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.
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.
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.”
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…
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.