Nicki Minaj: More Hype Than Happening?
You would have to live under a rock not to know that Nicki Minaj's second album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, dropped this week.
You may have seen the television ads for Reloaded that proclaim Minaj to be the greatest female rapper in history. You might have heard Minaj discussing on Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club, with Angela Yee, Charlamagne Tha God and DJ Envy, how "older" people are the ones who don't get her or her sound. I kept waiting for Charlamagne to challenge Minaj on her claims in his usual brusque fashion, but it never happened. It's also news to me that people in their 30s are considered old, but I guess anything goes in Minaj's world.
You may have read the much ballyhooed New York Times article by Jon Caramanica in which Minaj is touted as the most influential female rap artist ever. The "c" in Caramanica must stand for "clueless," because the article has gaping holes in it, namely any mention of those who came before Minaj that influenced her style.
How do you identify Minaj as the most influential female rapper of all time without discussing MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Sha Rock, Lil' Kim, Queen Pen, Foxy Brown, Bahamadia, Yo Yo, Lauryn Hill, Lady Bug Mecca, CMG and the late Special One? As for Minaj's foray into pop music and mainstream culture, has Caramanica ever heard of Eve or Missy Elliott?
At any rate, we've all heard the phrase "Just because you say it doesn't make it so," and hyping Minaj way before she has done anything worth hyping is more a testament to marketing than to the reality of her place among female MCs.
Minaj is no more the most influential female rapper of all time than are any of the other female rappers mentioned in the article -- Azealia Banks, Brianna Perry and Angel Haze. I would also argue that she is not a greater MC than any of them, just better promoted. I won't even mention that Perry had a song called "Marilyn Monroe" before Minaj's "Marilyn Monroe," which is on her latest album. Is Minaj influencing Perry, Banks and Haze, or are they influencing one another?
Artists are only as great as their competition, and Minaj has benefited from not having much competition among female MCs in mainstream rap music. If underground rappers like Jean Grae, Psalm One and Rocky Rivera were promoted the same way Minaj is marketed, then maybe there would be something to all of this "love" being shown to Minaj. As for mixing rap and pop, check out what female rapper Dessa is doing and get back to me.
Minaj is doing her thing, and I'm not mad at her. However, I am mad at A&R, marketing and music journalists who keep trying to force her "fabulousness" down my throat. I'm not convinced -- yet -- and making all of these grandiose claims isn't going to help get me on the Nicki Minaj bandwagon.
Back in the day, artists got better with each album. It was understood that after an artist's introduction, each album would improve upon the previous album as he or she developed a musical style and skill set. Respect was earned, not given, especially when it came to female MCs, who had to make it in a truly male-dominated subculture.
Now the hype machine starts before an artist drops his or her first album, introducing him or her as a superstar even before the first live performance. Where are artists of any genre supposed to go when they start out as superstars?
I'm sure I sound like an old fart, since I'm in my 30s, but I would like people like Minaj to have the opportunity to develop as artists so that we can see what they can actually do, as opposed to being told what they do and not necessarily seeing or hearing it (cue the worst Grammy performance in recent memory).
Until that happens, I'll wait, watch and listen and see what Minaj has to offer. I refuse to buy into the hype or let others dictate which female rap artists matter or what their roles are in hip-hop history or pop culture. Album sales count, but they do not determine quality or who will be here 10 years from now.
Thanks for the hype, but as someone who considers herself a hip-hop head and still rocks MC Lyte's "Cha Cha Cha" on a weekly basis, I'll decide for myself who is the most influential female rapper of all time.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.