Served ‘Lookin’ Ass’: Nicki Minaj serves Feminism to Rap Culture

Disclaimer: JasSoandSo is in no way a fan of Nicki Minaj.

Nicki Minaj, ‘Lookin Ass…’, via WhatNickiWears Tumblr

Nicki Minaj’s new single, “Lookin’ Ass Nigga” from her new album The Pink Print is total rapey, waste of time; or so Jezebel’s recent article argues. But is it really, though? As mentioned by a few music critics,  Nicki Minaj’s new song” Looking Ass Nigga,” is simply the NC-17 version of TLC’s ” No Scrub.” However, “Looking Ass Nigga,”does more to challenge the normalization of the danger in the male gaze then it’s feminist predecessor.

Let us start with “nigga.” A lot of you cringe a the sight of that word. Others of you will never, ever be allowed to say this word out loud, and please tell me you understand why. Regardless of it’s disgusting past, or the complete disregard for it’s power by using it in everyday conversation, “nigga” is a staple in regards to hip hop and rap language, and you can find it in just about any major rap song.  While I personally believe that no one, not even black people, should use the “n word”, it is possible that Nicki Minaj’s use of the “N” word was necessary in making her point. Stay with me. Would “Looking Ass Nigga” be as powerful a message were it called ” Looking Ass Boy,” or “Looking Ass Man,” or even “Looking Ass Dude?” Would there be such a fuss about the song or publicity regarding the song had it been named differently? I mentioned in an earlier piece that sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. There is a place for softer progressive feminism and a place for radical responses to misogyny and oppression through patriarchy. For Minaj, this was a play for radical.

In case you need to be reminded of the sorts of misogynist lyrics you can find in rap songs today, posted just a few of the lovely words to help you recall;

“My little sister’s birthday / She’ll remember me / For a gift I had ten of my boys take her virginity.”-  Amityville by Bizzare verse, Eminem

“Bitches ain’t sh*t but hoes and tricks / Lick on these nuts and suck the d*ck.” “Bitches Aint Shit- Snoop Dogg’s verse to Dr. Dre song

“Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore / Til the vocal cords don’t work in her throat no more?!” – Eminem

Nicki Minaj’s style, language and number of insults in her new single parallel male-led rap songs in its aggression, so much so, it’s like listening to a literal response to misogynist rap music. For those of you familiar with black culture, you’ll recognize the phrase “lookin ass…” as the end of a “check,” which is slang for an insult or to “put someone in their place.” You can find someone using an insult like this in response to someone insulting them first, but please note, it is almost always in response to an insult that you can find this phrase used. Not only does it hold the title, but Minaj uses the phrase, “lookin ass…” throughout her entire song (ex. “diggin in ya booty den smell it” lookin ass nigga”… and so on). By doing so, she asserts herself as the winner of an argument, as the champion that gets the last word. It’s a position of power, talking down to the aggressor and making them seem weak in the process. The  desert imagery and mainly just Minaj, herself, shown on screen,  definitely reinforces the fact that Minaj got the last word on this one.

Branden Soderberg of Spin Magazine wrote a poignant article in support of Minaj’s new single in which he identified the rap diva’s use of two machine guns was to “murder the male gaze.” One could even argue that Minaj’s use of the image of Malcolm X holding a gun was actually Minaj’s attempt in appropriating herself as the Malcolm X of feminism.Though if that was her goal, she most certainly did not succeed in making that come across.

The problem with Minaj’s use of Malcolm X’s profound photo is that she attempted to appropriate an image clearly illustrating the oppressive and all-too-recent history of African Americans as an illustration of black masculinity as oppressive to the female body and femininity. By doing so, she completely ignores if not denies all that Malcolm X did for the black community, which is in itself, is ignorant and disrespectful. It’s a shame that Minaj’s ignorance is, so far, overpowering the strong message within her music video and lyrics themselves.

Regardless, only a certain kind of feminist can create a song so aggressive and deeply rooted in modern rap culture while still speaking pro-feminism and actually be heard. Thanks to Nicki Minaj’s major respect from fellow, male rap artist, along with her pop star appeal, she’s able to use the same language of those she’s accusing, to fight. This allows for a whole new audience to experience feminism in a way they may never have imagined. The power in the imagery of a solo strong black woman, dressed exactly how she pleases ( in a black, crocheted, see-through, mini-dress), holding machine guns, paired with lyrics that call out a number of wack traits- from men that think they can have sex with a woman just because they’ve got a little money (…”Even if that nigga flew me and all my bitches to Dubai…”) to men that lack culture (“Art on the wall, Basqui, fuck who see…”)- Ok, the last one is a stretch, but the point still stands.  Miley Cyrus can’t call out men  in the same fashion with the same respect, Lady Gaga can’t either; not even Macklemore- the-Great can do that. Please, note the sarcasm.

Of course there are many issues with “Lookin Ass Nigga,” from the normalization of guns, to the perpetual use of the N word (which is an issue within all of rap culture), but this piece is specifically to play a devil’s advocate of sorts. Feminism isn’t always wrapped in a cutesy little bow, and it’s important that we recognize when this is the case. 

F This: The Regressive Perception Of Modern Feminism

Feminist dirty word, via SoulsandSandwhiches wordpress

Feminism has adopted a negative connotation almost as obscene as four letter words your teacher wouldn’t let you say in middle school. Only instead of a class room, the term feminism is often silenced in our media, even by progressives that advocate for gender equity.  What’s so powerful about Americans’ perception of feminism today is that many people who dislike the term don’t even really know what it stands for.

On a recent episode of Barnard College‘s rightfully titled “Dare to Use the F Word,”  Barnard president and recent author of Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection,” Debora Spar,  shared her thoughts on what she believes to be the shift in young feminist perspectives in 2014. When prompted on whether Spar felt young women want to be feminist, she responded;

 It’s a complicated question, without an easy answer.  Because young women, of course, don’t speak with a single voice or share a common attitude.  Some are quick to embrace the term feminist.  Others despise it. And many – sadly, for the mothers and grandmothers who opened doors for them – no longer really have a sense of what the word implies.

In a poignant piece by Sam Killerman,  the progressive mind behind “It’s Pronounced Metrosexual” broke down some of the main reasons feminism is viewed so negatively today, including the fact that,  yes, there are men-hating feminist out there that give feminist a bad name. Case in point- I will reluctantly list a few quotes made popular by self-identified feminists:

  • “To call a man an animal is to flatter him; he’s a machine, a walking dildo.”  -– Valerie Solanas
  • “The more famous and powerful I get the more power I have to hurt men.” — Sharon Stone
  • “All men are rapists and that’s all they are” — Marilyn French
  • “I feel that ‘man-hating’ is an honourable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them.”  – Robin Morgan, Ms. Magazine Editor

Ok, you get it. Some feminist hate men. Some women in general hate men, and vice versa. But these women in no way represent the majority of feminists in modern day. I definitely do not support male-hate. Though it must be recognized that feminist-driven male-hate is a disgusting symptom of hundreds of years of patriarchal oppression. The same way society has adopted the “angry black man/woman” stereotype, stemming from black liberation after hundreds of years of slavery and equally dehumanizing Jim Crow laws, feminism has taken on an unsettling ‘mad woman’ stereotype . When regarding revolution from oppression, anger seems to come with the territory.   Liberation isn’t always peaceful; sometimes you have fight.

Unfortunately, this bad rap on feminism has taken a toll on on the the fight for gender equality. Jezebel wrote an article not too long ago, highlighting the many strong women in our media, and while definitely expressing empowerment for women, steer clear of the dirty “f word.”

Bjork said identifying as feminist would “isolate” her, claiming her mother was a feminist and isolated herself from men, and “therefore society” as well. Lady Gaga denied the label, stating she ” loves and celebrates men and American male culture,”- again equating feminism ( a position of equity regardless of gender) to hating men.

In spite of their strong female personas in the media, Sandra Day O’Connor, to Kelly Clarkson and many more progressive-leaning celebrities, all avoided the term “feminist,” recognizing it as too harsh a label to identify with. I find these women to be a very accurate representation of the young women and progressive young men they influence on a daily basis.

The term feminist has been through a lot, and it’s got the scars to show for it. In American history alone, feminism has led to the right for women to vote, a movement for better respected in the work place ( mainly a reserved right for white women a the time),  sexual liberation and better sex protection, and in much more recent history,  inclusion of women of color and the queer community in advocating for social education and equality for all.

Even with all the things feminism has done, we still need it today. Body shaming, , in our internet-driven culture is still damaging mentally and physically mainly among young women and girls,and people are still adamantly asking women if they really can have it all, a question never asked of men. The trans* community is still arguably the most discriminated group in the U.S., with the young, transgender homeless epidemic, transgender discrimination in the work place and transgender suicide rates rising due to discrimination. And those are only some of the thing. Feminism is in no way obsolete. Right now, there are a few great feminist fighting the good fight, but as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie expressed in her TED talk, later featured in Beyonce’s “flawless,” feminism isn’t an elitist stance; it’s a stance for all.

So how do we even begin to make feminism seem less harsh for everyone?

In a 2011 Pew poll, “progressive” was deemed the most positively viewed  political stance. According to ThinkProgress, progressives believe in promoting equality and freedom against discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious faith or non-faith, or disability. They believe that every person has a responsibility to contribute to the common good for all human beings, and that we all must cooperate to achieve a greater good. Modern progressives, whether they realize or not, are fighting for the same rights feminists have been for hundreds of years. Regrettably, the majority of Americans, though overwhelmingly progressive, disregard the many similarities of their beliefs to feminism, and in turn, leave the few, strong but tired feminist to continue the fight on their own. Instead of looking like a few passionate advocates, it’s time feminism looked more like progressivism, in that anyone can identify with the term without feeling “isolated,” or exclusionary. It’s time we recognize that feminism simply strives for gender-based justice the same way progressive strives for justice overall, and you cannot think progressively without also being a feminist.

According to Killerman, “the goal of feminism is to create a society in which individuals’ genders don’t restrict them from an equitable shot at success and happiness.” If you believe this, you are a feminist. So, let’s take it from there.

Everybody’s Genius: Genius as a Separate Entity

 “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein

Einstein via Tumblr

According to the Webster dictionary, a genius is…

: a very smart or talented person : a person who has a level of talent or intelligence that is very rare or remarkable

: a person who is very good at doing something

: great natural ability : remarkable talent or intelligence

So in other words, a genius is just about any significantly intelligent human. Talk about vague. Keep in mind that the term “intelligence,” used twice in Webster’s definition,  is debatable  in it’s complexity, as well.

Kanye West infamously called himself a creative genius on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” But not without a huge backlash from critics and viewers everywhere, offended by his “arrogance.”

Why do we dislike when creative minds like Kanye call themselves geniuses? If Kanye believes that he is remarkably talented at what he does, isn’t he by definition a “genius,” and therefore simply describing a fact about himself by using the word? Or is it that a term like genius is to be reserved as a compliment only? Since the definition of “genius” is so vague, has it become a term society uses to recognize individuals whose accomplishments rise above their peers? It is possible that the only difference between a highly intelligent person and a genius is an individuals desire to share their knowledge with the world? If that is the case, it’s possible that some level of community recognition is necessary for any person to be allowed to be called genius.

In other words,  if a tree falls in the forest when no one is around, does it make a sound? Is the late scientist, Heinrich Friedrich Weber, Einstein’s academic adviser (who was arguably one of Einsteins great influences) as much of a genius as Einstein, though very few people are aware he ever existed? We as human beings often answer yes to this question, incapable of recognizing our absence is an equation that in no way involves us. We cannot separate our consciousness from our perception. And therefore, there will always (always) be bias.

So to have a word in the English language so reliant on our perception of the world, as a collective and as individuals, is to ignore the complexity of human beings. If our consciousness as human beings is synthetic and simply based on perception, wouldn’t that make a term like “genius” utterly undefinable and therefore a fundamentally flawed term in the English language? And so when it comes to words like “genius,” we are definitely incapable of agreeing completely on who is a genius and who is not.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the wildly successful ” Eat, Pray, Love,” gave a TED talk in which she argued that we should do away the term “genius” all together, in terms of using the word to describe an individual. Gilbert expressed the ongoing understanding in society, often universally, that creative minds are expected to struggle. The pressure of artistry that led Vincent Can Gogh to cut his own ear off is the same pressure that creatives of all genres face, on some level or another. The pressure to make art so great that the world recognizes it’s greatness. But is not all art from the heart of it’s creator worthy of being deemed relevant in our culture? Is not all art, as individual work as well as in relation to other creative work, what builds culture in the first place? What makes us so beautifully human is that we’re able to create art. To single out one individual as a genius because we greatly enjoyed some or all of their work is to miss the point of human creativity. Many writers, singers, musicians ect. will tell you that some of their best work just “came to them.” Gilbert mentioned this idea of working like a mule at the creative work until magically “struck” by genius. As if genius is separate from the person. It seems that human intelligence and creativity is different from genius. When there is high human intelligence, there is a mule at work, when there is human creativity there is a desire to share the artistically intelligent idea with the world, and at the rare change that there is genius in the work, there is an overpowering desire by those experiencing the work to share it with others.

Genius is the community’s response to works that go above and beyond. That is why no one cared for Kanye calling himself a genius. Genius is not an individual, and it’s not about ego. “Genius” is in itself it’s own entity.  To reserve genius for the work and not the creator is to understand that any human with the ambition, creativity and intelligence necessary, is capable of creating genius work.  I am definitely on team Gilbert to redefine our concept of genius and I hope that one day we can appreciate great creativity not by idolizing it’s maker, but sharing it’s brilliance.

What do you think it means to be a genius, mainly a creative genius? Am I missing the point? Overthinking it? Let me know your thoughts below. Please join the discussion!