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 compartmentalize 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 okay 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 license 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 12:44PM, 3/29: Blevins took to Twitter to apologize 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 unsavory 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, recognizing problems without leaping to outrage, all in the hopes of forging something even better in its place.
Correction 6:36 PM: An earlier version of this article mistakenly said that Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag also said the n-word during this stream, when in fact he said “Ninja.” We regret the error.