Can Nicki Minaj Fix Homophobia in Hip-Hop Without Labeling Herself?

NICKI MINAJ:

Maybe-bisexual Rapper Nicki Minaj graces the cover of OUT magazine this month, where she addresses the homophobia pervasive in hip-hop and declares her hopes to curb it, but does not address the relative likelihood that she’ll ever want to f*ck and/or cuddle you, which is unfortunate because she’s pretty awesome, redic talented and smokin’ hot.

Once upon a time we thought Nicki Minaj was bisexual. Why did we think this? We’re not sure. It just seemed true, like knowing that if you lick a pole in the wintertime that your tongue will be stuck there forever. Maybe because Andrea said so. Actually, we still think it’s probably true, but not everyone was so convinced, like Jonah Weiner for Slate.com who earlier this year questioned the “unreliability” of her lyrics’s narrative, claiming they vacillated wildly from homosexual to “no homo.”

Then, in a May 2010 Details interview, she let this comment slide, which cemented our already-certain certainty that Nicki Minaj was indeed the openly bisexual rapper she’s addressed as:

Q: As an openly bisexual rapper, do you think hip-hop is getting more gay-friendly?
A: I think the world is getting more gay-friendly, so hip-hop is too. But it’s harder to imagine an openly gay male rapper being embraced. People view gay men as having no street credibility. But I think we’ll see one in my lifetime.

Then in June she made us feel upside-down heart-shaped feelings (which is like a frown with a weird chin) when she went ahead and redacted her bisexuality to Black Men Magazine:

“I don’t date women and I don’t have sex with women…that’s of course, until Cassie comes available …..”

Clutch Magazine‘s article on the bisexual woman in hip-hop sums up a long list of concerns about homophobia that pre-date even those problematic interviews. But now she’s on the cover of a gay magazine! (Sidenote; people don’t come out in gay magazines, that ruins the point. Except Sean Hayes, but he did so under protest. So don’t get too excited.)

The intro:

Minaj may or may not be attracted to women (more on that later), but she draws a fierce gay following with her brazen lyrics and outsize persona. Beneath her blunt-cut bangs lies a cunning mind capable of weaving sports metaphors and references to ’80s sitcoms into complex rhymes about scoring with girls and blowing guys’ minds. Lady Gaga’s audience was primed to accept her as a sexually adventurous nonconformist by artists like Madonna and David Bowie, but in hip-hop, Nicki Minaj is a real space oddity.”

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The article cites how Minaj incorporates lesbian themes in her lyrics, like declaring “I only stop for pedestrians or a real, real bad lesbian” [notably absent: little old ladies with shopping carts]:

Minaj may have encouraged all the lady love with lyrics that imply she’s sexually flexible — or at least curious. None of the famous female rappers rumored to be queer have dared utter the L word, but Minaj has used it repeatedly.

Howevs, Minaj doesn’t wanna go there:

“People who like me — they’ll listen to my music, and they’ll know who I am. I just don’t like that people want you to say what you are, who you are. I just am. I do what the fuck I want to do…The point is, everyone is not black and white. There are so many shades in the middle, and you’ve got to let people feel comfortable with saying what they want to say when they want to say it. I don’t want to feel like I’ve got the gun pointed at my head and you’re about to pull the trigger if I don’t say what you want to hear. I just want to be me and do me.”

That’s the kind of thing we normally interpret as “homogay.” But let’s try to stop thinking about ourselves for a second, and think about Lil’ Wayne, star of our favorite documentary of all time, The Carter Documentary, because Nicki Minaj will be touring with Wayne and expects a diverse audience:

“Normally, Wayne probably wouldn’t have gay guys coming to see his shows much,” she says, “but they’re definitely a big part of my movement, and I hope they’d still come out and see me. I think that will be really, really interesting, just to start bridging that gap. We’ll see.”

You should read the whole article at OUT Magazine.

GAGA:

Speaking of queer celebrities using their fame to change things for gay people, there’s been some controversy over Lady Gaga’s political activism and alleged queerness. Yes, despite my passionate Gaga fanhood even I admit that lately I’ve sometimes cocked my head and wondered, “Really Lady Gaga?” But then I decide I don’t really care — she’s getting our issues “out there” and changing the public conversation wherein gay issues –  no matter how pressing they seem with respect to human rights – are percieved as “niche issues.”

After bringing DADT discharges as her dates and mentioning gay rights in her speeches at the MTV VMAs, Yahoo noticed a change in its search traffic:

“After the [VMAs] aired, Web searches soared on everything from “lady gaga guests” to “what does SLDN stand for” (it stands for “Servicemembers Legal Defense Network”). The official site for SLDN has posted a message encouraging those who feel “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be repealed to call their representatives in Washington. Lady Gaga is an outspoken supporter of gay rights.”

Today Lady Gaga and Senator Harry Reid exchanged tweets, which I’m guessing Phillip K. Dick predicted would happen one day:

Lady Gaga has SEVEN MILLION followers, btw. Seven million people! The most recent estimate of the homogay U.S. population is slightly over ten million, so that’s a solid number.

See what she did there, Lady Gaga? She just told a bunch of people about an issue that, for as much as we’d like to think otherwise here in our gay bubble of Tegan & Sara and gender theory debates, most people don’t know about, much less care about.

With respect to both Minaj and Lady Gaga’s stories today, it’s important to remember that most people AREN’T gay, and most people don’t care. So maybe we shouldn’t underestimate the power of outspoken allies — just as young homos look to people like Ellen DeGeneres or Neil Patrick Harris or Wanda Sykes to make them feel confident about coming out as gay, there are lots of young strais who could use a Lady Gaga or Nicki Minaj to inspire them to stand up for gay rights, regardless of the speculation or critique that may follow.

If Nicki Minaj did come out bisexual, would people put the same pressure on her to “prove it” by dating girls as they do on Lady Gaga, accusing Gaga of “trotting out the tired bisexual card that seems to be the soup du jour of every female celeb lately”?

In our skeptical-of-bisexuals media climate, maybe the fact that Nicki Minaj doesn’t want to assign herself a label and be subject to the judgments therein is not so much a reflection on Nicki as it is a reflection on how the media treats women who do agree to label themselves “bisexual.” Perhaps that box isn’t really any more comfortable than a dress made out of ribeye, you know?

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Riese is the 39-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

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29 Comments

  1. Pingback: Can Nicki Minaj Fix Homophobia in Hip-Hop Without Labeling Herself? – Autostraddle (blog) | Eight Mile Road

    • so it’d seem she is interested in ‘bitches’… i feel like from everything i’ve seen — and granted, i really only see the stuff where she alludes to being bi, because i clearly have tunnel-vision and skip over the dude parts — that she is bi, or at least not straight. I think that, probably mainly because I see how the media scoffs at women who say they are ‘bi’ and then don’t show up with a girlfriend within the next 2-3 months, that maybe it’s not so ridiculous for her to be less and less open about it the more and more famous she gets. I’m sure there’s pressure on her not to. Maybe this OUT magazine story is testing the waters and she’ll figure out where to go from here…

      • I agree with your assessment, Riese. My main problem with NM is this-

        In the Details interview when they asked her how does she feel about homophobia in hip-hop “as an out bi rapper”, she could’ve used the opportunity to say she wasn’t bisexual…And she didn’t, which made us all assume she was bi. So when she did said that she doesn’t date or sleep with women in Black Men’s mag, it made her look wishy-washy.

        Her behaviour just feeds into the stereotype that celebs that come out as bi are doing it for attention.

        • Agreed with that last part, even though I don’t necessarily believe that she is…to me it feels more like she was playing it up and backed off. But it comes off in this sort of negative wishy washy bi portrayal, and that makes me uncomfortable.

        • I def agree with your last statement Kanika. That is what really rubbed me the wrong way about her. I think Nicki is a good rapper. I LOVE ‘Itty Bitty Piggy’ and her verse in ‘Bottoms Up’. However, ,she should have stayed clear of this whole sexuality thing. I felt like she did it to appeal to men not women. The more she talks the more she digs herself into a whole.

          But at the same time, in her defense. Due to things I say, how I feel about homosexuality and the various stuff I’m into people think/assume I am lesbian. So you can;t just assume because she is lesbian-ish that she is gay.
          In her case she is just running her mouth, like rappers who talk about being pimps, drug dealers and in gangs yet they live in someplace like Beverly Hills. Rap is not one of those genres that uses 100% real life experiences.

  2. I really really really want to like Nicki Minaj. And I do, she spits fire and has a pretty awesome persona. But it’s important to draw a line between a rapper’s persona and who she actually is as a person, right? I really like her music and stuff, but her persona confuses me.
    But I want to mention a couple of awesome actually out lesbogay rappers, since there’s not at all enough of us.
    Melange Lavonne is great, and has won a coupla awards.
    Also, MC Flow’s album Incredible is, well, incredible.
    Kin4Life are good, or at least the little I’ve heard has been.
    Northern State are awesome.
    Jean Grae’s Jeanius is absolutely brilliant – iirc, she’s bi, but don’t quote me on that one?
    Kinnie Starr is for sure bi, and has catchy songs.
    K. Flay is completely straight, but I have a huge crush on her and she’s a good musician so I’m going to include her anyways.

    And also, the rise of Kanye West over 50 Cent(previously the man to be in hip-hop, with The Massacre as his codifying album) with Graduation outselling Curtis is really emblematic of a whole paradigm shift that’s starting to happen in hip-hop. Fiddy was a former drug dealer, he’d been shot, etc., but Kanye (#kanyeshrug and all) was/is different – he’s been called metrosexual, – “but I’m doing pretty good as far as geniuses go/And I’m doing pretty hood in my pink polo” (‘Barry Bonds’. Graduation) – and there’s no denying the guy has a (albeit unique) sense of personal fashion that Fiddy and his ilk just plain didn’t. Also, he’s eccentric and insecure, and he raps about his insecurities as a significant portion of his music(“I feel the pressure, under more scrutiny,/and what I do? Act more stupidly.” (‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’. Graduation)) – markedly different from, again, Fiddy. Plus, with lyrics like “Lauryn Hill say her heart was in Zion/I wish her heart still was in rhymin’/’cause who the kids gonna listen to? Huh?” (‘Champion’. Graduation, 2007), he’s obvs trying looking out for the girls growing up listening to hip-hop and finding a huge lack of role models.
    Compare that to “My Gun Go Off”, from Fiddy’s album Curtis – “It’s excellent execution when I’m pulling the trigger/No mistake for that cake/I’m hitting you and your niggas”.

    So the shift in hip-hop symbolized by those two albums, specifically Kanye outselling Fiddy, is really just now starting to make its effects, and I GUARANTEE that things are going to make a bit of a change.

  3. As much as I find myself kind of progressively rolling my eyes more and more at Lady Gaga (please don’t, like. shoot me or take my queer card BAD ROMANCE IS STILL MY JAM I SWEAR), I agreed that regardless of why or how she’s doing it, the bottom line is she’s bringing attention to an issue a lot of people probably didn’t look at before.

    And I really don’t know how I feel about Nicki Minaj I feel like I want to want to like her, if that makes sense? Mainly I feel like media really screws us over with bisexual female representation because it’s like…PICS OR IT DIDN’T HAPPEN, i don’t even know. mainly I think i need more coffee.

    • I agree. I went to Gaga’s concert and I like her and while I have a lot of respect for her LGBT activism – if mom points out an article or cover of her on a magazine I shrug. I read her Vanity Fair interview and it was just…I dunno…
      I see Lady Gaga as a diva for gay males in the way that Cher was. Her whole persona is a campy diva and I kinda would’ve liked if that was recognized in the media. To me she’s not some ‘freaky weird crazy awesome popstar who went mainstream’ she’s a diva who went mainstream. I explained to my mom – look – when people say ‘Oh, just another example of a person wanting to sexualize our kids!’ it’s silly. Because she’s really just another diva. A lot of straight people seemed to equate her with a drag queen at first – which is why I’m not surprised that penis rumors came out. She’s like a drag queen in a few ways (even though of course she IS a woman) – because every feature (make-up etc) of a drag queen is femaleness exaggerated 50 times. And to me, that’s what Gaga is. I don’t need Gaga saying she is bisexual and then saying she could never fall in love with a woman. I’d be happy if she just recognized her act as queerness. Well, to me, that’s what it is.

  4. Nicki Minaj is a living turd who trades on the sleazy straight guy fantasy for girl-girl action. She is a brain-dead buffoon of the first order whose contribution to music consists of bowel movements, not gay rights movements.

    By the way, have you noticed how these media lesbians like to talk of their love for “the gays”. My, my, how quaint. Notice how they never talk about male bisexuals, only “the gays”.

    Their understanding of male sexuality is limited to exploiting the purchasing power of frazzled club queens whose peripheral vision extends no further than an ecstasy pill.

  5. The music industry is very homophobic towards men. Women are also to blame.

    Notice how a woman like Lady Gaga can claim to be bisexual and use it in her marketing. However, no man is allowed to use male bisexuality in his marketing. The record companies won’t allow it.

    The record companies are extremely homophobic towards male-male sexuality.

    • But that’s a whole huge other thing, and I don’t really think I would say women are to blame for it. The industry’s acceptance of female bisexuality and lack of acceptance towards male homosexuality or bisexuality is a patriarchal, sexist thing that is much much much more the fault of the old straight men running it than the women.

      And, obviously this isn’t an overall indicator of change in the music industry, but even when you do have a record company “allowing” a male artist to display his homosexuality (see: Adam Lambert), you still get societal backlash (see: 2009 AMAs). Obviously the music industry still has a long way to go, but it’s a societal problem: whether Nicki Minaj is bisexual for the media attention or being vague to avoid the negative attention, that’s a core problem with how we view bisexuality.

  6. If miss nicks is bisexual, she’s not doing any favours for it in terms of breaking down prejudice….watch her vid for Lil Freak that she did with usher….then look up the lyrics. Definitely not an advocate for breaking down negative stereotypes.

  7. Agreed about the lil freak. I have to say nicki is not doing much in lessening the degree to which women are degraded as sexual objects in media, she’s at times furthering it. Her language towards women is sometimes questionable whether she’s reclaiming certain words like black with “nigger” or simply making it worse. I really love her attitude and style but I can’t say that her appearance doesn’t subjugate her to the hyper-sexualized femininity (granted it’s beautifully curvetious and speaks against anorexia).
    On her bisexuality, I think it’s really hard for anyone to be bisexual because for the society it’s much easier if you are one or the other and not the many shades in between. It’s easy for a bisexual female who ended up with a male to be portayed as “oh she was just experimenting” and maybe that’s why nicki doesn’t want to be pinned down.
    As for gaga…I much prefer beyonce who’s a diva but also a beautiful and fabulous and smart woman. I hope both gaga and nicki in fighting for gay rights could also address those homosexuals who are terribly sexist and racist…but maybe that’s too much to ask for.

  8. today at the gym the woman at the desk who i see and talk to every day and who is defo not a homo or immersed in any kind of homogay culture had this issue of OUT on her desk with nicki minaj on the cover b/c nicki minaj was on the cover and i thought, ‘this is a good thing’

  9. I like Minaj. And I think her lyrics speak for their self. Maybe she’s not comfortable with the idea of glbt publications constantly trying to label her as bi sexual or otherwise?

    Nicki may NEVER announce to the world or to anyone her sexuality and thats fair because while some view Gay/Lesbian as a cultural identity, others view it as a private and personal sexual preference, but I’m pretty sure if a “bad chick” as she puts it approached nicki in an inebriated state… something would transpire. Almost certain.

    I’m pretty sure in Nicki’s world, if you’re hott, you’re hott. Man or Woman. The lyrics…

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