Nicki Minaj & Malcolm X: Destroying a Legacy, or Paying Homage?

Nicki Minaj released her latest track “Lookin Ass N*ggas” last night. It’s been awhile since we’ve heard a solid single from the hip-pop queen. The song and video are already being met with praise, but of course, it’s not without controversy.

The video is simple enough. It just a grayed feature starring Nicki Minaj, who, this time around, forewent her usual pink and green get up, for an elegant all-black-everything look. With minimal makeup and jet black hair meant to resemble a natural look, (or at the very least, a texturizer), Nicki Minaj exudes a maturity that’s been lacking since the very beginning stages of her rap career.

The song itself isn’t particularly lyrical, but her flow and delivery is symbolic of her rap origins. All together, “Lookin Ass N*ggas” is stable; it’s good enough to listen to because it delivers a message that some can relate to, but it still shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

It seems as if Nicki Minaj is trying to reclaim her standing in the hip hop community. Following her exponential rise, she varied off the hip hop path, and instead, mainstreamed into pop culture delivering dance hits for the college set. Opting for gimmicks and outrageousness, many felt that Nicki had lost herself in her quest for super stardom. Her hair went from pink to blonde to platinum, her makeup was too dense, and the whitewashing became exorbitant.

Recently, she was caught in a minor controversy with ESPN, after they digitally altered her face in their cover photo. Nicki took to Instagram to express her frustration.

Nicki Minaj instagram

Maybe that incident sparked her resurgence to traditional hip hop roots. Or maybe she’s seeking to solidify her throne, and be, once again, the center of all pop culture conversations. Pop culture has been moving quickly without her; from Beyonce’s surprise album, to Kendrick Lamar’s extraordinary rise, with splashes of a psychotic Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber in between, Nicki has been lacking in most mainstream discussions. Maybe she feels enough is enough.

But Nicki is taking heat for the song. The song features imagery of the noted Malcolm X. This iconic photo, one of the most recognized in the world, stands as a symbol for African American self-defense. The original photo shows Malcolm X, peering out of a window with a M1 Carbine in hand. The photo is viewed as a symbol of protection and security, and is often associated with his mantra “By any means necessary.” Nicki Minaj used it as a backdrop for her latest single, to the discontent of the Black community very familiar with Malcolm X and his powerful ideologies.

Lookin Ass Nigga

The photo first appeared in Ebony Magazine, and has since been replicated in some fashion or another. KRS-One modeled his album cover for “By All Means Necessary.”

By All Means NecessaryAnd it was referenced in The Boondocks.


Given the content of the song, Nicki’s utilization of the photo is troubling. From the caption “Lookin Ass N*ggas,” the photo is devalued. The photo looks like a meme; it looks cheaply and quickly made with no consideration of the historical or artistic value the photo represents. Nicki Minaj could’ve used any other picture, to express the message of the song, but instead, she chose to delegitimize an icon.

Adding salt to the wound is that she did this during Black History Month, a time when people are expensing close consideration for the eminence of our ancestral leaders.

Young Money has taken heat before for its poor taste in historical respect. Last year, label mate, Lil Wayne took heat for his reference to Emmett Till. The line “beat the p*ssy up like Emmett Till” was quickly redacted from the song, followed by an apology to the Till family. The repercussions were rather tremendous, with Pepsi cutting ties with the rapper. The crude line may also lend to Lil Wayne’s declining popularity.

On the other end, maybe this is Nicki’s twisted way of paying homage to the fallen icon. Malcolm X was very critical of African American men who denied their duties in society. To Malcolm X, Black men were especially charged with maintaining order in the household, helping their fellow men, respecting their women, and raising their children. Malcolm X believed that the strength of the Black man was instrumental to the overarching cause of racial justice.

Nicki’s song is a direct attack on men who do not live up to these ideals. Perhaps she used Malcolm’s image to further drive home this point. Nicki Minaj isn’t entirely political, but when she does offer political insight, her message is either skewed or misunderstood. Remember that line about how she supports Mitt Romney? She received considerable backlash, but when President Obama responded, she delivered the following remarks via Twitter…

Nicki Minaj tweet

Regardless of motives, Nicki Minaj crippled the legacy of Malcolm X when she used his likeness to promote this song. If her motives were positive, then she definitely needs to clarify. Preferably in a tweet that mocks how dumb we all are.


9 responses to “Nicki Minaj & Malcolm X: Destroying a Legacy, or Paying Homage?

  1. Excellent analysis! I completely agree. There’s a fine line between honoring an icon during Black History Month and making a gimmicky meme. Nicki should know better.


  2. I like the song….but d@mn it’s hard for a brotha not to look though LOL….as far as Malcolm X, yeah that sh** was pretty wack, I could see it for that 2 chainz song, fed’s watchin but not this one…it was an error on her part, but I don’t think she should be crucified for it, just checked…..When you think about it, the media shows Malcolm very little attention during black history month anyway….at least this can get people talking and thinking about Malcolm X. I don’t think a bad meme is going to destroy his legacy….the only thing that could would be us not teaching the young who he really was and letting the media/public schools dictate his story to the youth.


      • On second thought maybe she is paying homage….okay remember the lil wayne song god bless america? great revolutionary track and video but got very little TV or radio play. Now Nicki and Weezy I think know that if they came out with a but of revolutionary songs and videos they would fall off, not make as much money, lose a lot of what they have….So I kind of think of it this way, remember the Lil Wayne line “beat the p*ssy up like Emitt Till” think about how many young kids/people in general never heard of Emit Till, never would have heard of Emit Till without that line….or Nicki using that Malcolm X picture, you could take it as the feds were the looking a$$ n*ggas at that time…..but that picture is so powerful, just putting it out there for a new generation can’t be a bad thing if they actually google malcolm X and see speeches on youtube because of it….so what this could be equated to, could be the slaves in the plantation dropping knowledge without the masters knowing it.


  3. I had to watch and listen to this a couple of times before I could figure out why I like it. It drives against the grain by calling everybody out and pantomiming the stereotypes of being black, being woman, being objectified, being classified, being violent, being industrialized, and somehow the use of Malcolm X as perhaps the most dramatic political leader in her work implies that she like Malcolm have been defined by societies narrow definitions and we can say what we want about her choices and his, but they both determined and evolved according to their own times. She controls the fear of sexuality or gun violence or language in this no matter what people take away from it. It’s loaded and pointing at her audience. (It’s not Beiber’s pool party where he effectively casts her as the “beast” next to his narcism, softly grinding behind her as if she is his “cougar” and with zero chemistry.) Where I don’t think the Malcolm X T-shirt is effective, I think it stands for her “defense against attack”. It might not be the most “sophisticated” use of the symbols, but I think she’s entirely within her rights to express the box she’s in. As for teaching the truth of Malcolm X, only he can do that:
    The Assassination of Malcom X (George Breitman, Herman Porter & Baxter Smith)
    The Last Year of Malcolm X, the evolution of a revolutionary (George Breitman)
    Malcolm X, the last speeches (edited by Bruce Perry)
    Malcolm X on Afro-American History (Betty Shabbazz and Pathfinder press)
    Malcom X, by any means necessary, speeches, interviews and a letter by Malcolm X (edited by George Breitman)
    Malcom X Speaks (Edited by George Brietman)
    The Autobiography of Malcolm X (as told to Alex Haley)
    X (RAW graphic novel by artist Sue Coe)
    These above are the books I started with… and I realize many more have been since published, but these were some of the first to challenge the original conceptions of the man.

    Thanks again for your stimulating blog articles! (Also one last note: the song isn’t a great stand alone…it needs the video accompaniment to make full sense in my opinion. And to not watch it straight forward but to read between the lines.)


      • Yeah, not to “convince you” and maybe it’s a subtle thing I’m trying to express… For me it’s like she’s saying “hypocrites” under the guise of her voyeurs. I see where it backfires completely, but part of me thinks she will get away with it and should.


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