You either love her or you hate her, and for the most part I understand both sides. Lyrically she’s one of the best, if not the best female rapper of all time. So why do music aficionados like myself tend to hate her if she’s clearly so talented? Good question. I can’t speak for any of my other crap-hating cohorts, but I think I can explain it to the lay-people, so they can better understand what it is about her that irks us so. Or at least I’ll give it a try.
Nicki Minaj seemingly came out of nowhere earlier this year, with a huge endorsement of rap’s resident alien Lil’ Wayne Carter. Once the fuse was lit, she started popping up everywhere, until her annoying, bootleg Gucci bag full of voices became mainstays in our heads like the ones of her mentor Dewayne, and label mate Aubrey “Drake” Graham. With no album yet to show for, she managed to get features on songs by nearly all of Urban music’s largest and most prominent artists, virtually always managing to if nothing else, make a statement large enough on each one of her features to register her name higher and higher on the popularity scale.
Now let me be clear, upon further investigation it was clear that “Minaj a Nick” actually paid her dues in the underground, and her success was in fact deserved. So again you may ask: Then what the hell is your issue? Well, here’s where it gets a little deeper than many of you common music listeners would understand. You see, if you are of the common variety of radio person, than what you like is whatever the radio station you listen to decides you are going to like. You’re non-confrontational when it comes to your new favorite song, album, or artist, and when it comes to the divine manifestation of love and creativity that is music, you live your life pretty much as a robot waiting for its next command. Your real opinion is that you don’t have one, and you make up a large percentage of people that keep the music industry truckin’. This is not to be insulting, but my gripe is deeper than a simple description. The point is that for most of you “Radio Heads,” my argument will probably not make sense, because you are not equipped to even consider such a truth. “So what is this truth?” you’re now asking. Well hang in there friends, I tend to be overly-thorough in my descriptions, here it comes.
My problem is that I love music, and more importantly GOOD music. I care about the preservation and longevity of music, and with the bevy of the horrendous excuses for music that currently make up 99.9% of what we as modern-day humans are exposed to, I am often forced to think about how good music is going to possibly be able to continue when almost no one that has the privilege of making it on a national level cares about it? If music continues to be made with no regard for anything else other than money, then it will inevitably be used up, and run into the ground until it simply doesn’t matter anymore, and I for one don’t want to see that happen. As a former artist, I tried to always maintain a sense of talent and originality when it came to my auditory creations, even if I attempted to flirt with a more commercial sound. Unfortunately this put me in a small category with a few artists that not only understand that releasing music on a large scale does involve appealing to a greater audience than just “music nerds,” but also care about how said “nerds” feel about their contribution to music itself. So what the hell does any of this have to do with Nicki from Queens?
Nicki has an opportunity that not a lot of people have. I don’t mean a record deal on a major label, because millions of people get that opportunity. I mean a record deal on a major label, coupled with enough hype to make the label excited about releasing an album from you. Basically she has hype. This is an honor that only a few ever get, and what one does with this privilege is all that matters. In other words, the label is behind (no pun intended) Nicki, and the fans are ready to hear whether or not she can live up to all of the hype that surrounds her, so has she chosen to do something special for her career and for music, or has she chosen to just make a watered-down, commercial piece of crap that will make the label and the radio stations happy? Unfortunately, it’s the latter and herein lies the source of my gripe.
Other than Nicki, there are zero active female rappers on the radio today. ZERO, literally. This makes way for Nicki to have the opportunity to be the end all, be all, quintessential queen of the females musically. With her first album, she can cement her presence in music as a genuine talent, and take advantage of being the only artist in the “Female Rapper” category, much like Eminem once did as a “White Rapper.” But where Em took advantage of his position with the help of legendary producer Dr. Dre, and made something special the first go round, so that he could establish himself as a real talent and an artist that matters, Nicki has not done that. The best example is on her song Check It Out with the Black Eyed Peas’ Will.I.Am. Who on Earth gets an opportunity to work with a producer that is responsible for making so many hit records, let alone on their first album? But more importantly, what rapper gives a shit about working with Will.I.Am and his brand of pop fuckery? Ok maybe the label made her do it? I understand the game and the compromises that artist on major labels are often asked or forced to make, but why not alter the situation in her favor? If I were in her shoes, I would go “Work with Will.I.Am? Sure, no problem, my label slave master.” And then when I got to the session I’d teach old Willy a thing or two about who I AM as an artist. I’m not walking into his studio saying “Hey, let’s make whatever you think is good, even though this is my album, because I’m just a label slave that will do whatever I’m told to do.” No Sir E. Bob. I’m going into Will’s house of hits and saying “Listen, everyone thinks you’re a one trick pony, but you started with Eazy E., and pre-Fergie you hosted a hip hop video show on MTV2 where you freestyled before and after commercial breaks. Let’s show these jokers that you are a hip hop producer first.” and then I’d sit back and watch the world and the blogosphere join in collective amazement as they all go “Holy Shit, Will.I.Am produced that record?!” But that’s because I’m an ARTIST, meaning one who creates art, not a person signed to a record label. The two definitions tend to get confused.
(Video Killed the Radio Star?…really, Will?)
I will never listen to Nicki’s whole album, ever. Not in protest, but because I don’t need to. I’ve heard enough of her pop remake, singing-on-every-song-even-though-she’s-not-a-singer-crap for a lifetime. The song she has with Eminem (ironically) is hot, but that’s about where it stops. Nicki Minaj has chosen the wrong proverbial pill with her career. She may have bought herself more years as a pop star, which is fine if that’s all she aspires to be. But in terms of actually creating great music, she decided against it and took the same road as anyone else that probably doesn’t posses even an inkling of her lyrical talent. But honestly, there’s a more surface problem that I have: She’s annoying.
Listen, I don’t know how many of you gravitate towards 7 year old boys with ADHD and Multiple Personality Disorders in your real lives, but that ain’t for me. I don’t want to hear a rapper experimenting with voices, screaming, and often rapping in a way that’s barely understandable. I don’t care to listen to gibberish, faux-patois, or spoken noises. I want to hear a rapper who knows how to compliment a great beat by using words, and a properly chosen series of cadences to act as just the perfect last instrument needed to transform a beat into a song. And on top of all of this, I will only be impressed if said rapper finds a way to originally use the uber-limited subject matters on the approved rap subject matter list in an original way, as well as extend the list with matters that are not only relatable to others, but are also interesting and impressive. Nicki….eh, not so much. You can listen to my actual breaking point with Nicki’s existence as a rapper at 2:30 on the song below.
The bottom line in all of this is that you can be the greatest rapper of all time, but if you make stupid, unoriginal, annoying, irrelevant, overly-commercial, or obvious music than I will never respect you or enjoy your music. If you get the opportunity to make music for the masses, your job is to make MUSIC for the masses, not eat then regurgitate horse shit, and follow all the rules. Art has never been about following anything, rather making new rules. Weird faces and dumb voices don’t make run-of-the-mill records original. You can argue with me in any way you choose, but at the end of the day you’ll merely be exposing yourself as a musical ignoramus.
“Good DAY, sir!” -Willy Wonka