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After a year in which her rep as a legitimate rap artist has been dented by an album that split its time between dense rhymes and enormous, danceable beats, America has suddenly decided to take Nicki Minaj seriously. And all it took was her bigging up rich white dude Mitt Romney on a verse over G.O.O.D. Music’s “Mercy.”
“I’m a Republican, votin’ for Mitt Romney/ You lazy bitches is fuckin’ up the econ’my,” she raps near the end of the verse, which appears on Lil Wayne’s Dedication 4 mixtape. The Internet, whose geniuses often struggle with understanding rap lyrics, took her at her word: Google News has blown up with stories about the mention, with Twitter/Reddit/4chan distillery BuzzFeed among many outlets to publish a post to the effect of “Nicki Minaj is voting for Mitt Romney!” without engaging the context of the song.
That bloggers, reporters, and Twitter users would do this is unsurprising—engaging with the context of rap can be difficult!—but taking rappers at their literal word is almost always a no-no, especially when the lines take to the absurd.
The Romney bar is between “And all these bitches is my sons, yeah, c-section,” which is one of many literally impossible and figuratively creative “All you bitches is my sons” shots she’s taken in the last few years, and another one of many Nicki shots at “you lazy bitches,” which has come to be her shorthand for haters. To begin the verse, she gender-flips Big Sean’s clunking “Drop it to the floor, make that ass shake” to “Drop it to the floor, make that dick shake” and suggests “my homegirl slurp it like a milkshake”; two bars after the Romney “endorsement,” she’s “out in Miami,” “chillin’ wit’ a zombie.”
Those bars are likely not literally true, but that they are figuratively possible is the point.
It’s not news that rappers (like every songwriter, ever) are not always being fully literally truthful in their verses; it’s news worth bragging about in Nicki’s world that, as she raps, she “came from Trinidad on a temporary vis-ay” and now has the sort of money that can make listeners think she’d vote for Mitt Romney and it would make sense. She’s big on those sorts of “I made it, you didn’t” couplets: on the “All I Do Is Win” remix, she rapped “You can talk slick all the way down to the welfare/ Ask the IRS, bitch, I’m payin’ for your healthcare.” That’s part of why the bar, like “Black Republicans” and many other “I’m-rich-so-now-I’m-a-Republican” lines from rappers, works: if Nicki weren’t filthy rich, what earthly reason would a socially transgressive, somewhat gay-friendly, female minority immigrant have for voting for Romney?
It’s also not as if she’s the only person on the mixtape big-upping Romney: DJ Drama begins “Cashed Out,” Wayne’s take on the inescapable anthem “Cashin’ Out,” by saying “The last four years have been good to me,” then says “call me Mitt Dramney” at another point; he ends it by saying “Speaking of leaders, all bullshit aside? You niggas pushed to download this tape? You niggas get up, push that button for Obama in November! Don’t look back like, ‘Damn … that was the last tape I bumped when we had a black president.'” Drama sounds serious in that moment, even if he’s making a purely racial appeal instead of a political one, but there’s a tiny, tiny chance that his words will gain traction, because, compared to Nicki, he doesn’t matter.
The difference between not taking words on rap songs seriously and not taking rappers seriously is significant, because words matter universally, but not every figure in rap does. The former is necessary to a full understanding of rap; the latter is done at your own peril (especially when the Obama campaign has scooted close to Jay-Z time and again, with both men realizing the value of that alliance), but can explain Daddy Yankee supporting John McCain, and not just in verse, being a footnote in the political history of rap.
And the fact is that Nicki matters, which is why there more than a few concerned tweets about Nicki’s “Barbz” following her words uncritically and marching to the voting booth with their leader’s words. Nicki’s got an enormous fanbase: Twitter following is far from perfect for measuring its size, but she has more than 14.3 million Twitter followers, which is much than both label boss Wayne (8.4 million plus) and label mate Drake (8.8 million), and closer to Obama (19.2 million). So there’s a bit of fear implicit in the furor over these bars: Fuck holding a block, does Nicki have a bloc? Could she swing an election?
On the flip side, assuming that Nicki’s fanbase is, by and large, too stupid to realize that a) their hero is in a much different economic and social situation than they are and b) she’s probably kidding is patronizing bullshit with sexist and racist (because “Barbz” are fixed in the popular imagination as young, mostly black girls) overtones. The chances that Barbz will vote en masse for Romney in November are slim, and not just because they may be mostly younger than voting age and in the demographics most likely to be subject to voter suppression tactics: They may be Nicki’s demo, but they just aren’t Mitt’s.
Obama supporters shouldn’t be worried about Nicki appealing to her fans with a sarcastic line about her wealth and heartlessness unless they think those fans like the line more than Nicki; that seems possible, but beneath the Obama campaign’s big-tent approach. Romney supporters shouldn’t be worried that Mitt will cite Nicki’s bar as support, because there is a infinitesimally small chance he can do that without a gaffe; it would open the door for an easy win for the Obama campaign, which would just reach out Nicki to come talk at an event and officially support the president.
No, the person who should be most worried about this bar is a different President: Dwayne Carter. In one bar, not even her best, Nicki turned his much-awaited fourth tape in the Dedication series into the tape best known for her rapping about Mitt Romney. That’s power.