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Nicki Minaj and hip-hop misogyny

Such a great piece – just go read it. A taste:

Often praised as one of the most talented MC’s — female or otherwise — in today’s ever-evolving rap game, Nicki Minaj has an indisputably tight flow, swag for days, and the kind of business savvy that would make even Jay-Z proud.

And her unique blend of feminine hip-hop sensibility is poised to pan out: the hype surrounding this week’s release of her debut album, Pink Friday is palpable.

However, the mainstream commercial acceptance she’s already achieved with her over-the-top, multiple-personality, plasticized, black Barbie persona ought to make us all think twice.

At what point does the narrative of an aggressive female hip-hop artist with crazy sex appeal, and solid street sensibilities become just the opposite — a tale of faux-bravado, empty rhetoric, and deceptive stage gimmicks that only thinly masks a desperation to transcend the confines of one’s true identity? And what does it mean for our music and our people if mainstream black culture can’t tell the difference?


29 thoughts on Nicki Minaj and hip-hop misogyny

  1. Well you know, it’s showbiz, and she’s doing what she believes will attract the biggest paying audience. Doesn’t the fact that she’s getting written about in blogs indicate that she’s on the right track?

  2. I can never really get past the “victim blaming” edge to articles like this. Especially with such petty and suck-ass statements like:

    “Black men I talked to begrudgingly giving props to her flow and swagger before referencing her sex appeal (Minaj seems to bring out the lewd in them, I must say).”

    How coyly prudish of her to say so! Those boys, you know, just can’t help being lewd. Minaj just pulls it right up through their soles and forces it past their teeth and their general human decency.

    But then there’s this problematic paragraph:

    Here, Jay-Z also referenced Lauryn Hill’s classic album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, an album that has been unmatched in its soulfulness, emotional intensity, and impeccable delivery. No one expects Minaj or any modern female rapper to fill Lauryn’s shoes. But as a representation of the newest incarnation of a female MC, the image she presents of a high-powered rap mogul who can “hang with the big boys” of rap by eschewing real emotion for hard lines and plastic delivery is disturbingly lacking in its vision of a future hip hop that reflects the black lived experience with some degree of emotional truth.

    Personally, I hope no one has to fill Lauryn Hill’s shoes. I mean, which shoes? The genius she presents in her work, or the way everyone let her fall through the cracks? How can the author write that paragraph without acknowledging what this industry and what our society does to madly creative women? How can she decry Minaj’s personas and then pretend that it’s a level playing field? False equivalencies.

    Until the author can hold the men responsible for their lewdness, she can’t hold Minaj responsible for the future of hip-hop and any attendant misogyny (as if the misogyny of hip-hop is somehow, you know, separate from misogyny itself).

  3. As much as I try to like her, Minaj IS NO TIYE PHOENIX.
    Minaj just makes me sad for REAL FEMALE EMCEES.
    Her lyrics are pop with no substance, other than hypersexualized and a little crazy persona. Just play Tiye P and then play Minaj back-to-back and compare. I appreciate intellect and social awareness in my hip hop prose. That’s just me.
    http://www.4shared.com/audio/sLM-62gP/Tiye_Phoenix_-_48_Bars_of_Prog.html
    “No one woman should have all that power
    The most memorable quote of the whole hour
    I might sound nice, You saw that documentary
    I’m not coming for rap chicks, I’m coming for the enemy
    Industry is tryin to get us, Am I goin to fight ‘em? Yes.
    Tryin to keep women outside like uninvited guests…”

  4. I don’t know Nicki Minaj’s work real well, but I was a little bothered by the terms in which that article criticized it. I understand being bothered by the Barbie-persona, but I don’t think that the artificiality of it is the problem, or that outlandish fictional personas are either (a) necessarily opposed to “real emotion” or (b) necessarily inferior to realistic, personal, “sincere,” self-presentation. I mean, the Wu-Tang Clan have made a lot of great music portraying themselves as kung-fu masters, superheroes, and robots; I don’t think that kept real emotion and meaningful content out of their work.

    So I see a problem, not with female MCs using unrealistic personas, but with the fact that they tend to always be pushed into one particular kind of persona: they almost always seem to end up, at least primarily, as sex-goddesses rather than ass-kickers, whereas men get to be either or both.

  5. No I have changed my mind on this subject. I’ve read the whole article: the more I think on it, I am against Minaj and what she stands for. Hip hop is such an incredible art form, I cry because all we have is Minaj. It is not the false persona that bothers me, but the content. Even Lil Kim, who is the Queen of power from sexualization AT LEAST HAS MAD SKILLS! So, being a walking baby dolly thang has been done over and over with nothing new. THIS IS THE ONLY WOMAN TO LOOK UP TO IN HIP HOP??? I REJECT THAT.
    Here’s another REAL FEMALE EMCEE: INVINCIBLE DETROIT Caucasian and Gay:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ze-S5Wz0iTc
    “I know the art is more than being killers and players
    and makin millions-a papers
    our blood is spillin; they hate us…”

  6. What epitomizes hip-hop is a social economy of style. I don’t understand why we must condemn Nicki Minaj for her style and manner when that is half of the hip-hop game. Sean Combs is eccentric as all get out. Eccentricity in performers, particularly rappers, is clearly not only tolerated but also encouraged. Moreover, how is Minaj any different from Lady Gaga? What’s the emergent property that makes Minaj’s performance problematic? Essentialism rears its ugly head yet again. Black men and White women get to be as eccentric as they want to be and be praised for it while women of color are called out for not being “real” enough. Realness in hip-hop is another discussion (Get your categories out of my ipod).

    For purists that harken back to a simpler time when the realness had a name, a face, and a flow – Lauryn Hill – why does that have to be how women do this hip-hop game? I think it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of both hip-hop and the gender liberalization and equality sought by feminists. Nicki’s multiple personas are hyperbolic to be sure but art tends toward hyperbole, and I think her performance paints a clearer picture of a person, verisimilitude through caricature. Moreover, no one would have listened to Chuck D but for Flavor Flav. Look at Dead Prez: I submit that no one listens to them except the proverbial “choir” precisely because they never put down the axe they’re grinding. The success or effect of hip-hop performers with an activist message has always been most potent when it has been incremental in its presentation. She’s got a message too, it just might not be the most refined out there.

    Finally, she’s conscious of hyper-sexualization and that’s refreshing enough. Nicki Minaj is Luda but also a woman. Plastic and real, she’s subversive enough to not merit the criticism this piece levels.

  7. @Q: Okay, I stand corrected. INVINCIBLE is a female and Gay, otherwise known as: Lesbian. Although it should be mentioned, she dresses androgynous. Also, she is Anglo and Palestinian decent, if that matters to you.
    @Matt: Nope:
    “Finally, she’s conscious of hyper-sexualization and that’s refreshing enough.”
    SSDD. NOT REFRESHING AT ALL> TIRED AND OLD AND PLAYED OUT. *Yawn* beeeeeen done before time and time again. Trina, Foxy, Kim, Shawna….
    “Nicki Minaj is Luda but also a woman.”
    Trina is to Ludakris as Minaj is to Lil Wayne. (That’s who signed her and made her his pet project.)
    AS ALWAYS: One woman in the group. Eve and Rough Ryders, Rah Digga and Flip Mode Squad. Although, those last two were somewhat original, comparatively speaking.

  8. “The success or effect of hip-hop performers with an activist message has always been most potent when it has been incremental in its presentation.”
    Again, we are in disagreement here. Tell that to KRS1 or Talib Kweli or Immortal Technique. Maybe you’re referencing “Get on the floor B**ch” crap they play on Z107.7?
    “She’s got a message too.” Hmmmm. What message might that be for female fans of hip hop? A similar message to that of women in general everywhere all the time. (Mystykal style.) Be an OBJECT OF DESIRE with no real value as far as social/politcal consciousness and soar to the top!
    “it just might not be the most refined out there.”
    I’ll say.

  9. “Most chicks happy I can rock without taking off my clothes”

    Rah Digga was awesome! Her first album was amazing and she should have been huge.

    Surprised no one’s mentioned Jean Grae or Bahamadia yet. Tlwo more with amazing flow and lyrics. The talent is out there, but if it’s not wearing PVC then nobody cares.

  10. This isn’t about talent. It isn’t about whose message is best or about whose flow is tightest. It never was, at least not once money got involved. Hip hop, like all popular music, comes down to what people want to listen to while they try to fuck or sit at home and fantasize about being someone else. Big label music is about the soundtrack to a hook up or escapism. Its not about social justice, its not about raising consciousness, its not about art. Its about what sells. As a result, those are the artists who get the production, the media, the distribution, and the massive 360 deal that works them into an early grave while the vultures circle in wide arcs waiting to pick the bones. Once in a great while someone manages to be lucky enough to say something of value in the process of being turned into a commodity, but thats more bug than feature.

    Hip hop, as a business model, has been about white kids from the suburbs scaring their parents since at least 2 Live Crew. Thats what sells records. If Nicki Minaj makes it, thats how she’ll do it. Honestly, I can’t even fault her for it. Everyone has bills to pay and I can think of worse jobs. Welcome to the recording industry. How this will play out is a forgone conclusion and complaining about it isn’t going to change a damned thing. All we can do is support the artists who make a difference in our lives, share their names with like-minded people, and accept that music that matters is probably only going to continue if we step up and give it enough money for the artists we care about to record their next album. The Jazz community worked that out 40 years ago, the punks figured it out maybe 25 year ago, the metal scene maybe 15, now it’s hip hop’s turn. The scene will only get better for it because once the money is gone all thats left is love of the form.

  11. I actually agree with what’s been said on questions of taste in music and artists. I don’t think I’ll be picking up Pink Friday anytime soon.

    I wanted to argue that the line the article contemplates (between the narrative of an aggressive female hip-hop artist and a tale of faux-bravado and deceptive stage gimmicks that only masks desperation) should be of no consequence. The drawing of the line is an essentialist exercise. In drawing the line, even contemplating its existence, we are assuming that Minaj’s identity, literally her stage persona, should correspond to a certain reality. Something we don’t demand of other artists, particularly White ones and in certain ways not even from Black men.

    Are we actually going to suggest that someone can abdicate or abrogate their personhood by choosing to act in a certain way, especially a performance artist? I submit that she never stops being real because she’s an actual person. Even if she’s desperately trying to transcend the confines of her “true identity,” or whatever, that sounds, and frankly looks, a lot like subversion of the essentialist socio-political order of our time, deserving of praise and support.

  12. David: I know I’m white because i listen to symphonic metal instead of rap and hip-hop.  

    Do we really have to, David? Even if you’re just ~joking~ it isn’t funny or relevant to this post at all. I guess I’m white too because I also listen to symphonic metal…but last time I checked I’m fairly sure I’m black. Please explain to me, David.

    Short version: get out.

  13. matt- you’re not a very careful writer are you ?

    i mean you start off with this- “What epitomizes hip-hop is a social economy of style.” And in the same paragraph, you give us “Essentialism rears its ugly head yet again.” It shouldn’t be so easy…

    I don’t know how you can claim to know that people only liked PE because of Flava Flav. Are you a mind reader, or do you have people putting in serious hours of survey work ?

    As for issues of ‘realness’: it’s not just rockism or the (white) critical establishment that account for there being a bar set for authenticity. There were and still are unspoken rules about what’s OK in terms of gender roles, religious identification, ect. And this isn’t just upheld by ‘gangsta’ rappers. Common is awfully fond of the word ‘faggot’ as an insult, and gentle, enlightened De La Soul hated on hip house because of its connections with a gay scene.

    Finally, I think I’d like Nikki’s role playing a lot more, and actually think about saying that it’s ‘transgressive’ or ‘destablizing’- pick your own selection from the cult studs vernacular- if her persona weren’t just a limited panoply of cliches.

  14. Matt:
    I actually agree with what’s been said on questions of taste in music and artists.I don’t think I’ll be picking up Pink Friday anytime soon.
    I wanted to argue that the line the article contemplates (between the narrative of an aggressive female hip-hop artist and a tale of faux-bravado and deceptive stage gimmicks that only masks desperation) should be of no consequence.The drawing of the line is an essentialist exercise.In drawing the line, even contemplating its existence, we are assuming that Minaj’s identity, literally her stage persona, should correspond to a certain reality.Something we don’t demand of other artists, particularly White ones and in certain ways not even from Black men.
    Are we actually going to suggest that someone can abdicate or abrogate their personhood by choosing to act in a certain way, especially a performance artist?I submit that she never stops being real because she’s an actual person. Even if she’s desperately trying to transcend the confines of her “true identity,” or whatever, that sounds, and frankly looks, a lot like subversion of the essentialist socio-political order of our time, deserving of praise and support.  

    In all seriousness I think that there are some things to like about nikki and some things not to like. For one she certainly displays a weirdness quotient that most other artists shy away from. I kind of like this (even though some people might be accusing her of cashing in on recent trends) because too many times popular culture stigmatizes the “weird”. On the other hand, I think her music sucks. Maybe if I listened to it long enough I’d start to like it, but then again, maybe not.

  15. David: I know I’m white because i listen to symphonic metal instead of rap and hip-hop.  

    I’m white, too, David. You really cannot tell by what music someone prefers, sucker.

  16. AnonymousForThis: This isn’t about talent. It isn’t about whose message is best or about whose flow is tightest. It never was, at least not once money got involved. Hip hop, like all popular music, comes down to what people want to listen to while they try to fuck or sit at home and fantasize about being someone else. Big label music is about the soundtrack to a hook up or escapism. Its not about social justice, its not about raising consciousness, its not about art. Its about what sells. As a result, those are the artists who get the production, the media, the distribution, and the massive 360 deal that works them into an early grave while the vultures circle in wide arcs waiting to pick the bones. Once in a great while someone manages to be lucky enough to say something of value in the process of being turned into a commodity, but thats more bug than feature.Hip hop, as a business model, has been about white kids from the suburbs scaring their parents since at least 2 Live Crew. Thats what sells records. If Nicki Minaj makes it, thats how she’ll do it. Honestly, I can’t even fault her for it. Everyone has bills to pay and I can think of worse jobs. Welcome to the recording industry. How this will play out is a forgone conclusion and complaining about it isn’t going to change a damned thing. All we can do is support the artists who make a difference in our lives, share their names with like-minded people, and accept that music that matters is probably only going to continue if we step up and give it enough money for the artists we care about to record their next album. The Jazz community worked that out 40 years ago, the punks figured it out maybe 25 year ago, the metal scene maybe 15, now it’s hip hop’s turn. The scene will only get better for it because once the money is gone all thats left is love of the form.  

    Thank you Feministing for this enlightening conversation based upon Minaj of all things.
    Thank you to AnonymousForThis for this post. It is dead on and righteous. You got one part wrong. THE GAME WAS ABOUT SKILL PASSION AND MESSAGE WHEN LAURYN HILL WON THE FIRST GRAMMY FOR HIP HOP. Furthermore, we are all crushed that it will never happen again from the looks of it. We who love hip hop mourn for Ms. Hill’s withdraw because we grieve the loss of what BIG BUSINESS INDUSTRY $$$$tole away. Its time to move on and support the underground, live music, and community radio. We should applaud Jean Grae–good call.
    Sorry David made me admit I am one of the white suburbanite hip hop fans…

  17. OMG! I SAID FEMINISTING!!! SOOOOO SORRY! FEMINISTE!
    FEMINISTE IS A MILLION TIMES BETTER THAN THAT OTHER SITE> MY DEEPEST REGRETS>

  18. The article is well-written but I think it’s flat-out wrong. It’s much easier to understand Nicki Minaj’s “gimmicks” and “plasticity” if you think of her as the rap version of Lady Gaga. She may be projecting an image, but everyone in the entertainment business is projecting some kind of image, and what’s unique about Minaj is her creativity and willingness to be bizarre. Her crazy voices and multiple personas are my favorite thing about her style. Instead of being tied down to one identity, she artistically plays around with whatever identity she’s feeling at the moment. By making the game so obvious, she tears down the 4th wall that allows us to pretend we know her, by showing that showbiz is always an act (and maybe every other role in life is, too).

    I think it’s weird that everyone thinks she’s oversexualized – that aspect of her image has toned down over time and is balanced out by badass personas such as her aggressive dragon roars facing down Eminem on Roman’s Revenge. She’s gorgeous in the picture posted in that article…but c’mon, she also has green hair! She should be allowed to express her sexuality when she wants – all the male rappers do it and her sexuality is part of her too.

    She also explicitly tries to empower other women and girls – she states this in multiple interviews and songs, including on Pink Friday. In fact, she decided to tone down her sexuality on this album precisely because she realized how many girls were coming to her shows and because she wanted to be a good role model (although I object to the whole idea of the virgin/whore double-bind where a woman’s either too chaste or too sexual).

    At the end of the day that article is just looking for problems where there aren’t any…Nicki Minaj has skills, she was hand-picked by Lil Wayne who’s got one of the best eyes for talent in the business (the Cash Money crew also includes Kid Cudi and Drake, two other new superstars). She’s famous because she’s talented, has a great voice, and is beloved by women who listen to rap (like me). She’s far less problematic than many of her male co-stars. No need to hate.

  19. I think it would’ve been prudent to read the lyrics to ‘Fly’ the Nicki/Rihanna collaboration especially Verse 2. ‘Everybody wanna try box me in…Painting they own pictures that they crop me in… I’m not a girl that can ever be defined.’ Please, the fact that she’s Trini of African and Indian descent and raised by Trinis in NY gives her a unique, unorthodox perspective to life, music, and rhyme. Ironically the same can be said of her partner on ‘Fly,’ Rihanna. They are with you but NOt from you. It’s all good and what diversity is truly about. Embrace it. Nuff respect to those two fly, fine entertainers.

  20. college girl-

    to make it clear where i’m coming from, i like minaj well enough as a rapper, but i simply don’t think she’s the free radical some people seem to think she is. dyed hair, or hair dyed ‘wild’ colors is not that uncommon in the hip hop subculture-eve ?, rihanna ?- or anywhere else for that matter. do you really think that it is now or ever was some kind of radical political gesture ?

    and if you like you some rap, you should know that a) roman’s revenge is not her fighting eminem, it’s clearly about a 3rd party, namely lil’ kim, and b) she’s on young money, not cash money… name checks them in every other song

  21. “she realized how many girls were coming to her shows and because she wanted to be a good role model (although I object to the whole idea of the virgin/whore double-bind where a woman’s either too chaste or too sexual).”
    Right. Minaj is a role model. I especially love the lyrics in Barbie Bitch song. Totally original.
    “im a barbie girl in a barbie world life is plastic its fantastic you can brush my hair undress me everywhere imagination life is your creation com’on barbie lets go party(3X).”
    “she was hand-picked by Lil Wayne
    who’s got one of the best eyes for talent in the biz (the Cash Money crew also includes Kid Cudi and Drake, two other new superstars).”
    Sorry but I don’t like slow drake. and cudi is a onehitwonder– personal opinion.
    “She’s famous because she’s talented, has a great voice, and is beloved by women who listen to rap (like me).”
    she’s famous because she looks the part of submission.
    “No need to hate.”
    No hate, I only wonder why the game doesn’t change. why the minaj is the only one to look to and if there’s anything other than T and A to be a role model for female fans. Rihanna is not a rapper. I actually like Rihanna a lot since she is so talented and has empowering lyrics like ‘I’m so hard.’
    The she dresses crazy thing isn’t really all that odd in the context of pop culture. Marilyn Manson, Ga Ga, Ziggy Stardust, Slipknot, and even Sir Elton all did it before.

  22. @tomoe gozen
    I don’t think crazy hair colors are inherently radical but I do think they are evidence that the people accusing her of adhering to conventional, unrealistic beauty standards are wrong. Also, there must be something unconventional about it since it’s banned in many schools and workplaces (including mine) and gets you funny looks from other people in public.

    I didn’t mean Roman’s Revenge was about Eminem – I just think the ability to match his grotesque aggression and her strange vocalizations (roaring, the wavering voice with the accent) both indicate that her persona has more depth than some kind of dumb Barbie image. My point is about style, not content, because I don’t think Nicki’s content is particularly better than any other mainstream rapper. Her technique is definitely notable though.

    @Julia
    The lyrics you quote are a cover of a kitschy 90s song that got the band Aqua sued by Mattel for damaging the Barbie brand. To me, this means Minaj is probably making fun of Barbie and engaging in some harmless 90s nostalgia. I don’t know why you think she’s seriously advocating little girls try to be Barbie. Also, as I pointed out above, it is this theme of being “artificial” that makes her comparable to Lady Gaga – by making the constructed nature of celebrity images explicit, she reveals that fakeness rather than uncritically endorsing it.

    If you don’t like the rest of the Young Money crew, you’re probably not going to like Nicki Minaj either. But that doesn’t mean she’s a bad feminist. It just means you don’t like her music. I have no problem with people not being a fan – but the reason the article Jill posted is reaching is because it goes beyond saying Minaj isn’t that good, it goes on to criticize her personally. Supporting other female rappers you think are better is great. Criticizing one of the few famous women in rap is counterproductive, especially when she is more willing to stand up for other womenn and LGBT people seeking to break into the rap scene. She’s not going to “save rap” or whatever but she’s at least marginally better than her male counterparts, so all this criticism being directed her way seems misdirected to me.

    And really, what is wrong with a woman expressing her sexuality in public? Kanye and Lil Wayne talk about their dicks all the time. Why is it only demeaning for women to be sexual sometimes? Besides, Pink Friday is much less sexualized than her mix tapes…did you even listen to it before knocking her? She’s pretty…so what? She’s not conventionally attractive (see, crazy hair colors) so she’s not forcing anyone into a narrow model of beauty, and even if she is it’s not really her fault.

    Everyone: I don’t think Nicki Minaj is the greatest thing to happen to music ever, and I don’t think she’s going to change the world. But I don’t think there is anything about her that merits the level of hate she’s getting, and I think the article that sparked this post is way off-base.

  23. Nicki Minaj and her ‘Barbie’ persona go against the idea of what women of color are expected to be, in my opinion.

    White women emulate Barbie all the damn time: pop stars, actresses, models, bank tellers, etc. I can’t help but to think that some of the pushback on Nicki is the fact that she’s using a persona that women of color normally don’t. Not to mention that she does it in a bizarre, funky way. It reminds me of the conversation on Disney Princesses and how women of color have been traditionally kept out of that role.

    Regardless of whether you think it’s a ‘positive’ role for any woman to aspire to, you have to wonder why women of color have so much more difficulty doing it, even if it’s done in a unique way. To me, it looks like Nicki is mocking that role while playing it.

    A good question is, what expectations do we have for women of color artists, and are they fair? Can’t we have Nicki, Lil Kim, and another Lauryn Hill? Can’t we have Trina and Floetry?

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