Nicki Minaj, Summer Jam, Pop Fans, And What’s “Real”: A Few Thoughts


Last night on Hot 97, Nicki Minaj called in to Funkmaster Flex’s show to chat about the sliced brisket that led to her peacing out of Sunday’s Summer Jam. A brief recap: Hot 97 morning guy Peter Rosenberg called out “chicks waiting to sing [Minaj’s poppy single] ‘Starships’ later,” then called the song “bullshit,” then noted that he was more interested in “real hip-hop shit.” Lil Wayne, head of Minaj’s crew Young Money, then tweeted that he’d pulled his people out of the show—including Nicki, who was set to headline; angry Tweets flew and Flex said that the station “ain’t fuckin’ with commercial rappers no more”; and Nas and Lauryn Hill filled in. Fast-forward to last night, when Nicki and Flex spent about an hour on the phone; audio below.

The conversation is a bit garbled, in part because of Flex being better-amplified (and super interrupty, jeez, dude is an expert mansplainer*); both sides score their points, although I still don’t understand the cognitive dissonance between taking “pop rappers” to task and then turning around and taking their record sales to task. And it’s probably important to note that Flex pointed out that Young Money and Hot 97 have had their issues over the years, and that Rosenberg has come out as a non-fan of “Starships” before Sunday. But one quote from Minaj stuck out (transcription via Vulture):

“When you disrespect Nicki Minaj—and I don’t care if it was in front of 2,000 people, which can equate to 2 million people when it’s streaming live—you’re disrespecting my fans. See, I don’t have a problem with anyone saying what they have to say to me. But don’t make those 3 million people that downloaded ‘Starships’ or whatever they downloaded, don’t make them feel like they’re inferior in any way for their personal taste in music.”

On Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded Minaj straddles between styles; she’s clearly aware of how many fanbases she has to please, from the kids who sing along to the tweaked-for-general-audiences version of “Super Bass” to those who appreciate her undeniable rhyming skills. “Starships” is probably one of the album’s most blatant reaches for the “Super Bass” crowd; co-produced by RedOne, the mastermind behind Lady Gaga’s biggest hits and Jennifer Lopez’s “On The Floor,” it trades off between verses where Minaj twists her tongue over a sharply strummed guitar and a chorus that brings to mind Britney Spears’s “Till The World Ends”; there’s also a grinding post-chorus break that sounds like a Xerox machine about to spit out its final copies in a burst of shredded 8x11s. It is probably the complete opposite of, say, “Come On A Cone,” and it does that thing where it masquerades Minaj’s voice in a distressing way (see also: Minaj’s collaborator Madonna).

Nicki Minaj, “Starships”

So yeah, it’s a pop song, tailor-made for blasting out of cars driving down the street, even with the bit about being “higher than a motherfucker.” (Language!) What sticks with me is the way that Rosenberg called out the “chicks” who might like it; this reduction of a song’s fanbase to the type of genitalia its members might possess is, in the mind of this “chick,” pretty short-sighted, and also probably wrong. (The remark came before Kendrick Lamar’s set; I personally have met quite a few “chicks” who are fans of that particular artist, although whether or not they sneered to themselves and thought, “yeah, I’m not like those girls” is I guess up for debate. Misogyny: It’s not just for men!) Are female fans who appreciate a pop hook here and there automatically considered lesser fans of music that defines itself as “real”? I am probably going to sound like a hippie here, but this sharp drawing of lines around fanbases does nobody any good at all; like what you like and don’t like what you don’t, but assigning motivations (that are pretty moralistic!) to the way peoples’ pleasure centers react to things is one of my least favorite aspects of music culture right now, some sort of OKCupid/Facebook I-like-this-thing matrix turned into a strangulation-torture device that only serves to inflame comment sections and, as you know if you clicked “play” on the above audio, make people yell at each other on the radio for an hour. (And what of the dudes who like “Starships”? Are they forced to relegate their real pleasure to the festering bin of “guilty pleasures”?)

More importantly, will this binary view of who can and can’t like certain types of music ever be solved? That’s why this post is full of questions—I really don’t know, although the comments on pieces like my Beyoncé review suggest otherwise. Maybe I need to write a piece called “How Not To Talk About Female Music Fans” next.

* I feel like I should also note that Flex’s site has a frequent feature called “Fellas Check The Pic” in which appealing-looking women are shown doing “what they do best,” i.e., posing for the camera in various stages of undress. I wonder how many of these women like “Starships”? I wonder if it even matters?