Criticism has been rebranded as “hating,” and you aren’t allowed to dislike someone unless it’s popular to do so, but I still insist upon holding tight to the idea that I’m allowed to have an opinion on a pop star. And so in the wake of the controversy (let’s use that word loosely here) over her butt-bearing artwork for her forthcoming “Anaconda” single, I’m going to dare to admit that I don’t know how I feel about Nicki Minaj. And I probably never will.
My feelings about Minaj are complicated because she is complicated: her choices, her image, what she represents both deliberately and unintentionally. However, I’m pretty clear on my belief that an open letter from AllHipHop.com founder Chuck Creekmur asking her to clean up her image was ill-conceived and wrought with irony.
No, no, no shade.
I think Minaj is a dope rapper, but her pop-themed singles give me shades of Tiffany and Katy Perry—certainly not my taste at all. But I for damn sure wasn’t okay with Peter Rosenberg echoing those sentiments to an audience full of her fans at Summer Jam ’13.
The allegedly (if we don’t go so far as to say obviously) surgically-enhanced body doesn’t bother me, but the years she spent in blonde hair, blue contacts and captured in photos that often made her look lighter did. Her more-natural, toned down look as of late is gorgeous and refreshing. She looks like the emcee I thought we were getting when she debuted, even if her recent “Pills and Potions” sounds more like “Starships” than it does something I would listen to by choice.
“Lookin’ A** N*gga” was an early contender for guilty pleasure of the year…until I saw the iconic EBONY photo of Malcolm X that was tastelessly selected as the cover art. And when folks began dissecting the teaser image for “Anaconda,” I loved how she fired back with similar images of non-controversial White booties splayed on the pages of Sports Illustrated.
The thing that has truly bothered me about Nicki Minaj (and if we’re just being really honest on today, I will say this is my issue with a certain ex-Destiny’s Child member as well) is that she is often raunchy and sexual—things that do not bother me at ALL—but still engages and plays to audiences of little girls. I’m 30, just two years younger than Nicki, and while I know fans of hers, I don’t know any “Barbz.” The Stans who were out here rocking tutus and pink wigs were often teenagers, largely because how could teenagers not fall in love with something like that?
All that to say that, like Lil’ Kim before her, Nicki Minaj is worthy of a conversation. And I think that, even more than her predecessor, she’s capable of engaging in that dialogue if it’s brought to her right. Not by telling her ‘cover up the a** I would have preferred to see before I was somebody’s daddy!’
On some level, I emphathize with Creekmur’s concern about how this sort of imagery could impact a young, impressionable kid. But not because I think Nicki Minaj lacks self-respect or pride. Instead, I just think certain things are cool for adults (see: “Partition,” both video and song) who are mature enough to enjoy them. And there are plenty of people grown enough to enjoy a big, pretty Black butt without having their morals shook or losing respect for women. These are people who are smart and understand that one plus two does not equal banana, and that sexuality can be understood and explored by responsible parties in many different ways.
As a still somewhat-new mother of a daughter, I didn’t share Creekmur’s fear that Minaj’s bare bottom is what forces young men to “sexualize girls at a young age.” Instead, I was annoyed that once again, a man has suggested that the onus of behaving ‘respectably’ should be placed on the shoulders of a woman, while men and boys pretty much get a free pass to do whatever we ‘let’ them do. Because surely, they require our permission to “sexualize” us, right?
While I know he had the best of intentions, I hate that the irony of running a website that covers the latest in T.I., Rick Ross and Chief Keef headlines (oh, and K. Michelle twerking on Instagram), while then asking Nicki to think of the little girls, was lost on him. As the the sardonic #lettersyouforgottowrite hashtag (created by the brilliant Tarana Burke) highlighted, Creekmur and others who share his outrage failed to pull out the stationary for Too Short’s gross XXL advice fiasco, Lil Wayne’s colorism, Dr. Dre’s years of silence over his battery of Dee Barnes and other examples of hip-hop’s decades long campaign of violence and sexism. Can’t be outraged about Chicago violence and then act like rap’s celebration of murder is just innocent entertainment.
(It’s worth noting that the “Anaconda” single art was also featured on AllHipHop.com, without any of the attempt at social commentary that Creekmur reserved for Mommy Noire. He didn’t think his readers might need to hear those words? I guess an audience of Black women is a more appropriate place to promote respectability politics-as-usual.)
I would imagine that most adults with any level of social awareness have complicated feelings about a lot of what passes as rap music these days. I just find it unfortunate that so many of us have the courage to speak out against Nicki Minaj having the agency to enjoy her body, but go radio silent when it comes to musicians who speak about violating the bodies of others (be it via rape or other forms of physical violence). Jay Z, who has been out of the drug game longer than he was in it, still wants you to know how many keys he flipped and that he’s still got his blue Yankees fitted and some boys who will end your life if you test him. WHERE IS HIS LETTER, BRUH?
Nicki Minaj should be able to show her grown Black a** when and wherever she wants—for her own pleasure and/or for the entertainment of fellow adults. It isn’t her responsibility to cover up to save the children, though I do think she should also be clear on when she’s performing for kids and when she’s speaking to an older crowd. Ultimately, the onus of raising our kids will fall on us parents and there is virtually nothing we can do to keep them from listing to Nicki, or Wayne or watching porn, or SnapChatting when not in our presence. But what we CAN do is engage them in meaningful conversations about their bodies (and the bodies of pop stars), their behavior and their choices.
I am not of the school of thought that thinks the worst thing a woman can do is show her a**. That Chris Rock bit about the parent’s greatest responsibility being ‘keeping her off the pole’ is funny, but I’d rather raise a happy, self-possessed young lady who shows her body to the masses, than one who kowtows to a set of respectability politics that serves to do little but dictate that her sexuality is to be policed by someone else (and is primarily a tool of male pleasure.) The unchecked patriarchy of the rap world is far more dangerous to Creekmur’s daughter and mine than Nicki Minaj’s behind. I look forward to the open letters that take that on.
Jamilah Lemieux is EBONY.com’s Senior Editor.