Kendrick Helped Popularize It, But We Need To Talk About The Complicated Ethiopian History Of Negus

May 2007. The 80th Scripps National Spelling Bee is underway. A contestant, a young white boy with an atrocious bowl-cut, is asked how to spell the word negus. There is a definition at the bottom of the screen.

“A king – used as a title of the sovereign of Ethiopia.”

He repeats the word, which Ethiopians pronounce, nuh-goose. His version, very much Americanized, sounds much closer to what some might call a select melanin proficient group of friends – niggas. The video goes viral.

It’s 2015: Fulton Avenue, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, New York City where French tourists come to take pictures of Biggie murals.

I’m on my way to drink cheap whiskey with the homies. It’s unreasonably warm for December. I unbutton my coat and take long strides past 99-cent stores and expensive cafes.

I bump into an acquaintance who is with a friend. We exchange the usual pleasantries.

“Yeah, yeah I am.” I respond.

“Oh!” says my homie, who is white. His face lights up with a smile.

“My Negus!” He says jubilantly, attempting Amharic, the language my tongue first kissed, and failing.

Niggas, is what I hear.