With the recent request from Nicki Minaj to speak at her Alma mater being denied I found it appropriate, but then the decision made me think why? Thinking about why, lead to me questioning the whole Hip-Hop musical landscape. Why do we make certain allowances for certain artists when others would be vilified?
When I first heard that Nicki Minaj wanted to speak at her old high school and was denied, my first reaction was “of course!” Why would they let her speak to a group of school children when her music has been less than inspirational? Her stage name for starters is a play on the phrase “ménage à trois” which translates to 3 people engaged in sexual activity together. This is not the most universally palatable name, but it is a stage name nonetheless, whatever. Then I began to think about the recent singles Minaj has put out and they are all problematic when making a case to speak to impressionable school children. First on the list is one song that drummed up a lot of controversy amongst fans and critics and elicited response records from many of her male rap counterparts, which is “Looking Ass Nigga.” The whole premise of the record was to berate men who posed as something they weren’t. I thought the record was male bashing, but it did its job in terms of doing to men what men have said about women over the years in Hip-Hop. Again, I thought whatever. Nicki’s latest single “Anaconda” is a song about men with big penises and getting her “salad tossed.” Again, I don’t care because men in Hip-Hop have been making sexually explicit songs for years. Why is it then that we impose respectability politics to Nicki Minaj and make allowances for someone like Beyoncé who also makes sexually explicit songs? I don’t know why her alma mater decided to decline her request to speak, but we should give her the same room to be an artist and a human as we do other Hip-Hop stars.
Why do we make allowances and let some artists escape criticism and critical analysis while others are treated as the bane of society? If Jay-Z wanted to speak to a high school I doubt he would be turned down for any reason, least of all because he was bringing MTV cameras. If lyrical content were factored into Nicki’s Alma mater’s decision to not have her speak, which artist’s request would they grant? Every artist at some point has lyrics that may offend someone, but we still hold certain artist in reverence over others no matter if the lyrical content is identical. A clear example of this would be Jay-Z and 50 Cent. Both artists talk extensively about the drug trade, violence, and sleeping with multiple women. The general perception is Jay-Z is just a rapper, but 50 Cent is a thug. Why? Both are far removed from any direct criminal activity and both are brilliant entrepreneurs and astute businessmen with diverse portfolios. If we are to judge musical artists equally and fairly for their art, there should be no reason why Drake is criticized for singing and rapping and Ja Rule was allowed to. Why is Jay-Z allowed to make multiple references to Beyoncé with the word “bitch,” yet when Snoop Dogg said bitch in his rhymes in 1993, drummed up so much controversy that his lyrical content led to people breaking his CD’s in protest.
No person is one-dimensional. We all have different aspects of our personality that are either suppressed or put on display at different times. For Hip-Hop artists, diversity is a gift and a curse. You can make your career talking about respecting woman and being an upright citizen, but let you deviate from the status quo and its curtains for some. What aspect of a Hip-Hop persona’s artistry castigates them or liberates them is arbitrary. In Nicki Minaj’s case she has done a number of contradictory things including wanting to promote more woman in Hip-Hop, while simultaneously calling out and berating her fellow female rappers. Everything about Nicki Minaj from her name to her body exudes hyper sexuality and we shouldn’t punish her for it and allow others to twerk, spread eagle, and have sexually explicit lyrics to remain unscathed, celebrated, and most importantly respected. If we can make allowances for the few we most certainly can make allowances for the many.