We at A Thousand Flowers worship at the altar of Nicki Minaj. Though despite having 32 million Facebook fans and 17 million Twitter followers, we often feel like we’re in the minority. That’s because she gets a disproportionate amount of hate from boring bastards. You know the type, they think they’re persecuted for listening to White Men With Guitars and leave YouTube comments lamenting the state of today’s music. Considering these bottom feeders think Nicki is the worst thing ever and should be wiped off the face of the earth, they spend an awful lot of time littering the internet with snide comments and unfunny memes about her. Meanwhile, she’s out here being a master of her craft and extremely commercially successful. Read those record sales and weep.
Some people are so blinded by their superiority complex that they’re oblivious to the fact that Nicki’s shit goes harder than anything they listen to (so far ahead these bums is laggin‘). There are a lot of unoriginal non-opinions that people like to throw around about Nicki Minaj in the hope that it justifies their dislike of her and makes them sound enlightened. But really, the only reason she’s not considered one of the greatest recording artists of all time is a familiar combination of racism, sexism and anti-pop snobbery. In this post I’m going to fangirl the fuck out over Nicki’s existence under the guise of addressing five of the most irritating untruths.
1) “She can’t rap!”
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Whether you’re coming at it from a ~real hip-hop~ angle or not, Nicki more than surpasses the requirements demanded of an MC. Her wordplay is inventive and unpredictable – remember when she rhymed summa cum laude with Illuminati? Her flow and delivery are unfuckwithable, her charisma and wit unparalleled. She can be pugnacious and playful in the same breath. Even when Nicki’s on her less elaborate shit, her presence is mesmerising and commands your attention.
The real hip-hop shtick is also a farce, a defiant stance taken by fans of Golden Age hip-hop that prizes lyricism above everything else and discredits rappers like Waka Flocka Flame, Future and Chief Keef for not adhering to the criteria that conventional rap was founded on. In a post defending Keef, music journalist Craig Jenkins deconstructed the idea of real hip-hop:
“Much of the objection to the Futures, Keefs and Flockas stems from the prevailing view that they can’t rap. This is a line of thinking steeped in a very specific and restrictive idea of what makes a good MC. It prizes lyrical dexterity almost to abstraction. Rhyming words really quickly is an important building block of good rap, but awful rap has come along that treasures it, and great rap has happened in its absence. Eminem’s last three solo albums are master classes in wordplay whose soullessness and stringency make them hard to listen to. ‘Flockaveli’’s lyricism is chantlike and methodically simplistic, but it is the gold standard for modern aggressive party rap. There’s more than one axis for measuring good rap, and classifying a Keef as awful just because he doesn’t stack up on the lyrical miracle axis ignores the terse and subtly influential brand of pop rap songwriting he mines on ‘Finally Rich’.”
Craig Jenkins; A Word on Chief Keef, Race & Hip-Hop Journalism
Nicki fits somewhere in the middle of this continuum. She can kick it oldschool and rap over Biggie instrumentals, but she’s also prone to a mindless party jam. And that’s fine! In fact you’d think her versatility would be commended, but real hip-hop tribalism continues to shun anything Nicki does that isn’t on an East Coast flex.
Nicki frequently guests on other rappers’ shit only to eclipse them – I doubt anyone needs reminded of her performance on ‘Monster‘. Recently chosen as Complex’s number one rap verse of the last 5 years, few have appeared on a track with Kanye, Jay-Z and Rick Ross, managed to overshadow them all and left them singing your praises.
“I had the opportunity to sit in the studio while Nicki wrote her verse just off the record. That was when she earned my respect as a lyricist. She was a dope entertainer up until that day that I sat in the studio and watched her come up with what I feel is one of the dopest verses of the year. It was a moment in history. I knew then she’s one of the greatest.”
“This is such a big statement and such a big thing to fill but I think the scariest artist in the game right now is definitely Nicki Minaj.”
2) “She sold out!”
This is another favourite of the real hip-hop bores – ‘she used to be good, but then ‘Starships‘ happened’. The EDM-heavy second half of ‘Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded’, complete with a Guetta production stamp on the deluxe edition, was the final nail in the coffin for those who only cared for 07-09 mixtape Nicki. There’s no denying that Nicki had some of the strongest mixtape material ever, but like she said herself – want my old shit? buy my old mixtape. ‘PF:RR’ is an outstanding album that saw Nicki try her hand at a dozen different genres, and to great success. It deserves praise if only for putting a strip club anthem like ‘Beez in the Trap‘ on the same record as ‘Starships’, which has soundtracked as many school discos as it has frat parties.
Another ‘she sold out’ complaint usually comes in the form of ‘she fell off when she started singing’. The idea that Nicki only added singing into her repertoire when she realised it was something she could cash in on is false, and she’s addressed it so many times. Even mixtape-era Nicki was singing as well as rapping – see exhibits A, B and C for starters. She also wrote ‘Dear Old Nicki‘ about reconciling global superstar Nicki with underground darling Nicki – maybe you died cos everybody ask me where you at.
‘Starships’ had a lot of critics but none more so than Peter Rosenberg, a HOT 97 DJ and self-professed backpacker. Nicki infamously pulled out of the 2012 edition of the station’s annual Summer Jam festival when he dissed the track live on air. She finally graced his presence with an interview this May in which she not only spoke candidly about her career, but totally schooled him. Recommended viewing if you enjoy watching men squirm and grovel for a woman’s approval.
“Why are we debating the merit of her foray into other genres like ‘Starships’ as anything but incredible? Why aren’t we having a discussion about how positive her eccentricities are in an occasionally stagnant culture and why it’s necessary to not give a fuck about artistic restraints as much as Nicki didn’t on that album?
…there’s a general level of respect that we as a rap-loving community should have when addressing a young woman who’s accomplished as much as Nicki Minaj, the same consideration blindly given to her male peers in the face of their respective missteps. When critics don’t offer Nicki at least that much courtesy, I understand why she isn’t shy to bring gender and race into the conversation—because what else could it be?”
Ernest Baker; Nicki Minaj Should Never Apologise For Going Pop
In the interview, Nicki not only confronted the ‘Starships’ naysayers (“not only did I do it, I won doing it”), but confirmed that the third album is gonna be on a pure rap tip. Her recent run of features have been impeccable; since February she’s toyed with dancehall tropes on ‘Freaks‘ and repped her Trinidadian roots on ‘Twerk It‘. ‘Tap Out‘ saw her million dollar pussy balance out the testosterone levels in the Rich Gang mansion – also starring YMCMB benchwarmers Paris Hilton and Christina Milian as waitresses-cum-jewel-thieves, plus Future in a leather kilt. She briefly distracted us from Nelly’s slow and painful descent into irrelevancy on ‘Get Like Me‘, and became the Louise to Ciara’s Thelma on ‘I’m Out‘. She also added some much-needed sass to r&b efforts from Mario and Chris Brown (I got these n*gg*s whipped, call me Django). Basically, the fuckboys who dismissed her for ‘going pop’ had better be prepared to come crawling back. Get ready for it; she came to win.
Anti-‘Starships’ and anti-pop attitudes tend to feed into a rather poisonous branch of musical elitism, one that thrives off of mocking the taste of teenage girls. Whether it’s Nicki, Justin Bieber or One Direction, any shallow attempt at criticism usually boils down to ‘their fanbase is largely composed of teenage girls so they’re beneath me’. WTF? Twitter is full of men in their twenties and thirties who get a kick out of trolling teenage girls, be they Barbz, Beliebers or Directioners. Teenage girls endure enough already without being made targets of grown men’s woeful attempts at one-upmanship.
There are also those who dig Nicki but try very hard to distinguish themselves from this fanbase. It happens all the time with music that is coded low-brow, be it Nicki, Gucci Mane or Taylor Swift. They’ll vibe to ‘I Endorse These Strippers‘ when a credible DJ drops it in one of their sets, but recoil at the thought of being grouped with her devout teenage fans. They’re so eager to prove that their appreciation of Nicki is more complex, more sincere, more considered and more valuable. And all because…? Damned if I know. It’s douchebaggery of the highest order. Most of the time these are dudes used to having their ego stroked for listening to canonised alt rock or cutting-edge techno (coded high-brow), but as if that’s not enough they gotta invade the circles populated by teenage girls with their Messiah complex and try to win brownie points for properly listening to Nicki. Busy for it.
3) “She’s a Republican!”
This one is dedicated to all the basics out there who don’t understand rap music.
All hell broke loose when Nicki and Wayne jumped on the ‘Mercy’ instrumental for Wayne’s ‘Dedication 4’. Nicki spitting I’m a Republican, voting for Mitt Romney/you lazy bitches is fuckin’ up the economy inspired hundreds of clickbait articles and liberal handwringing over her so-called endorsement of the GOP. Learn 2 rap music.
If you take rap lyrics at face value that’s your prerogative, but it’s gonna leave you with the wrong impression a lot of the time. The Republican line flaunted Nicki’s wealth and allowed her to act out a mogul caricature, something she’s perfected through her vast array of alter-egos. Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary (consider her Guardian interview from 2012 – ‘”Of course [I’m] not [going to vote Republican]!” she says outraged.’), anyone with an irrational hatred of Nicki clung to the rumour.
In a world where misogynistic lyrics are excused with “it’s actually only a satire of misogyny” from male critics (s/o ‘Yeezus’) or a half-hearted apology from the perpetrator (s/o ‘U.O.E.N.O.’ ), not to mention completely overlooked in rock music, there’s more than a hint of sexism at play that Nicki was eventually forced to respond to Obama’s (admittedly sensible) take on the lyrics.
Anyone who flirts with communism is of course aware that owning more things and having more money doesn’t make you a better person. But that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate a good ‘I’m rich as fuck’ bar in a rap song! If you’re white like me you also wanna consider the implications of condemning materialism in hip-hop. Our ancestors considered black people their property and denied them agency in all walks of life – socially, politically and economically. Boasts about Bugattis and Audemars are so common in rap because black folks accumulating mass wealth under white supremacist capitalism is a subversive act. That’s why it’s particularly dangerous when white rappers like Macklemore are lauded for having written a song that, even jokingly, criticises consumerism (nobody cares that you shop at Goodwill instead of Gucci bro).
4) “She’s a bad role model for young girls!”
This one is a straight-up moot point because Nicki Minaj doesn’t owe your kids shit. Beyoncé and Rihanna have also been hit with this one-sided pish about needing to set an example for their fans, while Lady Gaga and Madonna get to be as outlandish and experimental as they like and it’s called being a visionary. Funny how controversy often complements white musicians but condemns black ones. But let’s discuss Nicki’s role model potential for argument’s sake.
The pearl-clutchers say Nicki isn’t inspirational for a bunch of judgemental reasons that include, but are not limited to, her lyrics (‘obscene’) and her appearance (‘fake’). Basically, for the usual reasons that people try to invalidate women’s opinions – how (un)politely they express them and how they look while expressing them. Little attention is paid to what the woman is actually saying, which in Nicki’s case is a lot of really insightful shit about the struggle of being a woman in the rap music boys’ club.
For instance Nicki knows exactly how to stand up for herself, which is something every girl could learn from. In the HOT 97 interview mentioned earlier, Rosenberg asks her: “Have there been times when you think you’ve been guilty of being a diva? Of being a pain in ass? You think you’re tough?”. The word ‘diva’ has obvious gendered undertones. Nicki lets out an exasperated sigh and replies:
Is Lil Wayne tough? I handle my business and also I speak up for myself. But if I was not like this, so many people would have taken advantage of me. What people don’t understand is that… I took a lot of shit from people. From men, who didn’t want me to realise my own worth, who didn’t want me to know the truth about who I was and how good I was.
I’ve just always felt like, I’m never gonna let anyone pull me down, make me feel small. I’m never going to let a man do that. And I think sometimes that transfers over into your career as a woman, and you feel like wait a minute, excuse me? What? There’s a chip on your shoulder because you’ve experienced headstrong men, you know.
But I think that people try to make such a big deal out of when a woman stands up for herself. Why? Because I see people walk on eggshells around Wayne, you know what I’m saying?
What needs to shift is society’s entire perception of what makes a woman a role model. Why is Nicki rapping about her pussy (and putting it on your sideburns) a bad thing? Patriarchy silences women and dissuades them from being forthcoming about their sexuality, so you’re damn right I’m going to champion female MCs who’re not ashamed to be every bit as explicit as the boys. Sex might not be inherently liberating, but women who’re confident enough to rap about enjoying it (in a culture that tells us not to lest we be branded sluts) are. So shouts to Nicki, and shouts to her predecessors for laying the groundwork. Trina, Foxy, Shawnna, Rasheeda, Kim, Missy and Khia – I salute you.
Similarly, how anyone can watch Nicki don her tightest spandex to grind on her Young Money family and find it anything but fun between friends is beyond me. The mixture of fear and adulation in Wayne’s face when Nicki straddles him is a reaction every girl deserves to evoke in a man some day.
I have no intention of spoon-feeding anyone too dense to look for it themselves, but gender is a recurring theme in Nicki’s lyrics. Whether she’s refusing to be the rap game Princess Peach (I am not Jasmine, I am Aladdin) or kicking scrubs to the curb (when I let a dude go that’s his loss/I was cutting them checks, I was his boss), Nicki unapologetically reigns as a fully-realised woman. Her iconic you could be the king but watch the queen conquer sees her declining to embrace masculinity and yet still asserts her authority. Anyone who flags up Nicki’s use of the word ‘bitch’ as a reason women can’t find her empowering needs to just opt out of rap music. We had this conversation when Beyoncé released ‘Bow Down’, we’re not having it again.
Nicki also takes respecting and appreciating her fans to another level. She’s fiercely protective of her Barbz and actually takes the time to interact with them on Twitter. She encourages them to stay in school and to listen to the censored versions of her songs. Just yesterday she asked her followers if they would mind if she donated money on their behalf to a bone marrow charity. Not that I’m the type to become all gooey-eyed over a millionaire’s philanthropy, but if you’re still convinced she’s a terrible influence on the kids who listen to her then you’ve transcended into pathological stages of denial.
But the video that first made me fall head over heels in love with Nicki is this one, where she casually dismantles the industry’s sexist double standards (and rants about pickle juice) while applying her eyeliner.
5) “[Other female rapper] is better than her.”
Regardless of whether they have anything in common, comparisons are always drawn between one female rapper and another. Nicki is no exception. Whether it’s done benevolently (‘she’s the next Lil’ Kim’) or malevolently (‘she’ll never be as good as Lil’ Kim’), it happens all the time thanks to the patriarchal notion that in any male-dominated industry, women are interchangeable. Sometimes I think I exaggerate about the way female rappers are considered expendable and then I remember the dozens of rap forum threads in which men have happily admitted that they won’t even entertain the idea of listening to female MCs.
Of course there have been beefs, and memorable ones. But it doesn’t help that every little disagreement is sensationalised by the industry to the extent that it becomes the focal point and usurps the artists’ actual musical output. And let’s not pretend that beefs between female MCs are covered in the same way as beefs between male MCs – was Jay-z vs Nas ever described as a ‘squabble’ or a ‘catfight’? What about the infamous Biggie vs Tupac ‘tiff’? That’ll be right.
Nicki might be the only rap bitch on the Forbes list, but anyone who mistakes her competitive lyrics as an affront to the women who find her empowering needs to give up on rap music. Showboating and peacocking are par for the course, and Nicki does bravado unlike anyone else in the game. No-one likes a which bitch you know made a million off a mixtape lyric more than I do, but ‘hey, women are cool and great’ sisterhood in rap music is a beautiful thing and should be celebrated. Nicki can just as easily pen something heart-warming like I’m fightin’ for the girls that never thought they could win/cos before they could begin you told ’em it was the end. Plus let’s not forget the time she teamed up with Trina and Lady Saw to cosign that men are only good for one thing.
If I haven’t won you over by now, you’re probably not worth the cajoling. But I will leave you with this anecdote from Drake about one of his first encounters with Miss Minaj, who he had a major crush on:
I remember one of the first nights that we were out in Miami and I went to Jerry’s. I was like, ‘You want food, you hungry?,’ and she was like, ‘Yeah, I want some food.’ I was like, ‘I’m in, we gon’ eat food together.’ I came to her door and she took the food and shut the door in my face! I was just like, ‘Man, this is gonna be a long road for us.’
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