STYLE VS. SOUND: NICKI MINAJ
by Jeremy Danté
she is the animated female rap bitch who got a million off a mixtape. today, onika maraj is rap’s undisputed queen, following the reign of rap icon, kimberly jones. the sexual revolution of the 90’s female rap scene had female rappers spitting hardcore lyrics that often times were too gutsy for the mainstream radio airwaves. as the need to compete with such sexually explicit lyrics grew to a head, female rap seemingly fizzled into thin air. one by one, female rappers disappeared. the male rap scene thrived without interruption, while lyrical content in hip-hop as a whole began to deprecate. the mixtape circuit, more infamously known to industry heads and those on the come up, found a new home with the explosion of the internet. no music was safe, following the phenomena of napster in the late 90’s which only further dominated into the 2000’s. these incidences became further obstacles in the world of, not only hip-hop, but music all around. markets plummeted, while sales stats sunk and today, these sales numbers are still at an all-time low with very few being awarded platinum plaques like days of old. it seems music was like a murder zone. it was every man for himself, over time, in a short span of five years, the music industry seemed to be in a creative drought.
few spaces for new talent became available, as the only spaces left were those occupied by icons. even they had to compete for sales numbers, having to create new ways, develop new formulas and struggle through trial and error at the face of marketing, promotion and even music video production. the rise of digital music wiped out an on-slaught of opportunities. artists coming into the game were expected to be pre-packaged, with little to no involvement of artistic development being tended to. the artists with developed audiences, who managed through independent distribution of music began to garner the bigger deals. and then came the birth of the 360 record deal. this deal changed the game further, guaranteeing greater pay offs and secured promises from big budget labels to front costs of promotion, touring, merchandise and all around marketing monsters. it’s a new day in music. formats of marketing of the past no longer apply. buzz singles, flop albums, dethroned, months go by without artists seeing a platinum certification; whereas days of old seen these certifications happening at time of release.
now the world of female rap, especially in the 90’s has grew past evolution of salt-n-pepa, roxanne shanté and MC lyte. female rap in the 90’s became high brow, designer labels were expected, make-up artists, hairstylists, wardrobe- the whole nine. every rap bitch on the scene needed to be three times as fresh as their male counterparts, and needed to spit bars five times more explicit in order to be taken seriously. you were almost required to come into the game with a male rap icon co-sign in order to stay afloat. kim co-signed by B.I.G. while being a member of junior mafia, foxy co-signed by acts like jay-z while also being a member of ‘the firm’ with nas and AZ. there were other acts of the time, like mia X, who was brought up under the no limit crew with master P or even rah digga who was a part of busta rhymes’ flipmode squad. the most notable act of the times, though too multi-dimensional to only be considered a rapper, was missy elliott. but to her credit, she was already developed as a massively successful songwriter/producer. rap showed it’s female face in little glimmers. but there was no real face of the art form that was in your face and proclaimed the title as the top rapptress, as to be expected by the true femcee of hip-hop. contribution from all of these females acts seemed to polish the runway, and prep the course. there was a format that proved successful for rappers, and errors that were seen in the female format.
insert onika maraj, a pretty faced trini from the borough of southside jamaica queens. she burst onto the scene first on the mixtape circuit. quickly earning a following and reputation for her first grimy new york flow, her rap persona quickly evolved over a series of three mixtapes. the first, “playtime is over” was released in 2007. rapidly followed up by, “sucka free” the following year. nicki developed a slick flow that was relentless, first, on classic hip-hop beats. her third and final mixtape sealed her fate as a rap star rising; “beam me up scotty” seen minaj take on conceptual dress and was her first public showing of more costume wardrobing. clad in metallic, minaj appeared on the mixtape cover dressed as wonder woman. minaj rapidly developed an image very early on, sporting pink extensions and expressive facial expressions.
following her mixtape domination, her fans, the barbz began to gather. i remember when i first started coming to new york, i would go straight to the DJ booth in manhattan and request nicki minaj; the DJ’s would look puzzled. wrong borough at the time for such requests, i guess. “beam me up” was dropped in 2009, and was ultimately the mixtape that introduced nicki to the music audience which still supports her to this day. on that mixtape, nicki got personal and also began combining singing along with her rap lyrical prowess. when i first heard “beam me up scott” i immediately began to ask who this new girl was. the flow was infectious, the lyrics were ridiculous and minaj spit shit talking about, “if you see a itty bitty piggy in the market, give that bitch a quarter and a car- tell her park it. i don’t fuck with pigs like as-salamu alaykum, i put ’em in a field; i let oscar myer bake ’em”. her rap flow quickly got attention, and that same lyrical approach as well as the costume gimmicks followed her, and fashion opened up to her.
there was a proper balance of lyrical seriousness and rap humor that culminated over the course of the last three years of minaj’s career. I’m gonna give you a musical recap so that we can cut away to the cultural shit, because as important as the music is- it’s reactant interfacing with such is where the true importance lies. to her credit, minaj has a cumulative discography of three studio albums, involvement with three compilation albums, sixty-six singles, seventy-one music videos, as mentioned the three mixtapes and twelve promo singles. following her exit from the mixtape scene, came the year of 2010. after her triple platinum feature on young money’s, ‘bedrock’. came one of the most high profile single features, by the graces of mariah carey. following that feature came twelve others that same year.
those twelve singles penetrated mainstream radio, surfacing minaj to the forefront of not only rap music, but pop music. the music industry is seemingly built on the staging of powerful singles. it’s all about positioning, and minaj’s career has seen some of the greatest positioning in the history of music. in 2011, followed eight more features. 2012, followed six more features. 2013, seen ten features- as minaj has fast become the go-to for mainstream pop relevance. a long way since her days on the mixtape circuit. with her three studio albums under her belt, minaj made a platinum debut while those sales have slowed since then. providing, that even the most popular female rapper has to stay on her game to compete and stay on top. minaj’s entry into music has widened the gateways for hip-hop in a way that raises the bar for what is expected of such artists. minaj made history at the top of december, trailing the release of her third studio album, “the pinkprint” earning her 58th career hot 100 hit. nicki is the only female rapper to do so, in the 56 year chart history. on youtube alone, minaj’s views are currently set to 2,550,739,568- and will likely grow by the minute.
amidst charting greatness, headline favoritism and even unstoppable visibility, minaj represents the furthering of females in rap music. most important to hip-hop is that of the music. equalling importance in the music is the message. often times arrogant, in your face and unapologetic, the visage of rap music is often what distracts consumers who do not support the art form. the magic is in the lyrics, and the birthing of a voice. what nicki has done for females was re-defined their voice. in borrowing elements utilized by pop marketing, nicki has surpassed all other females in the music industry because, as a female in the rap game, she absolutely stands alone. without forgetting all the females that have come before her, nicki encapsulates the fierce flow of salt-n-pepa or roxanne shante, while also representing the mass commercial cross marketability of queen latifah. she took notes from the lil kim formula, but paid very close attention to the errors of that formula, understanding when to show restraint to penetrate the pop market. there is a gutter, ride for my dude till i die type of attitude that reminds us of foxy, while her wild style seemingly takes notes from the missy elliott formula. with her latest release, “the pinkprint” available now, there is a return to rap lyricism, in a serious, relatable way. this new album is for all who feel, have loved and love.
whether she was talking shit or being disrespectful to mariah on idol, or that she’s stolen a few moves from lil kim with her image, no one can dispute the lyrics. and therein lies the true heart of rap music, at the core of hip-hop. minaj has represented an awareness of bigger business, which has all aided her in this new era of what music is. there is a need for balance, for relativity and reliability to create emotional connections with fans, which nicki has done marvelously. with her entrance into films, her unabashed approach to personality, she represents a true comfort in the spotlight. utilizing her love of acting, minaj understands how to shift from role to role, wearing a number of hats in business, music and performance. long from now, the influence of nicki minaj will be seen in the predecessors that follow in her foot steps. she has reclaimed the pathway for women in music, in a way that has not been done before. the cultural impact she has made and continues to make will survive her forever. her contribution as stated will not be ignored.