Who is the Queen and Things of That? Nicki Minaj!
BY ALICIA GU '23 & EMMA XIANG '23
This article is for the boys with the booming system, top down, AC with the cooler system. She dominates your Spotify throwback playlists and TikTok sounds on your For You page: she’s Nicki Minaj. Although female artists have controlled the pop genre of music, the hip-hop field is comparable to a boys’ party. From Biggie Smalls to Kanye West, success in the hip-hop industry has long been exclusive to men. However, in 2007, Nicki Minaj entered the rap scene with her debut mixtape Playtime is Over. Three years later, “Pink Friday” peaked at number-one on the Billboard Rap Songs Chart. Nicki quickly became a household name among hip-hop enthusiasts; her unique voice and witty lyrics captured the attention of critics, who named her a rising sensation. Throughout her career, Nicki Minaj has deconstructed gender norms within the hip-hop industry through her distinguished music style and success in an industry dominated by men.
Nicki’s distinctive style stood out among the smooth beats and slow flows of the early 2000s; her personas, expression of femininity, and lyrics contrasted the popular rap norms. With alter egos named Barbie Balla, Female Weezy, and Romania, among many others, Nicki embodied different personas in her music, an unconventional concept. She has introduced herself as various names throughout her career, from “Tyrone,” a “crackhead from Harlem who raps in a detuned and erratic way,” to the more feminine “Harajuku Barbie,” who raps with a soft voice. These characters make appearances in her music videos, each with their own complex storylines—some even present themselves in interviews.
Further, Nicki writes many of her songs from the perspective of her personas, incorporating elements from their backstories and personalities. For example, Nicki raps “Roman’s Revenge” from the perspective of Roman Zolanski, her most famous persona; it references Roman’s sibling-like relationship with Nicki herself, as well as his relationship with his overbearing mother, Martha. Roman is an “English homosexual male characterized as being far more wild and outspoken than Nicki herself,” and he appeared in “Roman Holiday” and the iconic “Monster.” Compared to the alter egos of rappers like Eminem, Nicki’s are more exaggerated and distinct. By integrating these contrasting personalities into her songs, Nicki’s discography features extraordinarily diverse tracks that make her music entertaining to listen to. Further, as exemplified in “Roman’s Revenge”—in which the lyrics describe Roman’s experience being sent to rehab by his mother—Nicki references the relationships between her alter egos and how they each play a part in the overarching storyline that she sets up through her releases. In taking advantage of the artistic freedom that comes with songwriting, Nicki sets her music apart from the rest by intertwining storytelling with rap.
Additionally, Nicki broke free of the stereotypical hypermasculine role that female rappers were expected to play. In an interview, Nicki stated, “I’d have to wear some baggy pants and Timbs for men to openly give me props.” Expectations for women in the rap industry easily parallel expectations for women in any male-dominated industry. To be successful, women are expected to join the “boys’ club” and are thus forced to give up their femininity to be successful. Nicki deconstructs this narrative; she dresses like a Barbie doll, expresses her sexuality, and ignores the general expectations of females in rap. Her iconic pink corsets paired with pink pencil skirts and chunky glitter boots starkly contrast hip-hop’s masculine ideal. Yet, they simultaneously mock gender norms by placing Nicki on a pedestal of girliness, threaten rap’s masculine idea, and associate femininity with success.
Nicki’s lyrics, which discuss sex, open up a discussion for female sexuality. Male rappers constantly rap about sex and male pleasure, so why is it suddenly a problem when Nicki does it? Women are forced to suppress aspects of their identity, specifically their sexuality, which consequently makes sex and pleasure a taboo subject for women to discuss. By rapping about her sex life, Nicki simultaneously evens the playing field for male and female rappers while deconstructing gender-based expectations in both the hip-hop dynamic and everyday life. Furthermore, Nicki incorporates female empowerment into her music and life. In the hip-hop industry, female rappers receive comparatively more criticism when it comes to talking about sex simply because it is percieved as explicit and therefore unladylike. In her music, Nicki regards herself and other women as “queens,” encourages women to find fulfillment through independence, and criticizes society’s demands for working females. She denounces the high standard of success that is expected from women. She tweets, “In any field, women must work TWICE as hard to even get HALF the respect her male counterparts get. When does this stop?” Nicki Minaj redirected the hip-hop industry towards equality by transcending the expectations for women set by men, and she transferred these ideas to other industries through her music.
Nicki Minaj’s talents are not to be overlooked either. Her unique style quickly facilitated her rise to the top, allowing her to reign as the “hip-hop monarch” in a field of men. Nicki’s flow and lyricism are arguably some of the greatest of all time: she can deliver a dozen syllables in a second, she binds her tone and delivery perfectly, and her voice is distinguishable and sharp. As a lyricist, her words are a firework of metaphors, humorous comebacks, and wordplay. Nicki’s success as a rapper is backed up by a plethora of awards and accomplishments. For over a decade, Nicki accumulated an abundance of achievements. Her debut “Pink Friday” rose to number fourteen on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as number one on the Billboard Rap Songs Chart; it continues to break records, with Nicki being “the first female rapper to chart three titles concurrently, for five weeks, in R&B/Hip-Hop songs’ top 10.”
Moreover, Nicki has remained relevant even after her “retirement” in 2019, scoring two number one singles on Billboard 2020. Over the course of her well-established career, she became the first female artist to reach 100 Billboard entries. Yet, she constantly works for the respect of her male peers and hip-hop fans. According to Nicki, Kanye West feared Nicki’s verse on “Monster” would overshadow his album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and Nicki had to convince West to keep “Monster” on the album. While male rappers usually welcome anticipated-success-story rookies onto their songs and oftentimes push for their success, they seem to fear successful female rappers in general.
However, with the increasing force of women in the field, the stringent expectations for female celebrities are shifting. Nicki’s achievements have paved the way for artists such as Megan Thee Stallion, Rico Nasty, Doja Cat, and Cardi B to dominate the rap scene. In 2020, Doja and Megan scored their first number ones on the Billboard Top 100, with “Say So,” in collaboration with Nicki, and “Savage,” featuring Beyoncé, occupying the top two spots in May. Nicki’s work has set the foundation for a renaissance of Black women influencing the industry.
Nicki Minaj has changed the dynamics of the hip-hop industry in a multitude of ways. She has shifted the norms surrounding topics of rap, how a rapper should look or dress, and who represents the hip-hop industry. She has significantly impacted female rappers by fighting for their well-deserved success in the industry and normalizing the empowerment of women and their sexualities in rap. Nicki’s work has undoubtedly opened the door for female success in rap and sets a precedent for all high-achieving women in male-dominated industries to fight for what they deserve regardless of the current paradigm. Nicki Minaj, the GOAT of hip-hop, teaches women that they can embrace their femininity while accomplishing great things because gender expectations should not obstruct one’s path to success. Barbz 4 life.