Sunday, February 6, 2011

Nicki Minaj’s Rise to Fame

I would like to begin this post by commending Nicki Minaj for successfully climbing to the top of the success ladder in a male dominated industry. Female rappers have always been few and far between, but the void has been even greater in recent years. Minaj is the first female hip-hop artist to top the industry charts since 2002 and she's reached this point entirely through her own merit. Born in Trinidad and moving to Queens with her family as a child, Minaj faced numerous obstacles growing up but still managed to graduate from a high school specializing in performing and visual arts. Not afraid to compete with male emcees, Minaj released a series of mix-tapes proving her lyrical rhyming expertise and was soon discovered and signed to Young Money Entertainment and then Cash Money Records. Her first major album, Pink Friday, debuted at number two on the charts and went platinum within a month of its release in 2010. As the only female rapper in mainstream media, Minaj's conspicuous position has made her a target for both praise and criticism.

Many argue that Minaj's lyrics and image do not make her a positive role model for young girls. Like a majority of top record-selling male artists, Minaj's lyrics involve sexually and otherwise explicit language and themes. It seems to me that Minaj has been placed in a hot seat simply for being a woman. Yes, I am aware that some critics are consistent in their critiques of the corruption rampant in mainstream hip-hop, however Minaj is getting an undue amount of attention for talking openly about sex while male artists with similarly offensive lyrics are not held to the same standard. Also, Minaj has come under fire for challenging the heteronormativity that characterizes hip-hop and even once suggesting that there will be a widely revered openly gay male emcee in the near future. Reporters have interrogated Minaj about her own sexual orientation because of LGBT storylines that appear in her rhymes, but she does not allow herself to be boxed in and proudly rejects applying labels to her sexual identity.

At my age, I realize I'm a little detached from the pulse of popular culture, but I do find her music as good as, if not better than that of her peers. However, I must add that I think hip-hop could do better and the industry would benefit from a toppling of its upside-down reward structure that places the most positive and creative artists at the bottom while highlighting offensive artists with trite lyrics at the top. I'm happy to see Minaj paving the way for women in rap, but I can't help but feel nostalgic for the music of great pioneers like Mc Lyte, Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill and even Lil Kim. (The only reason I mention the Queen Bee here is because she was unique for her time and created the "Black Barbie Multicolored Hair" image that Minaj prouldy promotes.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As the CEO of an independent (INDIE) music label I see Nicki Minaj as a huge money maker. But as a lover of hip/hop and someone who has witnessed its growth, along with the rise and fall of female MC’s, I question where we’re going musically. The masses are saying hip hop is dead and I was hoping a female MC could emerge and save it. Being that Nicki Minaj went platinum you would think I would be jumping for joy but my feet are very grounded and my arms are tightly folded.

I remember when Queen Latifah came out with “Ladies First” and all the women (generations) in my household were pumping their fist and singing along. Lauren Hill got the same reception in my home but oddly enough the men praised her lyrics just as high as her looks giving her a lot of respect in the rap game. I don’t see my 40 year old African American female co-workers raving about Nicki Minaj but will hear her name mentioned on the DC subway here and there via junior high boys. Male viewers only seem to comment on her rear-end which is how I learned about her for the first time.

Lauren Hill and Queen Latifah made socialism, entertaining. They had a captive audience, resources and the power and used it to the fullest. They weren’t going to hold a mic and not say something of importance. Lil Kim and Foxy were groomed by male rappers who encourage them to speak on a sexual level. We all learned that gets old real quick. Even Jay Z went from “Big Pimpin” to “Crazy in Love.” I question why female rapper JEAN GRAE hasn’t received the spot light.

Short-term Nicki is on top making millions, going platinum because the kids love her look; she’s this generations Lauren Hill. Long-term, if she doesn’t drop the auto-tune, let go of the flamboyant “Buster Rhyme” characteristics, and say something of importance I see her fame dying quickly. If your 12 years old Nicki is your type of female rapper. If you’re 30, JEAN GRAE is for you. If I had the choice I would sign JEAN GRAE.

Jean Grae