Quoted: Menda Francois on Nicki Minaj and Feminist Contradictions in Hardcore Female Rap

Nicki Minaj w Champange Bottle

As much potential as there is for female empowerment in hardcore rap through women rappers’ embrace of the erotic, given the restrictive conventions of the genre, which force female artists to straddle identities of heterosexist sexiness and simultaneous masculinity, its full potential is rarely ever realized. In Minaj’s embrace of Lil Kim’s pussy power politics, she is also inevitably embracing, regardless of her actual intent and/or acceptance of rejection of the label, a controversial and rather contradictory ideology of feminism. [...]

Implicit in Minaj’s Signification onto the male narrative is a strategic process of identity construction, relying primarily on the male narrative and male voice to help shape the hardcore female rapper’s public image. Essentially, by engaging in dialogue with the male narrative, Minaj is aligning herself with male rappers and creating her identity as one of (pseudo)masculinity, an asset valuable to her role as a hardcore female rapper. It is within this genre that femcees operate as performers of gender and are most harshly judged by an injurious rubric of masculinity. These women are forced to negotiate “androgynous” identities as visually feminine, yet rhetorically masculine artists. [...]
In hardcore female rap, femcees are constant performers of masculinity who, between their Signifyin(g) on male [sexual] discourse and (re) appropriating sexist and misogynistic language, negotiate a treacherous space where a thin line exists between the subversion of male dominance via gender performance and affirmation of its patriarchal norms. [...]

If Minaj were genuinely interested in ascribing true power to her role as a woman and rejecting female rappers’ traditional dependence on the male voice for expression and validation, she would have drawn parallels between herself and powerful public female figures to construct her version of the new-age around the way girl. Grammy-winning female rap legend Lauryn Hill does just that. In The Fugees’ “Ready or Not” she likens herself to Grammy-Award nominated singer, songwriter, and civil rights activist Nina Simone: “So while you imitatin’ Al Capone/I be Nina Simone and defecating on your microphone.” (The Score, 1996) Essentially, “Hill champions a notion of…hip hop that is not rooted in the Mafioso fantasy of the day, but that goes back to the risky aesthetic and political choices of [Nina Simone]…Hill’s lyrical phrase represents a legitimate critique of the hypermasculinity and phallocentrism that pervades hip hop – a critique that is clearly gendered in its intent.” (Neal 247) Plainly put, Hill is a rare exception to the rule(s) as defined within the patriarchy of Hip Hop.

Within Minaj’s musical repertoire, her constant Signification onto the male narrative symbolizes her dependence on the male voice as a means by which to construct her identity. [...] The female body is rarely a site of empowerment except when it is being objectified to define female strength through heterosexist sexiness, which, displayed for male satisfaction, creates little power for women. (Azikwe 354) Because female rappers’ values lies in their ability to perform masculinity as well as be sexually objectified, when a femcee is not performing the role of the sexually available coquette nor the female thug, her power and agency are non-existent.

— From “Step Your Pussy Up: Nicki Minaji and the Signifyin(g) Tropes of Hardcore Female Rap,” by Menda Francois (Senior Thesis)

  • Monica

    I am not going to support someone who is going to put back out there what I want diminished: heterosexual characteristics and expectations of females; it is a cycle. We pick someone to represent us and they speak for us in a way. But the messages that she is spitting to the younger generation are counterproductive. They are the same messages that feminists have tried to get away from. Support her? No. Not until she gets her act together and supports a cause that is worthy of respect and is diverse in itself. How can you follow someone that represents nothing of substance.

  • Liz

    These comments are fairly old, but I think we’ve seen a change in her image with the release of Pink Friday. I think Nicki did what she thought she had to do to make it; she played the same game as the big boys so that she could become one of them. But once she realized how big she was getting, she realized how relevant the image she projected was to the new generation of youth–girls especially. From Fly off of Pink Friday…
    “Everybody wanna try to box me in
    Suffocating everytime it locks me in
    Paint they own pictures than they crop me in
    But I will remain where the top begins
    Cause I am not a word, I am not a line
    I am not a girl that can every be defined
    I am not fly, I am levitation
    I represent an entire generation
    I hear the criticism loud and clear
    That is how I know that the time is near
    So we become alive in a time of fear
    And I ain’t got no motherfucking time to spare
    Cry my eyes out for days upon days
    Such a heavy burden placed upon me
    But when you go hard your nay’s become yay’s
    Yankee Stadium with Jay’s and Kanye’s”

    I think a lot of this is speaking to the exact criticisms that are being posited here–that she’s another lil kim, that she’s all about sex, that she conforms to the masculine model of things, etc…saying she’s a lot more than that, she’s a lot more multi-dimensional, and I think Pink Friday was finally her chance to show that. And she knew she had to get rid of the one-dimensional image she WAS projecting because of her audience…”I represent an entire generation” and “such a heavy burden placed upon me”…she knows her image is a lot more important now, and that the burden she has in regards to her image and its impact on youth is much heavier than the male rappers’. But she still shows her pride in her ability to do what the biggest males in mainstream rap (Jay/Kanye) have done.

    She was also able to step away from the masculine model a little. She overtly expresses herself as a woman and her support for women numerous times in Pink Friday.

    I ain’t gotta get a plaque, I ain’t gotta get awards
    I just walk up out the door all the girl will applaud
    All the girls will commend as long as they understand
    That I’m fighting for the girls that never thought they could win
    Caus’ before they could begin, you told them it was the end
    But I am here to reverse the curse that they live in

    To all my bad bitches: I could see your halo

    I’m the best bitch doin’ it.

    -I’m the Best
    If that doesn’t speak woman power…

    Also, if you watch that thing MTV did on her…the documentary….it’s almost all about her being a woman! Every 5 minutes she’s talking about the double standards that she has to face as a woman, or about her experiences as a woman, how important it is to her that young girls believe in themselves.

    I could go on, I could post more lyrics, but I think I’ll just let this stand for itself. Nicki has changed her image, and people who paint her as another Lil Kim or a masculinist are mischaracterizing her and tbh, ignoring the difficulties and contradictions she’s had to work through to get where she is.

    I mean, she’s HUMAN. She has faults and succumbs to patriarchal values from time to time, AS EVERYONE HAS at one point, because it is SO HARD not to in this society. You’re not going to get your perfect prototype, you probably won’t even get another Hill soon, but I would take her in Pink Friday as a role model for young girls over Ke$ha and Rihanna and Britney ANY. DAY. She’s powerful, she knows it, and she does not deny that she is a powerful WOMAN.

    • Timmurra

      Liz you have given me something to think about seriously because I really dislike Nicki Minaj, but I would love to support her ONLY if it is for the right reasons. I still do not like the Barbie image that she uses. Young black females can not relate to the perfect features that she portrays nor the fancy life style. I am afraid that she is not real enough. What I hear her rap about is “haters” , money, fame, and how
      “he sweatin me cause I got the tightest hole”. Raining Men by Rihanna ft. Nicki Minaj

      http://www.karaoke-lyrics.net/lyrics/rihanna/raining-men-ft-nicki-minaj-182824

      (Really, my little sister listened to this and she is 13). She does not mention “real beauty”, being yourself, loving yourself, being a black woman in America, instead she seems to hide behind the Barbie image, the silly voices with dialects, and fake body.

      It would also be nice to see her pay homage to the other female MC’s that paved the way for her to get here, no matter how she contributed to her own future, they had their feet in the door way before she was here. It’s like a young Neurosurgeon forgetting to thank Ben Carson and Keith Black. Stunts that she allows to go unmanaged like when Regis Philbin basically sexually harrasses her during an interview does not change her image and that is something huge (he made rude comments and slapped her butt).

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOUaQsxSwNY

      I feel sorry for her. If she knows that they are watching (other men, fans, and critics) then she needs to use her fame to address issues such as that and to give back… I just do not see her doing any of this. She responds to a tweet about the Regis incident “LOL! I was in shock.” What is she waiting for… She even claims that she is HERE. I even see other artists doing a lot of these things, but it seems that these characteristics are not part of her image, which is a HUGE problem for me. She is not REAL lyrically or physically. Maybe she needs time. Hopefully she will grow into a stronger woman (someone not afraid to loose the fame in order to be REAL) and claim the characteristics that make her feminine because they can be just as powerful. You can say something, but actions speak louder than words.