Thinking about blogging – how does a person function in public space? How does a woman function in public space? How does a woman claim public space in a way that is attended, noticed? Noticed and powerful. I keep thinking about these things.
These questions make me want to write about Nicki Minaj. Because I love her as an artist. Because she receives a tremendous amount of attention in a genre inhospitable to females. Because she acts in ways that resemble a woman “getting attention” (i.e. playing up sexuality, ‘acting like a man’, whatever that means) but she inflates them to self-parody. Gender baroque, hashtag rap.
Her insane number of guest appearances, a parody of the feminine sidekick role – always helpful – and then she demolishes the headliners.
Recently, Brandon Brown posted the Roman’s Revenge remix that (thank you Nickster) jettisoned Eminem for Lil Wayne. In newly listening to Roman’s Revenge I’ve been newly obsessed with Nicki’s identifications. She makes it easy to notice her masculine identifications (“If i had a dick, I would pull it out and piss on ’em”).
In R.R., “I’m not Jasmine / I am Aladdin” reads as a flip of her “You be Harry Potter and I’ll be Hermione” to Wayne. (On the mixtapes, she’s still a woman – but this is her first album – she’s a man now.) But, how strange to be Aladdin. Or maybe I mean strange that the Harry Potter / Aladdin moments of gender selection both seem so…cute?
In interviews I’ve heard Nicki say that she can do what mainstream male rappers can’t for fear of compromising their masculinity. Would Wayne call himself Harry Potter (or Hermione)? Well, Wayne might. He might not. But I want to hear Jeezy do it.
And then, a bit later in Nicki’s lyric: “I am a bad bitch / I am a cunt.” As a listener that stepped me back. Not ‘bad bitch,’ which she says all the time, but ‘cunt’. (As in, she’s always talking about pussy but usually in the context of sexual service. Praising her services, or in instances I don’t know how to process, procuring those of other women.)
I was surprised that she went there. To “I am a cunt.” To aggressively identifying as female. With a language that would still – I think? – feel forbidden to most male rappers. On the other side of forbidden from Harry Potter & Aladdin.
That move, the quick swerve from cutesy masculine to aggressive feminine feels so Nicki to me. All her identifications seem tweaked. I think of her avowed list of influences: Foxy, Lauryn Hill, Larry David, & Judge Judy. It’s her swagger to be literal and mysterious.
I looked for performance footage of Roman’s Revenge and in this live performance she’s wearing a backless suit. (Well, the back must be mesh or something.) Wearing the pants with a bare ass. And then she turns around and shows her ass to the audience for what feels to me like ten minutes.
What does that moment even mean? Another gender flip – right after she calls herself, “Manning, Eli”. And it’s right before Busta Rhymes’ appearance, as if to say, “Top that.” I can read it as a critique, of her letting us know she knew we were waiting for her to deliver the goods. But maybe not. It feels so triumphant.
Like, Brandon on Facebook wrote about “Nicki’s swaggering feminism. If that’s what it is. Eeeek.” And I know what you mean, BB! Is it swaggering feminism or swagger? Is swagger from a woman feminism, part-feminism at least? It does hold space.
Anyway, I realize I may be letting that moment mean more to me than I ought to, because I love Nicki Minaj. At Stephanie Young’s recommendation, I just read One-Dimensional Woman by Nina Powers, which talks about current capitalism’s pressure on women to become resumes for themselves. That is, in affect, sexuality, personality, to advertise oneself as job-worthy – nothing is hidden. I think of that and at one level I feel depressed by Nicki’s display of goods.
But again it seems so over-determined and strange. And they are such hyperbolic goods. She sells well and she’s strange. She still feels unknowable. And I like that she has a hypeman in the Flava Flav style, a hypeman who shouts her lines with her.
My question, I think, to get stuck on with Nicki Minaj – Stephanie is good at reminding me of this – is her relationship to other women in the industry. Making her moves by herself seems predictable, and not in an exciting overloaded Nicki way.
In that, she does what you’d expect as ‘the one’ in a male industry. She plays out aggression toward female MCs, not the boys (and except for Lil Kim it’s not clear to me who she’s even talking about, considering the dearth of female MCs of market stature). She’s appearing with men, she’s beefing with Lil Kim. Her songs that are more feminist in their lyrics are in a ‘soft’ R&B mode, aimed at a different market segment.
If you google some performance videos she’s surrounded with guys on the stage. (Security? They’re big guys.) What would it be like if she was surrounded by women milling around doing nothing? With women milling around on stage and a hypewoman.
And of course I can’t hold Nicki responsible for this, but why isn’t she compared more to Missy Elliott, I wonder? The big New York Times article compares her to Ke$ha. I get paranoid and feel as though Missy is being erased. That there’s not room for more than one crazy innovative creative and tireless woman rap star to even hold memory. I love Nicki Minaj, I miss Missy Elliott.