Feminism, rap and Nicki Minaj
Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 23:10
In September of 2010, just a month before the release of her album “Pink Friday,” Nicki Minaj rapped alongside some of the biggest names in hip-hop—Kanye West, Rick Ross and Jay-Z. The track was called “Monster,” and in spite of the all-star cast of MCs, up-and-coming Minaj stole the show. She was wild, eccentric and unique. More importantly, she had something worth saying. In my opinion, “Monster” was our last look at pre-Barbie Minaj.
More on “Monster” later. For now, let’s look back at the Nicki Minaj whose career started with a series of DVDs titled “The Come Up.” These videos (which led to her discovery by Lil Wayne) featured Minaj free styling, and wearing nothing crazier than jeans and a T-shirt. In spite of her wigless, costume-free appearance, her talent was evident. In fact, without all the distractions, Minaj shone. She had a certain presence, she demanded respect and she’s so obviously gifted that all the attention she received was merited.
In 2007, Minaj released her first mix tape, “Playtimes Over.” Again, we saw her talent. More importantly, her message became clear. Minaj was the prime example of a feminist in a male-dominated genre. She stepped into the game with one thing in mind—herself.
Commercially, this move is never successful (see: Jean Grae, Lauren Hill, etc). Top 40 female MCs operate within strict patriarchal boundaries. Women like Beyoncé, who are repeatedly heralded for their “feminist” discographies, have simply mastered the balancing act between submission and strength—never weak but never controlling, never too tough and never bossy enough to be considered bitchy. Miss Knowles’ work follows this formula to the T. When she was a member of Destiny’s Child, she progressed from 2001’s “Independent Woman” (“I depend on me…”) to 2004’s “Cater 2 U,” an album about taking care of a man’s needs by running his home, cooking for him, etc. Her most successful solo-career singles follow suit, most notably “Upgrade U.” Lyrics such as “Ran by the men but the woman keep the tempo… still play my part and let you take the lead role,” insinuate that, yes, there is equality, but Knowles will still play the part of the doting wife. Even the spelling of the 2004 album and the 2006 single are dangerously similar—“Cater 2 U” and “Upgrade U.”
With the original Minaj, there was no one to cater to. There was no man to fawn over. While frontrunners in female rap generally focus on a theme of, ‘Here’s why I’m the best, here’s what I could do for you, here’s why you should want me,’ the original Nicki Minaj turned these expectations on their head, instead making the claim that, ‘I am the best, I don’t need to prove that—look around. And since I’m the best, if you want to be with me, here’s what you should do.” She catered to herself, her needs and her success.
Some argue that Minaj’s early mix tapes didn’t embody feminism because she put down females. I find that completely irrelevant because Minaj didn’t spare males, either. She threw several punches at not just men in the industry but also men in general. By insulting both sexes, Minaj evened the playing field. She placed male and female rappers on the same level. This stands in stark contrast to Knowles’ “Run the World (Girls),” which makes the claim that women are in charge by pointing out what men are doing wrong. The original Minaj never pitted men against women, and in doing so she insinuated that both groups were equal. It was a sort of sexless feminism, based not on the success of one group or another but on the individual.