Top Twitch Streamer Ninja Rapped A Slur, Leading To A Familiar Conundrum [Update: Ninja Apologises]

Yesterday, Tyler 'Ninja' Blevins, the hottest streamer on Twitch, was streaming Fortnite with a buddy. The pair wanted to find a good song to vibe to during their battle royale hunt. Eventually, the two put on Logic's "44 More," and Blevins started ad libbing through the start of the song. That's when Blevins slipped the n-word in front of thousands of fans.

A clip of the slip-up is now circulating on Twitter, coming from the streaming feed of Matthew "Nadeshot" Haag, Blevins' partner during the stream. As Blevins stumbles through some of the song, Haag smiles.

After Blevins says "nigga," Haag winces:

The moment appears to happen during Blevins' stream as well, though Twitch's copyright rules mute the likely moments when it happens at around the 4:21:00 mark. It's at that moment that Blevins seems to be singing along as the chat goes on about Logic's song.

Since then, debates have broken out online over the significance of Blevins' rap. The song is fast-paced and Blevins' doesn't quite nail the delivery, so it's hard to make out every single word he's saying.

The n-word, though, is audible despite not actually being a part of the original lyrics. Blevins appears to have ad-libbed it in. Here's what Logic raps in the original, courtesy of Genius:

Ayy, bitch, I've been goin' and goin' like the Energizer

Yeah, I'm supplyin' the wood like Elijah

In the cut, smokin' on indica

Might fuck around and compartmentalise ya

They say, they say life is a bitch

And if that is the case then I'm finna surprise her

Controversy surrounding this moment largely spurs from Blevins' reputation on Twitch. He has made headlines in the last several weeks for achieving 100,000 subscribers on Twitch and becoming the biggest and most visible person on the platform. In the process, he has also earned a rep for being one of the "good" ones.

After he ran a record-breaking stream with Drake earlier this month, many people online commented that it was nice to have a positive role model representing the gaming community.

Some of gaming's top voices on YouTube and Twitch have gotten a bad rap thanks to incidents involving racism, anti-semitism, and general drama. For a while, it seemed as if Blevins was different than some of the gaming celebrities before him: he came off as a level-headed, mature guy who grinded his way to the top.

He's extremely good at games, he's entertaining, and he raises money for charity. Finally, I saw many people saying online, here is a gaming ambassador we can be proud of, without reservation. And then this happened.

When this kind of thing happens, you tend to see some people draw bold lines. You're either with the person or against them. You're either going to say you are ok with what they did or said or you're going to shun them. That's not how it works for me and, I imagine for many other people.

What follows will probably be familiar for most of us - the mental calculus of how much this incident bothers you, how much it influences what you think about someone you might admire. When I spoke about this with colleagues, we had a sense that this whole thing is somehow different than the Pewdiepie situation.

There's no hard R in the word he used, one was one though, to the extent that matters in terms of how venomously the word is being used. Blevins wasn't wielding the pejorative like a sword against someone. He didn't seem to be using it in anger or as an insult.

And, it's not like uttering a single word somehow makes you into some diabolical villain. Ninja still seems like a good dude; his contributions and deeds aren't erased because he said something bad.

It's easy to be against something even as fleeting as this. It's also continually disappointing that something like this continues to happen. Why is it so hard to take such a hurtful word out of people's vocabulary, or at least out of the vocabulary of white people, who many would argue have less of a cultural licence to use it?

We live in a world where innocent black people are gunned down by the same people paid to protect them. It's ugly to use a word that has such a long history of anti-blackness so casually, as if it doesn't matter. You should care if you have a large audience like Blevins does. He may not be a raging racist, but he shouldn't get a pass, either.

It's hard to ignore a moment like this. Everyone has an opinion on it. But it's also easy to be weary of it. Those of us who care about games or streaming had this conversation months ago. Do we really need to have it again for someone who mostly seems like a cool dude? And what of how common these stumbles appear to be? Do we cheer on people's successes as they achieve fame but also set a mental timer for how long it will take until they fuck up?

Are we waiting to see how long until the Milkshake duck rears its ugly head and reveals that our heroes and celebrities are flawed? Or do we risk error when we simply become too tired to call out the latest celebrity doing something foul because we spent our energy knocking the last five?

They say you should never meet your heroes, but in 2018, it seems like an impossible mandate. Internet celebrities on Twitch and YouTube invite you into their bedrooms and talk to you for hours on end, day after day. They let you in. You think you know everything about them.

You never actually "meet" your heroes, but somehow, you still come to feel as if you know them pretty damn well. The mess-ups somehow feel more personal depending on your relationship with the personality. In today's media landscape, we constantly build new people up, immediately tear them down, all while it feels a little more personal, a little more like they tricked us, like they let us in with the promise of authenticity only to discover there was an aspect of them they hadn't let us see. (Ninja did not respond by press time to a request for comment about what he rapped.)

UPDATE 12:25PM, April 3: Blevins took to Twitter to apologise over the incident, stating:

When incidents like Ninja's rap ad lib occur over something "politically correct", the narrative is that progressive folks are almost gleeful to destroy someone's reputation, using it as an excuse to lord their superior morality over everyone else. It's all just an excuse to destroy things liberals don't like, or something.

I don't know that this is true. It's not for me. Almost everyone I know subscribes to the idea that "there's no ethical consumption under capitalism." To be simplistic, that's the idea that nearly anything you love will have something unsavoury that you can't wholly defend.

I still watch Pewdiepie regularly, even though he sometimes says or does things that are shitty. I could say I do this because it's my job, and that would be true, but honestly, I do find him funny on occasion.

It's hard to reconcile the fact I enjoy his content with the fact that he's done objectionable things, but here we are. Most of us have entertainment that falls under this, 'problematic' stuff you think twice about sharing or admitting that you like, but that you like all the same. The question is whether or not you'll acknowledge where something falls short.

It sucks that gaming has a stigma in some parts of mainstream society. Talking about stuff like this on a platform like Kotaku doesn't necessarily help that image. But to love something - to truly love it - means expecting more, and holding people accountable, recognising problems without leaping to outrage, all in the hopes of forging something even better in its place.


Comments

    People should honestly know better by now.

    Sometimes, I think people like this guy say and do dumb things, just to create controversy so websites like Kotaku talk about them and they, the YouTubers, Twitchers etc. stay relevant and aren't forgotten.

    Any publicity is good publicity.

    Yeah, just don't say the word, easy as that.

    Not calling the dude racist, but think a bit before you say that, especially on stream.

    I'm more forgiving of this incident than the Pewdipie one as he wasn't using it as a slur against someone. "Heated Gaming Moments" is not an excuse.

    The context he used it in wasn't derogatory to anybody. We live in this weird social system where half a culture can say nigga but then no one else can. We as a society have to draw a line in which either anyone can say it or no one can say it, not this half and half mentality.

    Particularly for the 21st century I feel like that word has too much power, musicians (mainly rapper) use it constantly while it's also said in films. I feel like it's a word nowadays used for people who want to have a knee jerk reaction to it.

      It’s not up to you or one half of society to decide who can use it. If it’s not apart of your culture do not use the word. Very simple

        It’s not up to you or one half of society to decide who can use it.

        You're spot on there. Just not in the way you think.

        We've been at this crossroads for a long time, either we decide it's a bad word and nobody uses it OR we acknowledge that many of us are part of a generation that has an entirely different notion of the word through it's liberal use in music, film and even memes.

        Don't start saying things like "not your culture" when the notion that any first world country has distinct cultures that aren't affected by or affect everything around them is patently absurd.

        Hip-Hop is the most popular musical genre in America right now (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/04/hip-hop-beats-rock-to-become-americas-favorite-music-genre.html) and that it is the key medium that the word has proliferated from. This "problem" isn't going away, and future generations will be as confused by its old meaning as when you say "gay" to mean happy to people today.

        Meanings change, cultures change, we need to acknowledge that and help the people who were historically affected by the word's original meaning to champion its new one.

          It's culturally-contextually bad. It's not blanket-bad or blanket-fine.

          Things are rarely just 1 or 0. Embrace the quantum: It's bad for white people to use, not for black people to use.

            It's bad for white people to use, not for black people to use.

            The irony of your "Things aren't binary" argument reaches full strength here.

        No, culture can't "own" word, if you do't want people saying it- don't use it yourself.

    I'm not a fan of the dude, but he was just in a comfortable situation, playing games with his mates and listening to some tunes, he was just vibing and slipped up. There are no ill intentions behind this.

    I also wouldn't consider him "one of the good ones" either though, his toxicity towards other players is among the worst for this game, watching 1 of his streams was enough.

    Last edited 29/03/18 1:18 pm

    I'm always torn by this.

    I understand why the word is offensive to black people, yet they use it like I use the word "mate". Then they use it in popular culture - in songs that make them millions of dollars and are listened to by millions of impressionable young kids. These young kids then use it the same way and people get offended.

    Had Ninja been using the word to abuse someone, or meant it as a racial slur, I'd be offended. He didn't. I'm not.

      Hadn't seen this response when I posted mine. Exactly what I was thinking. And it's not just black people who use it that way.

      I think the issue isn't so clear cut, n_____ means something very different when said by the the oppressors than by the oppressed. When I say this I refer of course to slavery and the associated horrors now passed, but also to the subtler, but no less present ways in which black communities and individuals continue to be oppressed the the dominant, predominantly white, culture in America.

      I second @stormo here, let a member of the black community describe the problem and it probably looks rather different through their eyes than through yours (I am assuming you're not black because of the wording of your comment, apologies if this is not correct). I, as a white man, don't get to decide for another person, let alone another culture, what is or isn't offensive - so while I think it more likely he was simply miming along to a song as he heard it and that in doing so he was perhaps insensitive, though not actively hateful, I can't say whether that was offensive or not to the black members of his audience, whether by repeating the words previously used to hurt, to offend, to embarrass, he perpetuates racist attitudes, or whether he was simply enjoying a song with no thoughts as to how his singing of the line as he heard it may have been received.

      Finally I think there are issues with the approach to this debate as a whole, there's an unhealthy tendency on the part of people in these discussions to generalise and associate viewpoints along racial divisions "I understand why the word is offensive to black people, yet they use it like I use the word "mate"" for example is not really true, many black Americans don't use n______ in any context and think it is harmful in any context, while others would likely think that ninja's (and other white figures') use was part of devaluing the term - the very same goal that lead many to reclaim the term as a positive, friendly term. Black people are just like any other group of people - made up of individuals with equally individualistic reactions to the same stimuli.
      Additionally there's a lot to racism that we just don't see, reactions that are kept private, insults that are ignored or seemingly didn't see any negative reaction. See this thread in the competitive TF2 forums where at post #17 toads_tf necros a post about Tagg (a black, prominent member of the TF2 comp scene) to link an image of someone he thought looks similar. What in other contexts might have simply been a dumb joke, ends up being the straw that broke the camel's back and at post #21 Tagg reveals just how shitty being a member of the TF2 scene was for him. http://www.teamfortress.tv/16106/rip-tagg
      The scene, already only fed by a love of the game (there is no money in the scene at all) lost one of its most popular, skilled and hard working figures because of incidents that others, including Tagg's own friend Shrugger, thought weren't offensive, thought were perhaps just edgy memes or meaningless shit talk (this doesn't include the stuff that came from Platinum, he was legitimately racist and a horrible person in general). Just as Shrugger doesn't get to decide what offends Tagg, as a white guy I don't get to decide what offends a member of any other minority or cultural group. You may see Muma mentioned in Tagg's post, as an openly gay competitor in Overwatch and previously in TF2 it's particularly disheartening to see his own actions in the past mirror those of xQc in more recent memory (who used the similarly derogatory f_____ as an insult towards Muma).
      People make mistakes, and ninja made one. Whether he meant to or not, whether it comes across as hateful or not, he said a word that has a lot of hateful connotations. Whether I think he was hateful is irrelevant, what matters is the thoughts of the people affected by such language.

    “It didn’t have a hard R sound”

    Lol nice prejudice against non-US accents. So Pewdiepie with his accent and inability to say it as nigga without forcing it makes him racist? Aussies saying it as nigga cos that’s the accent makes it okay?

    Really, why even report on this? Kiddo says something online that could be taken offensively as long as the context is ignored. The reason these "incidents" are still an issue today is because the media latches onto them and hypes them up like it's a terribly slow news day. Yet we never hear anything about actual rap artists using the word "nigga" in their songs because it's ok those times. If the media sticks to actual news and stops hyping these occurrences that only professionally-offended people are actually bothered by, then the perception of offense will eventually be lost because the words' power to offend and original negative connotations will fade, reducing it to just another negative term like "fuck", "bitch", etc. You know, those words that no one over the age of 10 actually cares about.

      This brings to mind the South Park Episode where they use the word "fag" to describe the people riding noisy Harleys.

    If you're going to complain about people using the word "nigga" then maybe go after all the rappers that use it, normalise it and make people who follow that culture think it's ok to say.

    I mean seriously, he's freestyle rapping. If you're making stuff up on the fly like that of course you're going to draw from what you listen to. He's not using it to offend someone, verbally abuse them or anything, so I just don't see what the fuss is about. Just seems like typical outrage culture keen to tear people apart over the smallest of things.

    Quick! Tear him down and ruin him!

    I demand trial by social media!

    Almost all the comments here are defending the fact that this streamer used an offensive word. 'It wasn't a hard R', 'African-American rappers normalise it', etc. Allow me to contextualise this event with the following analogy -

    An accountant says 'fuck' during a work meeting, in front of his boss and his peers. Some of his peers are offended by this. Some are not. Of the people who are offended, some have personal reasons for the offense, such as personal verbal abuse or upbringing. The people that are not offended insist that the people that are offended just need to get over it. Regardless of both groups personal feelings, however, it is contextually and socially inappropriate and impolite, and the accountant's boss reprimands him.

    The streamer said an inappropriate word that offends some people. This shouldn't be a discussion that vindicates or excuses him; it offends some people, therefore is inappropriate. Perhaps that word is acceptable in some contexts, but at work is not one of those places, especially when your work is so high profile. The reality of streaming is that it's high reward, and high accountability for your actions.

      Your argument is a false equivalence. Anyone who has worked in a professional environment will tell you that. The accountant gets reprimanded because he is in an environment where a certain behaviour is expected and has been agreed upon by him taking the job. He represents the company as do his actions. A streamer playing games and streaming from his own home represents no one but himself and his own interests. He is not held to any such contract or behaviour as the accountant, and anyone who takes offence as a result of their own choice to watch his stream is entirely capable of either acknowledging that it was not directed at them and moving on, or leaving the stream. They have the ability to support or decry the streamer’s actions by giving the streamer attention and donations or a lack thereof, but getting offended and making a stink when it was their own choice to watch is just childish and only leads to whipping busy-bodies into a frenzy who then look to oppress the actions of others who don’t adhere to their frail sensibilities. And if you’re going to claim that he should take responsibility for his actions, then also tell that to the professional rappers whose actions he was mimicking, or is it ok when they say “nigga” but not when a young man says it while rapping in his own home while his audience watches voluntarily. Just like a certain Scottish judge, you’re being far to quick to ignore the context of the situation and take offence of the behalf of others.

      Also, in your accountant anecdote, the context of the situation dictates that the accountants actions are inappropriate because they are unprofessional in a professional environment. However, in the situation of the streamer saying “nigga” as a lyric in a rap, there is no similar inappropriateness because it’s a lyric in a song. Again, false equivalence.

      It’s like an artist painting a scene of a real wall in a city. The wall is decades old and covered in decades of graffiti, including taggings from different stages of the wall’s and the city’s history. Somewhere, “fuck the police” is scrawled across it; over there, “give peace a chance” has been added at some point; off to the side, “nigga” is written in bubble letters and “kill the colonisers” is hastily sprayed in the corner; countless other messages and depictions cover the wall. And the artist captures all of it accurately on the canvas. When that painting goes up in a gallery, are you going to call it out as inappropriate because someone might take offence at an accurate capture of history? Should this piece of art be censored for the sake of the frailties of some? That’s how very slippery slopes to very ugly places begin.

        Wow, talk about a false equivalence. 'Streamers are artists, and their words the canvas'? O.o
        I've said my piece, and I do not believe my analogy is a false equivalence. We, as a community, determine what is appropriate. Most importantly, I believe that streamers do represent the community at large, and that it is up to the public to hold them to a higher standard. Also, the word used in question was not part of the lyrics of the song, it was adlibbed according to the article.
        I'm not going to waste time trying to convince any further though. Everyone should make their own mind up. Namaste.

      By this logic, sex outside of marriage offends some people, therefore anyone who engages in sex by marriage should be shunned, ostracised and otherwise attacked.

      Alternatively, we could behave like adults rather than idiots, and consider that people's values differ and also that context is important.

        This is reductio ad absurdum. Taking an argument to it's extreme proves nothing. The point of my message is that we as a community hold others to our own personal standards, and no one more so than people in the spotlight or civic leaders. If you choose that your standards be represented by someone who callously uses offensive language unnecessarily, then that's your choice. There is a middle ground here that doesn't involve shunning everyone who is 'immoral', or excusing everyone who is a victim of societal construct. My point still stands.

          Your own argument was reductio ad absurdum. You said it offends some people, therefore it is inappropriate. Or perhaps context is only acceptable for you and not for Ninja?

          I didn't even know who this guy was before I read this article. I have no reason to argue for the guy, but claiming he's a racist because he dropping the n-word while rapping to a song is just ridiculous. Hell, for all I know, he might have thought the song included the word, and people are having a meltdown over a mondegreen. Or he's just rapping in line with standard rap lyrics - and let's be fucking honest here, it gets used a LOT in rap songs. Would it be offensive if the song had actually included the word in the original lyrics? Seriously, the point is that in context, it's not particularly offensive, nor was it being used to insult or otherwise be derogatory.

          I also find it ridiculous that you're comparing this guy to civic leaders or the like. He's not some millionaire who is a role model for large swathes of society. He's a youtube "celebrity", who are a dime a dozen.

            First of all, presenting the opinion that something is inappropriate is not reductio ad absurdum, because reductio ad absurdum is the act of reducing someone else's point or argument to it's most extreme and inherently illogical conclusion in order to undermine it conceptually. That doesn't apply to my initial statement.
            Secondly, I didn't call this guy a racist. Until this article, I hadn't heard of this guy either. It doesn't sound like he is philosophically racist, though I don't know him from a bar of soap. But let's be clear - whether or not a person has the intent to be racist or not, the n-word is a racial slur. I've had a lot of black friends, none of whom are African-American, and the word is charged. I find it offensive, as do a lot of people. Even used in the context that it was, I find it offensive. You do not. That's fine, we should all make our own choices in this world. But honestly, the fact that you care so little about the offense taken by a broad portion of the population with little regard for them speaks more volumes about you than anything else.
            Also, Youtubers and streamers are civic leaders, same as sports stars, movie stars, politicians, etc. They literally have 10s of thousands of people watching them every day. I would consider a priest a civic leader, and they usually only have followings of up to one hundred. Kids watch these guys every day, and follow their example. The more succesful streamers are indeed millionaires. I feel like you're just lashing out, trying to make any point you can to sound authoratative. But yes, by any reasonably measurable standard, these guys could certainly be considered civic leaders.
            Think what you want, act how you please, and be judged by the weight of your actions. Namaste.

              If we're really being pedantic about logic here, then my argument was no more reductio ad absurdum than yours. Your argument was that because at least some people finds a particular thing offensive, it should be considered inappropriate. Reductio ad absurdum would be to present an example that if ONE person found something offensive, then it should be inappropriate. My retort was simply presenting a different potentially offensive subject - and one that a lot of the population of the world WOULD find offensive. The fact that you don't seem to be aware of this, or care about it, speaks more volumes about you than anything else.

              If you wish to be so affected and/or offended by these people, by all means, go ahead. Apart from a select few, I really doubt they have the gravitas you attribute to them. You are welcome to your pseudo-intellectual analysis on the social responsibility of such individuals, I just don't care for it.

                I know I should let this go... but your definition of reductio ad absurdum is incorrect. No element of my initial comment could be considered reductio ad absurdum, using either your phrasing or my initial phrasing, because neither are reframing a previously discussed paradigm - they are actuated, and not responsive. For an example of RaA - one man says, 'Cake is made from wheat'. A second man says 'Cake can't be made from wheat, or we could grow cake fields'. The second man is reducing the first man's argument with absurdist logic. The second man is using RaA. My initial comment cannot be RaA because I am the first man, and my comment is not aimed at diminishing anyone else's point. Understand?
                What makes your comment RaA is - I say 'This word is offensive and ths streamer should be held accountable'. You say 'By this logic, sex outside of marriage offends some people, therefore anyone who engages in sex by marriage should be shunned'. Your comment is RaA because it infers absurdist extremes. It infers I believe the streamer should be 'shunned', which I have not said. It infers that I am saying we should honor everything that everyone takes offense to, which I have not said. And it infers an element of moral absolutism, which I do not hold to. These are all absurdist extremes of what I said, and that is what makes your comment RaA, where mine was not.
                At any rate, since you feel that a streamer with thousands of views has very little impact on other people, you probably aren't affected by the comment of a dude on the Kotaku forums, and don't have a response?

    I think, regardless of if you think this is a bad thing or you don't, despite how many times you see this article on Kotaku, Polygon, Waypoint, Vice, the Verge, etc etc, this particular incident won't affect Ninja at all.
    I think, much like Pewdiepie whose "offenses" were way more severe and whose backlash was so much larger (specifically, WSJ's articles which I am presuming got a lot more views than Kotaku will get for this one), Ninja is untouchable at this point. Given the "crime" is a lot less severe than Pewdiepie's (adlibbing "nigga" while singing a rap song vs calling someone "nigger" in a derogatory way) and he only got more subscribers after all was said and done, I suspect it'll be the same for Ninja.

    I'm not sure what I am getting at here. I guess I feel that this article and all the articles that follow will incense the right people, boil the blood of their intended audiences but in the end, will they achieve anything? Will they even put a dent in these giants' popularities? My guess is no.

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