October 7, 2015


The Absolute Necessity of Nicki Minaj


The world's biggest rap superstar, Nicki Minaj, is on the cover of the New York Times Magazine with an in-depth profile written by Vanessa Grigoriadis. In it, Grigoriadis attempts to unpack what makes Minaj tick by setting the story into the not-too-distant past. Instead of a getting an overarching sense of who Nicki is, we're given an episodic glimpse.

It's a stylistic choice, one that works well with certain celebrities, but not necessarily with Minaj. It's a structural disconnect that feeds into the final scene of the article, one where Nicki ends the interview before Grigoriadis can get a word in edgewise. When referencing Drake's very public beef with Minaj's boyfriend Meek Mill and label boss/friend Lil Wayne's lawsuit with Cash Money Records co-CEO Birdman, Grigoriadis asks Minaj, "Is there a part of you that thrives on drama, or is it no, just pain and unpleasantness—" and is immediately cut off.

Nicki put her on blast. Her words, minus narrative interjections:

"That’s disrespectful. Why would a grown-ass woman thrive off drama? What do the four men you just named have to do with me thriving off drama? Why would you even say that? That’s so peculiar. Four grown-ass men are having issues between themselves, and you’re asking me do I thrive off drama? That’s the typical thing that women do. What did you putting me down right there do for you? Women blame women for things that have nothing to do with them. I really want to know why—as a matter of fact, I don’t. Can we move on, do you have anything else to ask? To put down a woman for something that men do, as if they’re children and I’m responsible, has nothing to do with you asking stupid questions, because you know that’s not just a stupid question. That’s a premeditated thing you just did. Do not speak to me like I’m stupid or beneath you in any way. I don’t care to speak to you anymore.’’

In the piece, Grigoriadis recognizes her fault immediately. She writes, "As soon as I said the words, I wished I could dissolve them on my tongue." In the last paragraph, she explains that she "had no intention of putting her down as a small-minded or silly woman," and that Minaj was right to call her out. For the reader, it almost feels like too little too late, but Grigoriadis did the right thing: She included it in her profile, admitted her fault and concluded where Minaj demanded. It was the only option.

Johnny Nunez/WireImage
Johnny Nunez/WireImage

The entire interaction has sparked outrage and confusion in the furthest corners of the 'net, justifiably so. There are a few wrongs at hand here. Let's unpack—the use of the word "drama" is not only a sexist one (the word is almost exclusively reserved to dismiss women, in the same way "catty" and the like are used, often by other women...the sad reality Minaj outlined to Grigoriadis) but one often used to marginalize socioeconomic class and intelligence. Vanessa touches upon it a little, writing, "In pop-culture idiom, 'drama' is the province of Real Housewives with nothing better to do than stick their noses where they don’t belong." She clarifies, "I was more interested in a different kind of drama—the kind worthy of an HBO series, in which your labelmate is releasing endless dis tracks against your boyfriend and your mentor is suing your label president for a king’s ransom." 

There's no doubt that this was lost in translation, a mistake in connotation, but it's also clear why Minaj assumed it was the former: When you're the one of the biggest pop stars in the world and you're black and you're female, much of the world only sees the latter. The music industry is set up to impede your success. You have to work harder than anyone else.

It's evident that Nicki's used to that treatment, and she's never once let it stop her. It's clearest when she directly addresses the writer with, "Do not speak to me like I’m stupid or beneath you in any way." She's heard this one before and knows it's untrue, irrelevant garbage. Next question please. Actually, no more questions. You're not worthy of my breath.

If there's a main takeaway here, it's not that Vanessa Grigoriadis or the New York Times are racist or sexist or anything of that caliber. Not even close. It's that Nicki Minaj has created an empire, a space in popular culture that was once completely unwelcoming to strong women of color. Everything she does shows other young women of color—actually, all peoples of backgrounds not white, cis and male—that greatness is possible. And when you're at the top, you do it better than everyone else. Nicki will never shut up, and the world is better because of it.