Penn Annenberg doctoral candidate Elena Maris discusses her work on the ways Nicki Minaj has queered hip hop, accompanied by a screening of her "queerest" videos.
Singer/rapper/actress Nicki Minaj (Onika Tanya Maraj) was the first woman with 4 simultaneous Top 10 hits on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts. She has also dominated pop culture outside of Hip Hop, with her debut studio album peaking at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Her popularity runs counter to many scholars’ assertions that, as a woman in Hip Hop, her opportunities are limited. Minaj’s music and career are especially ripe for examination considering how often she plays with gender and sexuality. Through analysis of her lyrics, performances, and public statements, I examine the ways Minaj engages with and performs gender and sexuality. I argue she has significantly queered the possibilities for gender and sexuality in Hip-Hop and pop culture. Minaj works to “queer” Hip-Hop through: 1) not being pinned down to gender/sexuality, 2) disrupting masculine-charged, heteronormative sexuality in Hip-Hop, 3) battling in traditionally masculine and feminine lyrical styles and winning, and 4) reclaiming the discursive space surrounding her (Black) body (from misogyny, racism, and feminism). I also explore how difficult it is to transgress the hypermasculine and heteronormative tropes of Hip-Hop culture and why, for Nicki Minaj, it seems to involve a queer pedagogy that must survive attacks from within the exclusionary and misogynistic male-dominated Hip-Hop community, the anti-Black and sexually conservative mainstream culture, and even the academic bastions of revolutionary feminism.