How was she able to win the B.E.T hiphop MVP award? How has she become the poster child for femcees (female MCs) ? How is it that her name is brought up when little girls are asked, “Who is your idol?” Nicki Minaj stands in a powerful position with the ability to advance women’s status in today’s rap game by leaps and bounds, as well as serve as the voice for a demographic that has been the silent subject of so much disrespect and degradation. Given her powerful platform, I am frustrated that she has not used her notoriety to challenge what I see as a globally circulated, mainstream, sexist rap culture!
Allow me to first address the elephant in the room. Um, Nicki, you do know that just because many successful male rappers refer to women almost exclusively as “bitches” doesn’t mean that you must do that same, right? Minaj frequently refers to herself in such a way as well. It is fair to assume that artists seek to have their work understood by their audience. Keeping that in mind, calling those that you seek to portray in a positive light (“bitch” intended to mean “woman in charge”) and those that you depict negatively (“bitch” intended to mean…”bitch”) by the same name will undoubtedly confuse your listeners. Additionally, Minaj has adopted the stage name “Black Barbie.” Associating herself with one of the most popular children’s toys of all time suggests that she seeks to attract a young fan base to her music. Would Minaj find it acceptable for a ten year old who sees herself as an independent, self-assured individual to classify herself as a “bad bitch?” Would she be proud of encouraging such a mindset among today’s female youth?
Rather than build up her cred and general swag by highlighting her domination in an almost exclusively male industry by bringing to light all of the obstacles she had to conquer to reach the top, Minaj chooses to build herself up by bringing other women down. While iconic female rappers of the 80s and early 90s, like Queen Latifah and MC Lyte, called for women to “keep fighting” against stereotypes and those telling them they couldn’t do things are well known to women and music lovers of an older generation, their names are met with blank expressions when mentioned to young women in conversation today. MC Lyte’s “I Am Woman” has been replaced by Nicki Minaj’s “Freaky Girl.”
This leads me to my final critique of Miss Minaj. Her hyper sexual lyrics can be interpreted in two ways. On one hand, Minaj can be viewed as a woman simply taking charge of her sexuality and not being afraid to say, “Ladies, if you want to show off those legs, that shape, and present yourself as a sexual powerhouse you should feel free to do so!” This message is ultimately one of women taking the reigns and not being sexual subordinates. I can support this stance quite comfortably. On the other hand, she frequently promotes objectifying men and using sex as a means of control and dominance. Come on Nicki! Weren’t you ever told that two wrongs don’t make a right? Male rappers often speak of women as “hoes”, and Minaj has decided to combat that with “yeah, but I’m the best one you’ll ever find!”
Ultimately, by fighting fire with fire, Nicki Minaj has played right into the hands of the rap industry’s overwhelmingly negative portrayal of women. Additionally, the issue is fueled by consumers, who have supported Minaj all the way to the top. I worry for a generation of girls who find their aspirations in the lyrics of this artist.