Hip-hop heads everywhere have awaited the return of a female emcee. Mainstream female rappers like Queen Latifah and Eve have taken up residences in other sectors of entertainment with the occasional international sighting of Lauryn Hill and underground admiration of Jean Grae, Santigold and MIA. No artist has made a splash similar to the acclaimed female wordsmiths of yesteryear like Nicki Minaj. Not necessarily known for her lyrical talent, the rapper achieves significant attention in the media and regular radio play for her collaborations with Lil’ Wayne, Ludacris and Usher.
The vacancy of female rap artists have made such an astounding impact on the hip-hop generation that the emergence of someone like Minaj presents a peculiar mix of unpreparedness and prediction. Minaj isn’t merely a Lil’ Kim clone, she is the 21st century inheritance of post-modern branding, technological advancement and hip-hop male desire. In a music genre where authenticity is everything, Minaj’s (and camp) diligent attempts at packaging a distinct female hip-hop presentation with borrowed Barbie nuances and a rehearsed dialect in tow raises questions around the Minaj underneath it all.
14 Years Since Lil’ Kim’s “Hard Core”
It’s been over a decade since Lil’ Kim released “Hard Core,” and the sexual exploitation and commodification of Black female bodies in hip-hop have multiplied. Female rap veterans like Lil’ Kim and Pepa have taken a near obsessed approach to plastic surgery. Several critics single out these women, blaming their changing looks on industry narcissism. But if many of us can give empathy to Michael Jackson, blaming the late King of Pop’s evolving face on the effects of his childhood, why can’t we give the same consideration to these now modified women, and newcomer Nicki Minaj? Whether Minaj has a faux buttocks or not, there is something considerably odd about the way she looks. When Minaj made her official debut into hip-hop, with a well-publicized introduction by Lil’ Wayne, loads of before and after images surfaced on the Web alleging the rapper changed her looks with a focus on her behind. In fact, Nicki Minaj’s butt is arguably a topic many have become overly consumed with. Strangely, it can be understood why non-Black women might consider surgical butt implants in a society now obsessed with bottoms. But for most Black women, whose bodies naturally extends added weight to the derriere, it seems is no longer enough for hip-hop.
Hip Hop, Why Don’t You Love Me Anymore?
Many female hip-hop heads took an issue with Nelson George when he claimed in his book Hip Hop America that “there are no women who have profoundly contributed to rap’s artistic growth.” While I would disagree with George on larger cultural influence, there are parts of his argument we must yield to. Hip-hop is a man’s game. It is indeed hip-hop’s men who continually define the image of hip-hop’s women. Let us imagine the intra-conversation of a Queens girl who must now negotiate her self-concept in a game where her inherit image won’t cut it. I’m not suggesting that Minaj is a 100 percent victim. I am speaking however, on the contemporary war launched on the bodies of hip-hop women. Entertainment in it’s entirety holds its women to unreasonable and near unfathomable standards. Consider the attacks on new actress Gabby Sidibe. Now that hip-hop has gone Hollywood, the deformation of Black women with an effective-now cosmetic surgical prerequisite is a striking shift from the hip-hop we came of age with.
Rap music once glorified an ‘around the way’ fly girl. Today it seems that the prettiest girl on the block must now adhere to an out of this world reproduction. Being light-skinned is no longer even enough. Who is the contemporary hip-hop woman? She has become deflated to a behind-the-scenes mere feature or plus-one. Her admission advances beyond simply putting out. She must now deconstruct everything about herself. Her skin is not light enough. Her hair is not long enough. Her sexual prowess is inadequate and her ass is no longer big enough to get today’s hip-hop man off.
The ‘Down Bitch’ on Overload
No one demands that Rick Ross receive liposuction, yet the aesthetic of the quintessential video girl has become the new mock-up for female rappers. Traditional female rappers championed for their lyrical muscle were the girls hip-hop’s men deemed “one of the guys.” She was nearly de-feminized posing no sexual desire until Lil’ Kim. Enter Lil’ Kim, the explicit ‘down bitch.’ Declaring her loyalty to hip-hop’s men, ‘under pressure,’ she’d, “lie for ya, die for ya, cougar by the thigh for ya, right hand high for you.” A stimulus package for the ‘down bitch,’ Minaj readies club women for the ménage à trois, (“want me to get you somethin’ daddy?“) while projecting an animated, cartoonish representation. Amid Lil’ Kim’s hyper-sexualized image, she was still the chick no man would test. Minaj’s depiction produces no bark or bite, she is portrayed as a robotic, hood/Valley chick playing with her hair. It is no wonder the culture experienced an outright exodus of female emcees. The emergence of Nicki Minaj is a step back for hip-hop women.
Hip-hop feminists Joan Morgan and Gwendolyn D. Pough have explored the cultural complexities of Black women and hip-hop. There has been a large focus on the misogynist lyrics in rap music. Little attention is given to the new warfare. I’m not suggesting we “hip-hop feminists” launch attacks at Minaj, similar to Akissi Britton’s “Open Letter to Lil’ Kim” published in Essence Magazine 10 years ago. Let’s face it, the ‘tough love’ discourse Black female scholars threw at presumed fly girls left behind failed. It has done more damage then good, distancing the women we claim to embrace. We need a street-level hip-hop feminism that speaks to the Lil’ Kims and Nicki Minajs. After all, self-hate is something we are taught not born with.
Photo Source: MTV