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Nicki Minaj: Rap::Lady Gaga: Pop

June 11, 2010

Yes, my friends I used a totally nerdy technique to get my point across. But it’s a particularly useful tool for this post.

I love, love, LOVE Nicki Minaj.  My friends keep asking, “Who??”  And this isn’t surprising, since Ms. Minaj hasn’t actually come out with an album.  She’s the protégé of Li’l Wayne and following his lead has dropped a few “mixtapes” – albums that are free to the public who can find them online but aren’t distributed through a label.  You’ve probably heard her featured on a whole bunch of songs though.  Most notably, she’s worked with Usher on Li’l Freak, Ludacris on My Chick Bad, and Robin Thicke on Shakin it for Daddy.  And she was in the song Bedrock that instigated a debate as to whether or not she used “asbestos” in a rhyme.  She did.

Even though she hasn’t officially become a popular artist, her fans are no joke.  They’re everywhere and I’m one of them.  And I’ll tell you why.

First, homegirl is a bad lyricist (bad like Michael Jackson bad).  Her style is similar to Li’l Wayne – there are a ton of references to pop culture, world events, and creative linkages between ideas.  Not to mention metaphors that are a bit different than what you might expect.  One of my favorite lyrics ever of Wayne’s is “Cuz b*tch I’m the bomb, like tick tick,” from Got Money. When you think of a bomb you usually think of it going off, but Wayne is referencing the moment right before (in a space where the beat drops out of the song entirely, effectively mimicking the suspense) letting you know that he’s about to go off…you haven’t seen anything yet.  Nicki Minaj has a similar style.  For example, in her verse on My Chick Bad she says:

Now all these bitches wanna try and be my bestie/But I take a left and leave ’em hangin’ like a testi

Trash talk to ’em, then I put ’em in a Hefty!/Runnin’ down the court I’m dunkin’ on them – Lisa Leslie

It’s goin’ down…basement/Friday the 13th, guess who’s playin’ Jason


Minaj has said in interviews that she has a whole “female empowerment” thing going on because she watched her mother suffer through an abusive relationship with her father.  In this lyric, this comes out in two ways.  First, she makes a reference to a male sexual organ in a derogatory way, much like men put each other down by calling each other “pussies.”  Second, she makes a reference to a woman where you expect a man – the reference to dunking which of course is about basketball.  But instead of adding a male player she uses Lisa Leslie, a WNBA star.  Another thing I like about this lyric is her connections between ideas that seem like logical leaps.  The second couplet includes talking trash and then makes a reference to Hefty, which is funny because it’s a trash bag.  Finally, in the last couplet I have here, she does what I think is one of the best things about her rhymes – she drops the “and” from the lyric when she puts two ideas together, “going down” and “basement.”  She could have easily said: “It’s going down like a basement.”  But she didn’t, and this allows for quick references that work like the trash reference earlier.  They make the rhyme sort of like a joke, you have to get it, not just hear it.

Second, Minaj has a style like many male rappers in that she is her own PR person.  Just like Jay-Z has informed the world that he’s the greatest rapper alive, she constantly lets the listener know how good she really is.  But juxtaposed with that is an über-feminine style.  Her look in the Bedrock video was of a Barbie doll, complete with a Barbie necklace.  She wears very bright and feminine colors, accentuates her hourglass shape, and often gives the wide-eyed cute look in her photos (as below).  She’s moved the female rapper into a whole other level, allowing for both feminity and masculinity to come together for a powerful force that is evident in her lyrics as well as her tone.  She often switches from a high childlike pitch do a deep one in the same verse.

I think Nicki Minaj going to change the genre of rap in a good way.  Which is why the title of this post is that Nicki Minaj is to rap, as Lady Gaga is to pop.  Because Lady Gaga is also changing pop in big ways (see the video for Alejandro below).  And I’m pretty happy with where both are going.

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