovered the first song available on your Soundcloud is called Sickle Cell, so obviously creating politically-charged art pertaining to the Black community is nothing new to you; What inspired this passion? What compels you to share it?

Sickle Cell is my first single appearing on my first album. It’s about sickle cell anemia, a disease I suffer from. My life experience made me want to know why others experienced my race as a problem. This brought me closer to my roots, and led me to discover important things that I wanted to share.

You’ve stated that you draw inspiration from people like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, but I’m wondering if there are any French or Non-American Black speakers, writers, or artists from whom you draw inspiration for your own politics and art.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any public figures in France who inspire me. I draw more inspiration from Africa — people like Thomas Sankara, the author Ruben Um Nyobé, Rudolf Duala Manga Bell [King Bell] or even the musician Fela Kuti or the philosopher Frantz Fanon.

For people who don’t want to see the struggle that Black people have had to deal with for centuries, and still endure today, the song might seem intolerable

On a different note, I’ve always been curious about Pierre Soulages. He paints all black canvases, and he talks about the color black as a state of the reflection of light.

What were you thinking while writing PLB? Was there a certain moment that made you say “Fuck it, this needs to be written about?”

It was definitely a process. It started in 2015 when terrible things were happening to Black people everywhere: Alton Sterling was shot dead at close range by two white officers from the Baton Rouge Police Department, Eric Garner died in Staten Island after an NYPD officer put him in a headlock, Adama Traoré died in police custody here in France. I returned to my country of origin, Cameroon, in 2017 to find a country riddled with suffering. I had already been shocked in 2009 when a boat dumped nuclear waste off the Ivory Coast and not a single rapper talked about it, and then coming back to Cameroon my employer asks me to perform menial tasks, like I was his slave, it was all too much. In France no artists really responded to these attacks…that’s also why I liked Kendrick Lamar’s stance.

Nick Conrad by Shavonne Bryant

© Shavonne Bryant/HEREYOUARE

I think all political artists hope to shock and inspire their audiences—was the response to PLB expected? Did any of the reactions shock you?

For people who don’t know, or who don’t want to see the struggle that Black people have had to deal with for centuries, and still endure today, the song might seem intolerable. For me, what’s really intolerable is that the crimes I talk about in the song were committed, crimes against people who didn’t deserve it.

The song is not meant to be literal, but a detailing of horrors Black people have already been subjected to, reversed so people can truly understand the severity

Of course, I’m shocked that some media outlets are trying to pass off my music as terrorism. It’s shameful because I think that the people at the very top must have understood the metaphor perfectly. But they’re taking advantage of some people’s ignorance to instill fear when there’s no reason for it. But this is 2019, we have the Internet. People can see for themselves that what I’m talking about is very real.

Did you realize the possible consequences of releasing the song? Did anyone warn you against it?

Yeah, I thought that some people wouldn’t understand. But I’d rather focus on people who can read between the lines.

When did you realize the song had gotten you into some trouble?

PLB proved that what I talk about in my music is true. You should read the comments on my Youtube page – it’s clear that the world we live in still has a problem with my ethnic group. It’s just that it was hidden before and now it’s coming out where everyone can see it. We have to talk about it if we want to get out from under it.

Nick Conrad by Shavonne Bryant

© Shavonne Bryant/HEREYOUARE

From my perspective, the song is not meant to be literal, but a detailing of horrors Black people have already been subjected to, reversed so people can truly understand the severity. How do you cope with your song being misunderstood? How do you cope with your point being twisted and used against you?

It makes you realize that we still have a lot of work to do if we want people’s’ mindsets to change. We’re still seen as fools who are incapable of thinking for ourselves. I’m putting things into perspective, I’m sure that the truth always wins out in the end.

What is one thing you hope people receive from your music? What information do you want to share with the world?

For me, an artist is first and foremost hypersensitive, as Schoolboy Q says, someone who dares to talk about what they feel and who can echo the experience of others who have lived through the same things. In some ways, being an artist is having the ability to speak freely, to break taboos. That’s where the exchange between the public and the artist happens. And underneath all of that is love. Love for yourself, love for other people, consideration for everyone in spite of these differences.

Shavonne Bryant is a photographer from Oakland, CA interested in documenting the Black experience.
  • BarendBe

    You forgot to mention that he is a child of a rich diplomat and never has been through any personal struggle except for his own stupidity and being a narcissist rich kid.

    He literally told you: “coming back to Cameroon my employer asks me to perform menial tasks, like I was his slave, it was all too much”. Like what menial tasks? Did his employer want him to stop being a spoiled brat? He didn’t succeed in any case.

    To think that he would draw eyes towards the injustices suffered historically because of the transatlantic slave trade by saying all whites should be hung does not show signs of self-reflection. Actually it is very healthy that people have learnt from the horrors of slavery that such barbarity like hanging innocents should be condemned. Therefore Nick Conrad should be condemned if we want to not let the suffering go to waste of generations upon generations of slaves.

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