Nicki Minaj got media circuits buzzing after performing alongside Madonna at the Super Bowl 2012 halftime show and then commanding the stage a week later at the Grammy Awards in a Catholic themed extravaganza. As usual, Minaj got people talking about sex(uality). After the halftime show, viewers jokingly wondered why a sensual kiss between Madonna and Minaj never transpired.
Meanwhile, Minaj’s Grammy performance included a mini-film depicting a priest making a house call to exorcise the demon possessing a child named Roman. Roman was referred to many times as “he” but when the child was revealed, rather than a boy we saw a tormented and psychotic Minaj with long blonde hair applying pink lipstick singing “I Feel Pretty.” Does the possessed boy become Nicki Minajwhen dressed in drag? Is Minaj possessed by Roman, a boy who likes pink lipstick and Broadway songs, or is she just trying to be as quirky as possible? Regardless of where Minaj was leading her audience, it was clear she was toying with gender presentation and interpretation, a hallmark of her persona that has an impact on her community of listeners.
I most recently noticed the impact that the openness of artists like Nicki Minaj to sexual ambiguity is having when I returned to my neighborhood in the Bronx after a two year stint living in Costa Rica. In that brief period away I realized much had changed: men in the hood were wearing tight jeans, 80s style had come back in full effect, and there was a growing visibility of what I dubbed “neo-soul Black hipsters.” I also noticed an abundance of pretty teenage girls on the 4, 6, and D trains to the Bronx with their equally handsome boyfriends who on second glance, and sometimes fourth and fifth, I realized were actually two beautiful girls unabashedly holding hands, in the midst of quiet embraces, or giving voyeuristic displays passionate kissing.
A friend recently asked me: “Remember back in the day when there were no gay youth?” And I had to agree that I shared that memory. Of course it wasn’t that there were no gay youth, rather it was that they weren’t as visible, especially in our predominately Black and Latino neighborhoods. It was clear to me that a shift had occurred while I was away. Gay openness was becoming not only a thing of adult men and women in the West Village but also of urban Black and Latina youth in inner-city New York. Continue reading →
In keeping with their moves toward global domination, 2NE1 is performing in Times Square today along with the other three MTV Iggy Best New Band finalists.
If this part of their launch is successful, they will be better positioned to make a dent in the US pop music market where many other popular Asian artists have failed before. Despite having huge fan bases overseas, artists that make their debuts in the US have generally been faced with lukewarm receptions. BoA’s self-titled English language release dropped in 2009 and barely dented the charts. Hikaru Utada (who to be fair, spent as much time in NYC as Japan coming up) attempted to make a genre-crossing album with 2004’s Exodus, which spawned a #1 single on the dance charts, but absolutely no impression elsewhere despite her work with hip-hop heavy weights like Darkchild and Foxy Brown. Utada’s 2009 English release This Is The One was designated a heat seeker with almost no radio airplay – but still only sold around 15,000 copies stateside. The Wonder Girls are still struggling to stay in the limelight after entering the charts with “Nobody” in 2009 but still trends fairly low. Se7en and Rain’s attempts never really got off the ground.
After watching good artists try and fail to make it in the US market, I began trying to find a pattern. Why was this happening? The reasons vary – particularly because artists often use their entry to the US as a kind of reinvention, which can be risky – but a big component is that American marketers/listeners had no idea what to do with them.
The sexy female rapper who can outshine her male counterparts in guest verses.
She’s as gully as she is sexy, equally comfortable talking about selling blow and blowjobs.
Embodies a unique sexuality that is emulated by other women. In Nicki Minaj it’s a hyper-sexuality compared to the childlike sexuality of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
The Nicki Minaj catsuit could be a parallel to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl’s lens-free horn-rimmed glasses.
Western Conference: The Multi Culti World Wanderer Starting Line Up: Rashida Jones, Maya Rudolph, Rosario Dawson
If the notion is that she speaks primarily to the fantasies of Black males who aren’t into mainstream standards much in the same way that Zooey Deschanel fulfills the fantasies of indie rock loving, comic book reading White males.
They can play many different ethnicities, playing the girlfriends of both White and Black actors without it raising an eyebrow.
That ability to float in and out of a specific racial identity offers both the actress and her Black male admirers access into worlds where they may not normally feel represented. Rashida Jones is one of the few black actresses currently on a Thursday NBC sitcom. Jones and Rudolph were the only two people of color in the Beastie Boys “Make Some Noise” video.
In “I Love You Man” Rashida Jones character is named “Zooey.”
Ok first things first I’ll eat your brains/ Then I’mma start rocking gold teeth and fangs/ ‘Cause that’s what a muthafucking monster do
— Nicki Minaj, Monster
Article after article, tweet after tweet, I watched the conversation about Kanye and all the dead women in “Monster.”
But if you watch the actual video, you’ll notice something interesting. All the dead women are white, with the possible exception of the second model in the bed. There are eight or nine brown* women in the video, all with prominent roles – and all of whom are alive.
Black woman with mutilated eyes who screams at the opening? Alive. The brown twins staring while sitting on the couch? Alive. Brown woman eating the server’s remains? Alive. The two monsters in the hall during Jay-Z’s verse? Alive. The zombie girls working the jump rope? Alive. (Or, at least, currently animated.) Nicki’s alive. The black were-woman? Alive.
In some ways, the conversation around dead women in Kanye’s video reminds me of the conversations that happen around feminism and black women. The reality of black women is assumed to be exactly the same as white women – if it is mentioned at all. The fact that the majority of the women pictured lying dead where white, while black women are all part of the monster crew is generally not mentioned.
So, I’m not surprised that no one has looked at the very specific positioning of white women in the video as opposed to black women, which dives deeply into the history and construction of black women as beast-like and fearsome, the sexualization of violence, and how the video is a win for both normalized misogyny and upholding the ideals of white supremacy. Continue reading →
TRIGGER WARNING: Video NSFW, includes imagery of violence toward women
By Guest Contributor Naima Ramos-Chapman, cross-posted from PostBourgie
Decided to throw this up here before the label undoubtedly takes it down: Kanye West’s leaked video “Monster.”
Soon there will be a host of blogs that pick a part every scene to explain what Kanye is trying to tell us, but here is the short version: there are a lot of dead, eroticized women- dead model-esque women hanging from the ceiling like chandeliers, dead women lying in bed made to pose in “sexy” positions, dead women body parts lying around a mansion…there just seems to be dead women everywhere.
But to be fair, there were also women who are seemingly alive and kicking, depicted as man-eating zombies, screaming banshees and werewolves.
The dichotimization of women as it pertains to race; in the video, white women are predominantly locked into roles of subordination to the point of gruesome lifelessness while black women are cast as aggressive, angry and threatening sexual beasts.
Nicki Minaj’s scenes are mild compared to rest because A) they have no corpses of any kind and B) the self-interrogation part can be seen as “edgy” and “different.” But, that would be too kind. What sort of internal conflict can be that deep if the two versions of yourself that are having issues with one another — dominatrix Nicki versus barbie Nickie — are also ones that readily appeal to male-fantasies?
Nicki Minaj is hip hop’s newest “it” girl — so why does it seem like her schtick has been done before? Oh, that’s right, because it has.
Minaj is a caricature of Lil’ Kim, taken even farther to the extreme than even Kim would find comfortable. After ditching the rainbow-coloured wigs of her early days, Minaj has fully adopted the hypersexualized, “poseable Black Barbie” look that Kim made famous. Like Kim, Minaj bares skin to sell shitty music to kids who can’t remember the good stuff: a close listen to her music reveals the uninspired, nonsensical lyrics, pedestrian sing-song hooks, and excessive reliance on Auto-tune that has come to characterize hip hop music today — something I like to call “The Drake Effect”. No wonder Kim is furious: Kim was actually a talented lyricist who, for better or for worse, found a way to sell her music to a sexist music industry. To her credit, Kim was a (perverse) representation of sex-positive feminism, which becomes clear when one juxtaposes her hypersexualized style with her lyrics. Minaj, on the other hand, is the Barbie doll who, in one song, craves the love of a man she compares to Eminem.
And I think I love him like Eminem call us Shady When he call me mama, lil mama, I call him baby
The feminist in me is practically climbing the walls: are we really okay with the idea that two of the most popular female hip hop artists of the last several years — Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj — are glorifying themselves as life-sized Barbie dolls? I mean, the bimbo and body image issues alone are enough to make anyone shudder — and we haven’t even scratched the surface of the icky, RealDoll factor. Someone pass me my Queen Latifah.
“Male rappers have such an amazing amount of power and influence. If they spend their time dissing African American women, then what’s expected of the people that are buying their records; its not much to be said for them to want to spend money to hear an African American woman speak her mind.” — MC Lyte
Reader Tatisha sent in a request for us to cover BET’s My Mic Sounds Nice, saying “If that network could revamp it’s current negative image with one show, that was it.”
And was she ever correct. Over the long weekend, I caught up with my backlogged programming and found that in just one hour, the documentary managed to outshine all of the panels and conversations on hip hop and present a truly engaging conversation about the role of women and the evolution of hip-hop culture.
Ava DuVernay’s amazingly smart documentary relies on first hand testimony from those in the industry to provide the narrative, cutting between interviews with people like Eve, Trina, Joan Morgan, Chuck D, Roxane Shante, MC Lyte, Missy Elliot, Salt N Pepa, Rah Digga, Jermaine Dupri, Swizz Beatz, and Smokey Fontaine.
“Females don’t get as much exposure as men in hip-hop.” Eve provides a strong start, as the documentary begins to frame some of the challenges for women in the hip hop space. Continue reading →
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World