Nicki Minaj Crashes Hip-Hop's Boys Club

Nicki Minaj (Christopher Polk/Getty Images Entertainment)
Nicki Minaj (Christopher Polk/Getty Images Entertainment)

Brent Staples argues in his New York Times column that it was just a matter of time before a hip-hop star would blow through the lines separating pop from rap and appeal to two lucrative audiences at once. Nicki Minaj just happens to be a woman.

It is too early to tell whether she has the creative power to show a way out of the current situation or open up a broader space in rap for women generally. But she has been difficult to miss, raking in music awards and posing on magazine covers in the Day-Glo wigs and makeup that summon up Japanese anime. She raps in hyperspeed in British, Caribbean and New York accents, and channels her engaging zaniness through alter egos, one known as Harajuku Barbie. She refers to the young girls among her fans as Barbs.

She is as much actor as musician, hopscotching among genres and personas more easily than most of her rivals. Look back at her earliest music video appearances, and you get the sense that she is driven to shed one role for another, maybe just to fend off boredom.

Her rise has been breathtakingly swift, even by Warholian standards. First came several guest appearances on chart-busting records by other artists. Then came her now legendary display in the 2010 video "Monster," where she appeared as a black-clad, heavy-rapping vampire engaged in a musical dialogue with a pink-haired, Barbie-doll version of herself. For pyrotechnics and complexity of verses, she outclassed her two heavyweight collaborators, Kanye West and Jay-Z. Two albums later ("Pink Friday" in 2010 and "Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded" this spring) and she is already being hailed, with some justification, as the most influential female rapper of all time.


Read Brent Staples' entire column at the New York Times.

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