The first time I heard Nicki Minaj, I was in middle school. Someone in my class was playing Young Money’s “Bed Rock” from their new iPod Touch. I started bopping to the beat, but when Minaj’s verse came on, I watched in awe as all the girls around me started rapping along. Hearing a female rapper for the first time was a major turning point for me. As someone who has always related to women more than men, witnessing a female rapper exude the same skill and confidence as her male counterparts made the genre so much more accessible to me. By the time I went to bed that night, I was a diehard Nicki Minaj fan.
Fast forward to 2018. Minaj has been making headlines for featuring on a song called “Fefe” by 6ix9ine, a 22-year-old rapper with a terrible name and an even worse track record. In 2015, 6ix9ine plead guilty to three counts of engaging in sexual activity with a child (he made a video of himself simulating sex and spanking a 13-year-old, who was nude and performing oral sex on another man at the time). Most recently, he was arrested for choking a 16-year-old at the Houston Galleria Mall in Texas. So yeah, not a great dude. By working with 6ix9ine, Minaj is endorsing who he is and what he has done, and that alone is not okay. I also found myself shocked and confused about why she’d even agree to this collaboration. This is the same woman who has worked with Jay and Bey, Rihanna, Ariana Grande, and even Madonna—she does not need 6ix9ine.
As a fan, I want to make sure I’m giving Minaj the benefit of the doubt
If Minaj had filmed her scenes in a separate location, never to be seen in the same shot as 6ix9ine, maybe I would’ve felt differently. Maybe I could have persuaded myself that she was somehow less emotionally involved, or that she was led astray by her management. But she and 6ix were all over each other—from playing patty cake on a sports car, to her playing with his hair while he sits in her lap, to eating from the same ice cream cone, à la Lady and the Tramp. I cringe when normal people do that, but it’s much worse to see my musical icon canoodle with this creep. (Also, these child-like references are even more disturbing when you consider 6ix9ine’s past predatory behaviour.)
At this point, I found myself looking at Minaj’s discography sitting in my music library—and began sweating. In 2018, artists are not the only ones being held accountable for their actions. Consumers are also responsible for making moral decisions about who they are supporting or not supporting. And as social justice becomes increasingly mainstream, that decision not to support someone has become increasingly public; when celebs misstep, they run the risk of getting cancelled.
Take Chris Brown, for example. Regardless of how long it’s been since his disturbing case—or how many A-listers spoke in his defence in his documentary-slash-redemption tour—listening to an artist with such a public history of domestic abuse is just not socially acceptable anymore. (If I even mention Brown’s name when speaking with friends, it triggers looks of disgust.)
But the idea of cancelling has become a bit of a social performance. Everyone wants to know who you’re cancelling, and why—or why not—and I wasn’t sure I was ready to take such a public stance. One one hand, I wasn’t happy that Minaj was working with someone I find so distasteful, and I think supporting someone with sketchy morals would speak volumes about my own morals. But Minaj has basically occupied the space of “cool aunt” for half my life, so I need to consider more than just the way others feel.
This isn’t the first time Nicki Minaj has supported a problematic man
My moral conflict only worsened when, three days after the video for “Fefe” dropped, Minaj announced that 6ix9ine would be one of the opening acts on her upcoming tour. Worse, she continues to maintain a friendly relationship with him. See: the sickening banter in the comments of her Instagram posts. It’s one thing to release a one-off collaboration—that could be construed as an ill-considered misstep. But friendliness means she has decided that his toxic behaviour is NBD, and I can’t even pretend otherwise.
I wondered if this was the first time that Minaj had done something problematic to this scale, as I hadn’t personally heard of anything huge before this case. It didn’t take much research to learn that this wasn’t the first time that she had publicly supported someone who had committed a horrible crime. Last year, her brother Jelani Maraj was found guilty of raping his stepdaughter when she was 12. Even after Maraj was convicted, Minaj did not publicly address her brother’s crime, aside from sharing an Instagram pic of him in the weeks after he was sentenced. But make no mistake—that post was a statement. By not vocalizing her concern about Maraj’s actions, she essentially condoned them.
While all of this information was upsetting, I couldn’t stop thinking about two things: a) that I’d never heard of this two-freaking-year-old case and b) that the internet wasn’t making a bigger deal about it. People were definitely mad about her actions in both of these situations—but it didn’t feel like they were willing to actually cancel her. Hell, “Fefe” is her most successful single of the year. Evidently, Minaj’s fans seemed to be able to look past her decision to work with 6ix9ine, but it still didn’t sit right with me.
The idea that she’d put her morals aside for financial gain made me think less of her. And, she has made some missteps of her own—in an interview with Elle magazine in June, she faced backlash for what readers perceived as slut-shaming. “Maybe I was naïve, but I didn’t realize how many girls were modern-day prostitutes,” she said. “Whether you’re a stripper, or whether you’re an Instagram girl—these girls are so beautiful and they have so much to offer. But I started finding out that you give them a couple thousand dollars, and you can have sex with them […] It makes me sad as a woman.” She did acknowledge that her career has relied on sex appeal, but still, it felt hypocritical. And, another 2018 single, “Chun Li,” is full of stereotypical references to Asian cultures.
After all this reflection, I was seeing a lot of reasons why Minaj should be cancelled—but I still found myself wanting her to come out on top. There were two reasons for my hesitation: her place in our social hierarchy, and her significance in my own life.
There are too many forces that already exist to take down Black women
As a woman (let alone a Black woman) in a male-dominated industry, Minaj has faced a great deal of adversity. If she was a white man, or even a white woman, I would probably be a lot quicker to cancel her. Quite frankly, I have less sympathy for those who benefit from institutional privilege and still manage to mess that up. But throughout her career, Minaj has been an advocate for female empowerment and a symbol of Black excellence. In 2015, “Anaconda” was wrongfully snubbed for Video of the Year at the VMAs. Minaj was very vocal on Twitter about how if she was a “different kind of artist,” she might have received those noms. “Anaconda” was nominated for Best Hip Hop Video instead, which made it clear that MTV thought Minaj could only succeed in relation to Black culture, and couldn’t possibly have an impact on mainstream media. She rightly pointed out that diminishing Black women’s achievements was nothing new.
To make the situation worse, Miley Cyrus told a reporter that Minaj’s complaints were “not polite” and “just about herself,” failing to acknowledge her own privilege as a white woman, and also failing to understand where Minaj was coming from. Minaj addressed Cyrus’ comments in her acceptance speech for Best Hip Hop Video—remember her forever iconic line, “Miley what’s good?” My then-18-year-old self screamed “YAS!” on my couch in tears. She later explained the reasoning for her outburst in an interview with New York Times, saying, “You’re in videos with Black men, and you’re bringing out Black women on your stages, but you don’t want to know how Black women feel about something that’s so important?” Minaj demonstrated fearlessness in pointing out institutional racism, something that even my mother (who wanted NONE of her buns, hun) could not discredit. By cancelling Minaj, I feel like I would be erasing all of the progress that she has made for Black women and Black people.
Plus, her music instilled a sense of general confidence in me at a time when I needed it most. I went through all of high school and university with her music, and you better believe I was “Feeling Myself,” even in my Catholic school uniform. Whenever I felt alone and insecure, I could rely on Minaj’s music, listening as she worked out emotional dilemmas through rhythm and rhyme. I am by NO means a rap expert or a big fan of rap in general, but Minaj introduced me to a subsection of rap—and female rappers—that I wouldn’t have explored on my own.
Cancelling isn’t the same as criticism—and Minaj does need some of that
That’s why I can’t fully cancel her, at least not right now. BUT, I don’t think that that lets her off the hook. There is definitely something to be said about cancelling vs. criticizing your fave. Minaj’s support of the wrong people showed me that she might not have the iron-clad morals that I have come to expect from her, which actually helped to humanize her. It is now evident to me that I wasn’t actually in love with Minaj as a person—I was in love with her feminist, boss-ass-bitch image, and was filtering out the rest.
Do I think there are more problematic artists out there? 100%. Does that excuse all problematic behaviour from Minaj? Absolutely not. Although I may not be cancelling her, I will definitely continue to criticize and question her, in addition to any celebrity that I admire. Even stars that belong to minority groups can make mistakes and bad choices, and we should absolutely hold them accountable. I just don’t think it’s right to respond to them in the same way that you would to a celeb with more privilege.
So yes, I will still be listening to Queen the second it drops. The 13-year-old in me who only listened to Pink Friday on repeat will not let me do otherwise. But I’m also not excusing Minaj’s decision to work with 6ix9ine, or any of her other problematic behaviour. Instead, I’m hoping that she takes a look at her own moral standards and makes decisions that are worth valourizing—like the Queen she claims to be.
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