Is Nicki Minaj a Joke or an Icon?


Liya Khan, Op-Ed Editor

First things first: you are lying to yourself if you claim to have never learned or at least tried to learn the entire rap in “Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj. You don’t have to be proud of the fact that you and your fellow thirteen year old friends bumped her choruses in your mom’s car. And as elevated as your music taste may be now, you have to admit that her bubble gum wigs and rainbow claw nails caught your attention at least once in the past three years.

Nicki’s music may not be your first choice (or any choice), but I think that the industry is seeing much more than a symbol for new permutations of rap music guised in album drops called Pink Friday. The whole world acknowledges that Nicki’s image is starting to become more than shock and awe-her style is translating from over the top princess to sophisticated and sleek music queen.  But more than just her style evolving is the perception by the public-Nicki has openly voiced being an advocate for equality for women in the music industry, educational involvement of at risk youth, and other causes. She has built a material empire for herself from fragrance to clothing brands, won countless awards for Best Female Hip Hop Artist, Female Artist of the Year, Award Winning Songs, and even received awards for her alcohol line. Nicki’s high fashion persona of opulence and quirkiness captures the attention of countless fans, but is often met with criticism. With her throne in Young Money Entertainment and her stomping ground of every perceived idea of what hip hop is supposed to be, Nicki’s empire still begs the question: why so much hate?

I’m not going to lie and say Nicki produces a revolutionary style of music. It’s easy to see her as another plastic product of the music industry, a front for the face of hip hop, a jump in sex appeal. It’s easy to laugh at her nonsensical (and often ‘vulgar’) lyrics, and cast off her albums as just more driving songs 99.7 uses to fill air time. But looking closer at Nicki’s actual career and image reveals some extravagant feats-Nicki has managed to redirect the course of hip hop (and specifically, Young Money) from the inside out. After getting signed to the label early in 2007, Nicki was featured on mixtapes and music videos alongside other artists such as Mariah Carey and Robin Thicke. She was well received by the urban community in music through Young Money, but her breakout album Pink Friday, which dropped in November 2010, sent her to the forefront of music fame. Her career only went up from there, and now she is hailed as one of the most powerful media moguls in music.

So why does this make Nicki an icon? While many look at Nicki’s crazy style and see pop culture madness, her outfits are representative of several themes of her career-hard work, cultural appreciation, and uniqueness. Nicki battled the Miley Cyrus look-alikes all trying to get ahead, and fought the stereotypes against women (especially women of color) in the music industry. Nicki used her unique style, influenced by her home town in Trinidad and her early career in the Bronx, to make people recognize the power that is to be had by anyone who works for it. What Nicki wears (and what she projects) is all a product of one thing she has worked hard for: power. She has furthered the positive perception of women of color in music, and challenged people with negative opinions of her image. She represents the journey of struggling artists and their ultimate dream. Designers fight each other to dress her for every event, top artists pay thousands to collaborate with her, and media heads and music producers look to her to further the influence of the music industry. Even in shooting for her MTV documentary, “Nicki Minaj: My Time Now,” Nicki explains the challenge for women in the music industry, and relates it to sexism geared towards women in power. She notes, “When I am assertive, I’m a b-tch. When a man is assertive, he’s a boss. He bossed up. No negative connotation behind ‘bossed up.’ But lots of negative connotation behind being a b-tch. Donald Trump can say, ‘You’re fired.’ Let Martha Stewart run her company the same way and be the same way. [People will say] ‘F—ing old evil b-tch!’ But Donald Trump, he gets to hang out with young girls and have fifty different wives and just be cool…When you’re a girl, you have to be everything. You have to be dope at what you do but you have to be super sweet and you have to be sexy and you have to be this, you have to be that, and you have to be nice…It’s like, I can’t be all those things at once. I’m a human being.” Nicki is an incredible example of someone who has fundamentally changed the way powerful women are perceived. Her media empire, fashion image, and all the other things that make her too ‘mainstream,’ are symbols of a woman in power. And the only reason her image is under attack may just be that some people can’t deal with a woman sitting atop the music industry at the moment.