Too Much Minaj…Not Enough Hill: What Nicki is Teaching Us About Ourselves

So, I mean….it’s 2011.  And in 2011, can you really call it a blog if it doesn’t have a little Minaj smeared on it???

Methinks not.

So, let’s talk about Nicki.

 

 

 

When I first heard Nicki Minaj, she was auto-crooning along with Young Money label mate, Drake, on the “Best I Ever Had” remix.  I wasn’t impressed. Nor was I disgusted. I was indifferent.

Fast forward to the present and I can’t ignore Nicki Minaj even if I wanted to. Her music, brand, and ass is literally…everywhere. She has expanded into the psyche of hip hop culture in ways that cannot be denied . She has quickly risen in the ranks to become the new face (and breasts, hips, butt, and weave) of female hip hop. A few cameos and one album in and she’s already being mentioned in the same breath as luminaries such as MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, and Lauryn Hill

And in the words of the illustrious Peter Griffin…

You know what  really grinds my gears?

This idea that an MC can be constructed  with savvy marketing and plastic surgery. This idea that when I want to see women represented in hip hop, it always has to come in this same sexist and contrived package.

But anytime I offered up any critique of Nicki Minaj, I was often over-run by packs of rabid, self-professed “Barbies” who told me,  flat out,  that I just hated Nicki because she was beautiful, rich, talented, and had an ass that required you to use the Hubble wide lens to view it in its entirety. I often had to contend with brothers  who were so blinded by Nicki’s gorgeous face and heart-stopping curves, that any mention of her music became a moot point. Whenever, I mentioned Nicki’s lackluster artistry, I was often  met with a resounding …”You trippin’.”

And so, I had to honestly ask myself…

Am I just hating?

The answer to that question landed somewhere dead in the gray area. #StoryofMyLife

I had to admit that I hated the fact that few Nicki fans could recite any meaningful lyrics that she penned but still considered her one of the greatest of all time.  When grilled about this seemingly contradictory stance, they often pointed to her money, her radio spins, or her physical assets as indicators of her “talent”. I will be the first to admit that Nicki is paid, pretty, and voluptuous but what does this have to do with MCing, I wondered? I can name about 10 female MCs who exhibit a wider and deeper artistic range but don’t get Nicki’s exposure for various reasons, including their refusal to compromise their principles and integrity. Part of me hated that Nicki, with her watered down music and inflated fun bags, was considered the face of women in hip hop and these women were not even acknowledged.  In my eyes, Nicki became the Sell Out Sista. The House Sista. The one who looked out for her own interests at the expense of the collective, allowing herself to be exploited by the industry machine for the promise of fortune and fame.

But then, I decided to really listen to Nicki. And while I never found the depth that I was looking for, what I did find was a cheeky cleverness, a homegirl M.O. and bravado that I immediately recognized in myself and all girls who grew up in the hood. I recognized a woman with intelligence and street-sensibility. A woman who was trying to navigate the treacherous, uber-masculine, hyper-aggressive, world we call hip hop…the best way she might have known how. I respected her focus and determination. I appreciated the nimble maneuvering of a sista who said:

Pink wig, thick ass, give ’em whiplash,
I think big, get cash, make ’em blink fast.

So, how did I reconcile the fact that in some ways, I was both intrigued and disgusted by Nicki? Did I respect her or not? Could I accept her newly appointed position of Queen of Hip-Hop?

And that’s when it hit me. How I felt about Nicki really had very little to do with Nicki. It was what she represented that bothered me. Nicki, in my mind, had become a symbol of the music industry. I had projected all of my ambivalence and conflict over the current state of hip-hop music on to this woman.

And if we wanna get all the way real, Nicki also represents a repressed sexuality that a lot of us women grapple with.  Anytime I see her jiggling across the screen unabashedly, I am reminded of how tiring it is to walk that tight-rope between being sexually liberated and being a hoe. Nicki revels in her hoe-dom in a way that strikes a nerve with women who have to constantly self-censor and deny themselves the full range of a liberated sexuality…out of fear of becoming the dreaded “slut.” Women’s sexuality is still defined by the Madonna-Whore dichotomy. We have not made peace with ourselves on that issue and we hate Nicki for reminding us of that fact. And so yes, I believe that a lot of our criticism of Nicki is valid. But some of it is just plain ol’ hating. Period.

In many ways, Nicki Minaj is a mirror, reflecting some uncomfortable personal and cultural truths that many of us are not ready to face…

Ultimately, my biggest complaint is that there are too many Nickis and not enough Lauryn Hills on my radio, on my TV, in my newspapers, magazines, or movies.

Nicki, for the most part, represents the over-sexualized and male- sculpted version of black femininity/sexuality. She represents the only kind of black womanhood that America, in all of its sexist and racist glory, can currently accept. And this is what “grinds my gears.”  Not Nicki. Because honestly, Nicki’s brand of womanhood does exist. I have grown up with chicks like her my whole life. I first saw it represented in mainstream hip hop through Lil’ Kim. There are women who relate to Nicki. I even recognize some of her in myself. My evolution toward wholeness has taught me that all women possess a multitude of “selves”….sexual self, mental self, emotional self, political self, spiritual self, physical self, etc. The most dynamic artists are able to speak to most, if not all, of these. Then there are some artists who specialize in one department.

I think it’s important to remember that Nicki represents one form of womanhood. Albeit, one that has been co-opted and recreated by men for men.  However, since I don’t know where Nicki the Person ends and Nicki the Industry-Manufactured Barbie begins, its sometimes extremely difficult to suss out what her brand of womanhood REALLY is.

But if there were alternative forms of female representation in hip-hop, Minaj’s image would matter a lot less. Because she would not be the lone voice. Us women would be able to hear a range of voices and topics, complete with a diversity of sound and thought that would urge us toward that wholeness that has been denied us. Nicki could and should speak for the women who identify with her message and sound.  Her music could be called upon on those occasions where we might feel so “pretty -like, when we be on our petal bikes” or when we want to put this “p#$&y on your sideburns.”

And if us women are real with ourselves, we have to admit that we have these moments.  Or maybe it’s just me….Ahem.

So, the problem does not rest solely within the person and artist known as Nicki Minaj or the voice she represents. Its the silence that surrounds her. It’s the lack of the Lauryn Hills…Tiye Phoenixes, Jean Graes, Invincibles, Poetesses, Amber Lakes, Lah Teres, Boog Browns…and yes, the Theorys…in mainstream hip hop.