Monday, September 3, 2012

The demographic of Nicki Minaj

Representing females in a field where they are the minority is not only a heavy burden, but requires toughness, individuality, and most importantly, raw talent. The female hip-hop pioneers all shared these qualities, and all gained acceptance in their own way. Queen Latifah came on the rap scene in 1989, catching the attention of the masses with her politically and socially conscious lyrical content. Salt-n-Pepa established themselves as one of the best rap groups in history (male or female), elevating themselves to mainstream success in the early 90's by producing timeless hit singles and winning multiple Grammy awards. Who could forget the influences of Rah Digga, Foxy Brown, Lil' Kim, Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill, and countless others who strove towards advancing the public opinion of females in hip-hop. Today, the movement is digressed to say the least, leaving the roster of significant delegates to less than a handful. Atop the current list is Nicki Minaj, queen of Lil' Wayne's Young Money empire and now globally renowned artist. But as today's undisputed representative for females in hip-hop, her expansion as an artist has undoubtedly impacted the demographic of her fan base. Although Nicki's music is now reaching the masses, there is a notable population of people who went from insistent Nicki Minaj fans to, "Eh, she's okay." As one of the more progressive artists of our time, Nicki Minaj is one of many sensitive examples of severe condemnation due to her own widespread success.

First, let me make something perfectly clear; I do not consider myself a Nicki Minaj fan. I think she is an extremely talented, versatile artist and ultimately the first of her kind, but I hardly listen to her music willingly. At the same time, I'm not one of those people who waste their breath trying to insult her every time I hear her voice. That being said, I consider myself to be particularly objective when it comes to Nicki Minaj. So be clear, this is not a #TeamBarbie rant or some hopeless proclamation that Nicki is even the best rapper alive. Definitely not. However, I've developed a keen interest in why people sincerely don't like Nicki, particularly the people who considered themselves fans at the birth of her career.

Nicki's 2009 mixtape Beam Me Up Scotty skyrocketed her as the top female in hip-hop, with none to truly oppose her. There was a confidence and an energy about this Nicki Minaj that made her undeniable. The comparisons to Lil' Kim arose because we had not heard such a gritty, raunchy style from a female rapper since "The Queen Bee". That style granted Minaj widespread acceptance in the hip-hop community, including a primary audience of black females. Every one of my female peers whom I've asked said they liked "the old Nicki" much more than the Nicki Minaj we know now. In fact, most struggled to name any of Nicki's latest work of which they sincerely enjoy.

Nicki performed "Monster" with Kanye and Jay-Z at Yankee Stadium in 2010.
So what's changed in three years? Most girls who removed themselves from the Nicki Minaj bandwagon would say it was Nicki herself. To them, she is no longer the gritty lyricist they came to love and respect years ago. After all, how could the same woman who spit arguably the best verse on a song with Kanye West, Rick Ross, and Jay-Z ("Monster") make a song like "Starships" or "Marilyn Monroe" from her latest album Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded? A legitimate question, but fortunately the answers are quite simple. A good listen from Beam Me Up Scotty would show that Nicki was not your typical female rapper from the start. She displayed her versatility by singing on several songs and hooks. But just as Nicki touched on in an interview featured on her album, "That was a small facet of who I was."

The other answer is just as simple, and also eludes to the central basis of this column; like every successful artist, Nicki Minaj has expanded her brand. If Nicki was doing the same things she did in 2009, she would not enjoy half of the success she enjoys now. Why would Nicki spend her career trying to please the hip-hop purists who barely give her proper recognition in the first place? Why would Nicki Minaj emulate Lil' Kim when she could perform with Madonna at the Super Bowl? Why would Nicki Minaj limit her fan base to rap listeners when she could have fans in Liverpool and Ireland? (Minaj begins her world tour in those countries this October). The people who condemn Nicki for what she's become are ultimately aggravated by her ability to appeal to an audience other than just BET's 106 & Park. For some reason, we have this habit of wanting artists to stay in their place. The second they go "mainstream" and appear in a few commercials we label them sell-outs, as if success is this dreaded place made up of individuals with no talent. Nicki Minaj is not the first to endure this condemnation, and certainly won't be the last.

When Whitney Houston first started out, black radio stations wouldn't play her songs. "How Will I Know" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" were considered pop records with little appeal to the black audience. Making hit records and achieving commercial success made her a global phenomena, leaving vocalists like Natalie Cole in the dust and putting her in the same category as Barbara Streisand. Am I saying Nicki Minaj is Whitney Houston? Of course not. Am I saying Nicki Minaj is more talented than people give her credit for? Absolutely. While the hip-hop community grieves over the demise of "authentic" female rappers like Lil' Kim, Nicki is sustaining a brand that Kim could only dream of. Sure she can rap, but Nicki Minaj is no longer confined by the demographics of rap music. If being a sell-out breeds success, sign me up.

"It's unfortunate that at times hip-hop culture will tell you to lean only to one side, when that is detrimental for your future, it's detrimental for your growth, it's detrimental for your longevity." - Nicki Minaj


  1. Coming from the boom-bap era, she is a hard pill to swallow.

  2. Not a Minaj fan either but I find it hard to criticize this young, black woman who is not just building an empire but insists on being actively involved in every aspect of it. Young girl is watching her money and her business, both eyes open!

  3. Nicki stacking coins, hoe!

  4. Nikki is that girl "head to toe & coast to coast" .