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The wtf world of Nicki Minaj

October 29, 2009


I’m starting to really like Nicki Minaj and I don’t entirely know why. Which is part of her appeal, I guess, even though I know that sounds stupid. What I do know is that there is something intuitive about her approach — in this post-internet world everybody is a fucking performance artist, but Minaj rises to the top as someone who appears to effortlessly craft herself in a way that’s beyond mere branding. But see? The more I try to pin her down the more I sound like I’m reaching.

The Zen-ish quality of what she does — it’s best to just experience it than talk about it or even think about it — falls in line with the tenuous grip she has on her rhymes. Her stream-of-consciousness rock-skipping might have been lifted from Lil’ Wayne, but whereas with him the rhymes point backwards to spotlight the greatness of his mad scientist skills, with Minaj, the rhymes point everywhere and nowhere. The aimlessness is kind of disconcerting — even Missy’s weirdness was at least tangible, understood through Timbaland’s plans of world pop domination. What are we supposed to do with Minaj?

Look at her version of Biggie’s “Warning”. What seems like a normal New York love letter gets odder and more complicated under scrutiny. Never mind the fact that Minaj tackled Biggie at all (there’s also the fact that she rips it), the video is also edited with more attention to detail than a Hollywood period piece — it’s so fucking 90s but it avoids simple pastiche or nostalgia. She’s watching a fight (an endearing detail), and she doesn’t even replace Biggie’s video girls with dudes. “But if the nigga bails, I’ll have him sleeping with the killer whales,” she says, rhyming into a phone like a ghost of hip-hop past.

Then she changed lanes and linked with Weezy — the push Minaj needed to fully-actualize her queer approach to rap and, more importantly, being a rapper. Now she’s holding fort with Gucci and Trina and making any song she guests on sound like her own. She goes last on Yo Gotti’s “5 Star Chick”, starting her verse with a simple epiphany that she has to go to Tiffany’s. Her eyes pop open like an android just turned on, she’s pantomiming, her face ping-pongs from earnest flexing to ironic mugging, and throughout all this she’s taking shots at Lil’ Mama. I already love the video for having a perfectly logical reason for using star wipes, but Minaj’s (almost literally) animated performance pushes it from silly to sublime.

The tipping point for me was this week’s 2009 BET Hip-Hop Awards, which featured Minaj in a cipher segment with Buckshot, Crown Royyal and Joe Budden, with Primo in the back. Minaj’s bizarre mannerisms were in full affect, which certainly constrasted with the set’s “real hip-hop” aesthetic — tags on the wall, a circle of mad looking rap dudes, two turntables, all shot in no-nonsense black and white — but she kills it nonetheless. Don’t you love how awkward the dudes look in the background when she goes off? She’s out of place but right at home. (And maybe that’s it. That’s her in everything she does.) Her army of cartoon voice inflections and even the stupid use of a prop couldn’t stop the crowd from having an “oh shit” moment at the end of her verse. “Methaphor heaven”; she tosses the line randomly, but I’m kind of a believer.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. that bitch shauna permalink
    October 30, 2009 4:18 pm

    Co-sign everything. Whenever there’s a new, talented female rapper in the spotlight I always hold my breath waiting for something to go wrong…I really thought Remy was gonna come for throats right before she got locked up. I think her and Nicki were cool but yo, I hope Nicki doesn’t snap and get locked up or disfigure herself with plastic surgery before she can really get a piece.

    Also, I wonder how much the ‘rapper daddy’ effect shapes the careers of and possibilities for these women…(lil kim and b.i.g./diddy, remy and pun/fat joe, foxy and jay)…I could be wrong about the connection but I feel like all female rappers (at least the ones that start out with these types of relationships) just end up getting ‘Diddied’ at some point…

  2. Anupa permalink*
    October 30, 2009 4:49 pm

    To add to what Shauna’s saying, despite how dope Nicki may or may not be, her affiliation with Wayne and Gucci and hyper-sexual steez really don’t do it for me. I get what you’re saying Jef, one thing I dig about her is the personality she brings to her raps, but it’s so hard for me to ride for a chick who may be dope but who still relies on men and/or her body to do it big. To me, she lumps herself into the “female rapper” category instead of just being considered a “rapper.” And I long for the day when we see a woman come up on her own.

  3. Rehana permalink
    October 31, 2009 12:21 am

    I agree with anupa and shauna on the whole “rapper daddy” tip.
    If her lines are really that DOPE then she can afford to leave the three ring circus behind. (her tits, wayne and that gucci guy) UGH her verse on five star chick makes me want to slap the pokemon outta her. I don’t really find anything original or “sublime” about her performance she’s just knocking off wayne. I don’t know why but it really pissed me off, i think its because I’m mad bitter that ms Jade aint around, maybe if she was a “five star chick” flipping her weave, and throwing around her ta tas she’d have a chance, ha.

  4. November 3, 2009 10:04 pm

    I put Minaj’s use of sexuality under that same “aimlessness” I was talking about — her steez is way too ridiculous to actually fall into the sex pot. I find her to be more Katy Perry or even Fergie than I do Lil Kim. It’s a very juvenile, overly performed non-sexy kind of sexy. (And to be clear, I’m dealing with her in her current incarnation, post-Weezy. Which I think is fair as that’s the version of her that will blow up.)

    And I get the anxiety around the rapper-daddy thing, but don’t you think a lot of that is our baggage from the Kim/Foxy days? Does it still apply to an emcee who not only writes her own rhymes, but sometimes outshines the males she’s rolling with? I know it’s easy to see her as Kim to Wayne’s Biggie, but given that she’s her own legit artist I don’t think it’s much different from Drake/Wayne, or Wayne/Birdman, Em/Dre etc. A lot of rappers get put on by other rappers (and rap about they debt they owe), I’m not sure it’s fair to fault Minaj for being one of them.

    It is fair to dislike her though — the shit she does that I find great I understand if other people find annoying. I can see that; that’s the reaction that prompted the post.

    Should it be enough for her that her rhymes are dope? Is that even true for male rappers nowadays? It’s fine if you want to be Blu, but if not, you gotta be ‘Ye. I love Minaj because she not only gets that, she effortlessly embodies it. As for her ‘aimlessness’ that I keep harping on (i.e. if she just wanted to be sexy she wouldn’t be ridiculous, if she just wanted to be weird she wouldn’t rhyme so hard, if she just wanted to be a pitbull emcee she wouldn’t pull the faces and voices, etc) the only good comparison I can draw is Gaga. And shit, why not? Why can’t hip-hop have a Gaga? (Kanye comes close, but he has too much of a clear agenda. Em was kind of that, until we realized he wasn’t playing.)

    If she doesn’t run out of ideas and doesn’t snap like Shauna says, I think she’s good for hip-hop. And Shauna, ‘Diddied’ is the most disturbing new word I’ve heard coined in a minute. LOL.

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