Scrying Nicki Minaj, Stupid Hoe, and #Afrofutures

If a video drops in a forest of things that seem to matter a lot–like  fingers waving in presidential faces and self-deportation–does it make a sound?

Nicki Minaj dropped “Stupid Hoe” last week.

Maybe I’m too old to have my thumb on the relevant spaces in the interwebs, but it seems like the video barely caused a buzz.  Responses from Jezebel, Clutch, and Vibe were mainly negative, complaining about Minaj’s use of animalistic imagery, neon colors and her less than creative wordplay.  Black feminists offered mainly negative critique for obvious and perfectly legitimate reasons.  Minaj’s challenge to “stupid hoes” included a reference to “nappy-headed hoes” and images of a pale, plastic, Venus Hottentot Barbie.

Me?  Minaj hurts my head.  She perplexes me.  I think of her as Trickster, two-faced in her betrayal of global black feminist possibility and powerful in her contradictory elucidation of black woman’s power within the realms of celebrity and hip hop.  Reading her as Ellegua, that frightful guardian of the crossroads and the in-between and the everything-that-is-not-yet seems to fit an artist who switches alter egos as easily as she switches clothes.  Conjuring the ritual and physicality of possession seems to fit a celebrity who changes clothes as she changes personality, putting on her and taking off her tropes as each personality comes down.  The sometimes garish, sometimes delightful carnival of color, glitter and expression–even the repetitive dancehall/house music refrain–also fit a woman whose aesthetic choices continually find their footing in her Trinidadian roots.

In other words, I think of Nicki Minaj as diasporic black, as radical, and as speculative.

A week ago, I would have said she is also afrofuturistic. There is something otherworldly about her ability to pick up and put down masks and characters.  It’s more than just having a stage persona.  It’s something I see as rooted in a longer black experience of contending with mainstream politics and culture, both of which prefer black female presenting people fit neatly into particular boxes.  Those boxes come in different shapes and sizes.  Some are just bodies, but with bionic booties for your jiggling pleasure.  Others are all-knowing Mammies with wisdom for latently racist white girls.  Still others are cruel, pray-the-gay evangelicals with anger written in hard lines across their faces.

A black gyrl can’t walk out the house these days without falling into one of these boxes.  Hell, with Oscar season on top of us, we’ve seen all of these stereotypes appear in the media, one right after the other, at one point or another, just over the last few weeks.

But I’d argue we’ve never seen anything like Nicki Minaj–or at least nothing like Minaj and her alters.  What she represents, yes even in all of her problematics and misogyny, what she represents is a black gyrl who has chosen.  She knows she can’t walk out the house without falling into one of several boxes.  Which is fine by her because she has a walk-in closet full of handcrafted masks, carved, of course, in the raw material caking the bottom of our worst stereotypes (let’s not be wasteful, yall).  And she has decorated and bedazzled and glitter-taped them all and those masks are no longer theirs or yours but her own.  And she doesn’t walk out of the house; oh no.  She skips or saunters or “twerks and spins away” according to whichever personality she has decided to put on her head.

I think this is why, in an epic conversation on Twitter with (Kima) @sweat_btwn, (Summer) @fecundmellow, @zero317, @AfroFuturAffair, and (Treva Lindsey) @divafeminist (the conversation, Storified here in full by @sweat_btwn, read away), I suggested Minaj could be read as afrofuturistic.  The conversation that ensued was amazing and hinged on clarifying and articulating what afrofuturism is.

For some of us, to be afrofuturistic meant more than aesthetics or appearance.  It meant contributing to a specific political project part of whose purpose was, in Kima’s words:

“abt a politicized body with a specific gaze toward building multiple blk communities in the beyond–beyond the scope of patriarchy or capitalism or racism.”  

Octavia Butler was the patron of this powerful vision, key being her ability to articulate the potential of the beyond–and its dangers.  And the ability to imagine and move beyond this world, into other realms, was crucial.

For others, the aesthetics actually were of importance, as was the potential for Minaj to inspire a particular vision, and the right of readers/viewers/fans to use Minaj’s project as inspiration for their own afrofuturescapes.  As @AfroFuturistAffair noted:

“…it is political but it is also aesthetics and imagery. she may fit in that sense…”

The conversation lasted for hours, with people coming in and out.  And I hope it continues.

Because I think I’m on the fence now as to whether Minaj is afrofuturistic.  That afrofuturism must be beyond-this-world is valid as shit.  Whether that means into outer space or into the underworld, to be afrofuturistic means being self-aware about what the next day or days will hold–even if the next day or days will be the end of days.  To the extent that Minaj or her alters have a specific gaze toward the future is questionable.

But the underlying assumption behind this definition of afrofuturism is that time is linear and revelatory.  It speaks to a  conception of time that is Anglo-black in its ideal and Judeo-Islamic-Christian in its eloquence.  Time soon come.  Time will be here.  The time is now.

What if the underlying assumption behind this definition of afrofuturism was challenged?  What if, instead of black life and thought (and future) existing in time and on straight, if intersecting, lines–what if it curved?  Webbed?  What if you wore time on your person so that instead of the time is now, time IS now, and then, and later.  What if the moment you are living here is being written of as the moment that will happen and the moment you are just past?

I opened the Storify by saying I see Minaj and moments like these as an afrofuturista.  I do. But I’m also a radical womyn of color who sees the future through the lens of Afrolatinidad. Latinidad has less room for linear time in its conception of the future.  Infused with indigenous elements, the future is happening now and has happened already.  Speculative latinidad, in some ways, is about the inability of being able to call the future what it is, or send the past back.  So that something like “Long Time Ago” by Leslie Marmon Silko (poet and author of Laguna Pueblo, Mexican, white descent) can resonate as cautionary, prophetic and preemptive all at once:

It’s already turned loose.
It’s already coming.
It can’t be called back.

While speculative latinidad is often placed in the category of magical realism, I wonder if it is also futurist.  I wonder if it’s just that speculative/futurist latinidad imaginings are as much about the past as they are about the future.  And if that’s the case, and if afrofuturist imaginings are as much about the future as they are about the present, I wonder what Afrolatinidad looks like?

In other words, preoccupied with the slaveholding past and concerned about the racialized future, does an afrofuturist latinidad live at the crossroads between magical realist latinidad and the Afrofuture?*

Engaging with Minaj (and for my black-Puerto Rican, Chicago house music self, this also means engaging with the Caribbean characteristics in her work) forces me to consider ways afrofuturism can include magical realist latinidad and vice versa.  Earlier I said I was on the fence on whether Minaj is afrofuturistic.  Why?  Because she is still very much about, as Summer noted, a hyperhyperpresent, her caricatures being as much about mirroring our own stereotypes as they are about her self-representation.  Hottentot Venus Barbie aside, she also does not seem to be concerned with reevaluating the past-as-prophecy (unless in the Story of Female Emcees Past).  In other words, she is espousing neither a dream nor a nightmare of the future.

But what if she isn’t supposed to be the vision?

What if she is just the oracle?  The vessel?  A portent of things to come?

What if she is just the keeper of the crossroads?

She may be what lives at the crossroads between magical realist latinidad and the Afrofuture.  Well, mira, not her (praise Gawd).  But oracle work, scrying, divination.  All  making the act of and attempt to see the future just as important as the past-future seen.  The moment in the present before the past and future separate and becomes siblings as #relevant.

What if at the heart of an afrofuturist latinidad/futurist afrolatinidad is good, ole Second Sight?  And #Obatala?

*Which of course is a project to superimpose ON TOP of pushing latinidad itself to include its own black and African elements.

24 thoughts on “Scrying Nicki Minaj, Stupid Hoe, and #Afrofutures

  1. Dope post. Does it matter that this song a) a lil Kim diss b) directed by Hype Williams?

    I think the trickster reading of Nicki is exactly right and when along side those two factors gets into some really interesting territory. The whole hypermaterialistic aesthetic that hype pioneered in the late nineties didnt give female rappers a whole lot of space to maneuver outside the gaze. Some like Kim and foxy brown embraced and tried to use the sexual politics of that moment to their own career advantage. One of the real trickster pioneers to emerge in that moment, however was missy Elliot. In a lot of ways, she took the gendered space usually reserved for a busta, puff or biggie and in videos like “rain” “beep me 911” took on the sort of cartoonish over the top role that called into question the positionality of late 90s hip hop gender roles.

    If nicki is using lil Kim as “the stupid hoe” in question, I wonder if she is in fact making a specific critique about lil Kim’s agency during the shiny suit era? Nicki obviously grew up understanding the way male gaze shaped commercial success for female rappers, and the role hype played in using video vixens as backdrops for male fantasies. But she’s obviously absorbed the blk feminist critique of those roles and is conscious of her own agency; as far as she does perform for the gaze, it seems as if there is always as you said a hyper conscious nod to the history of the aesthetic. Rather than give a nod to Kim for being a predecessor or pathbreaker, she is making a specific critique about her own place in the historiography of women rappers that involves exposing the farce of the shiny suit era.

    The “I am the female wheezy” line, while hella problematic in its own right, seems to suggest that she doest want to beholden to the gendered lineage that seems obvious to the average hip hop listener.

  2. This is a wonderful piece! I am currently doing my research on Minaj and find this article to be right in tune with what I discuss! So refreshing.

  3. Thx Rob. As usual, push, push, pushing me.

    Does the director matter? Yes. Does the diss against Kim matter? Yes. I’m probably less interested in the “diss” part than I am in Hype and I’m not familiar enough with his catalogue to see the ways his influence cuts across what Minaj is normally doing with her alters (I actually mistakenly attributed the movie Idlewild to him, which is my bad). If a Hype-ologist wants to fill in some of the blanks there, please do.

    The “I am the female wheezy” line is the MOST INTERESTING PART OF THE SONG! The placement of the line, the visual at that moment (of just her face, statuesque and painted but also sort of raw and jaded) all of it is meant to be a kind of coda. Maybe a preview of what is coming next? And I agree with you that she doesn’t want to be beholden to the gendered lineage….but then I wonder what the hell is she beholden to? And is it her or her alter that’s the female Weezy and why? AND, whatever it adds up to, is it going to be something that I’m going to disapprove of as a black feminist/rwoc???

    (Sidenote: Disapproval is okay too. I don’t have to agree with everything/anything she does to find her interesting as hell.)

    re: Missy. YES and YES. I’m just gonna co-sign that.

  4. if minaj is a trickster, then she’s in that cage by choice. she could easily slip through the bars using her shape-shifting powers. this is the part of the video that i keep remembering–how the bars of the cage seem almost comical. a radical reappropriation of imprisonment, if you will–zoo exhibit, go-go cage, the bonds of racial oppression or gender subjugation. minaj seems to say that she’s slipping in between all those bars. fantastic post.

    • …and went from (imprisoned) animal to woman…so that she was never quite free…or she might always be caged as a body but never in her body? perhaps?

      …thinking of her as a shapeshifter also brings me right back to the Monster video where she is surrounded by shapeshifting black women (werewolves) as a dominatrix dominating herself….nothing is easy with her.

      loving it. #shapeshifter. thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts.

  5. Reblogged this on Aker: Futuristically Ancient and commented:
    I like the reference to the trickster to describe Nicki Minaj. Whereas, yes, there are things about Minaj that I don’t like, I can’t tell her not to be her or not exist, and she is a complicated individual like everyone else. Not everyone is completely subversive all the time or subversive in the same way. Resistance comes in many forms. Think of the enslaved who did dances for the master and the master thought they could not do the dances right, but actually they were insulting him. Or the black performers who became minstrels, like Bert Williams, who tried to re-appropriate an performance style that was originally designed to degrade an entire race . It is part of that “Double Consciousness” of having to communicate to different racial worlds.

    • “Think of the enslaved who did dances for the master and the master thought they could not do the dances right, but actually they were insulting him. Or the black performers who became minstrels, like Bert Williams, who tried to re-appropriate an performance style that was originally designed to degrade an entire race.”
      Holla! #YouGetMe

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and checking in!

  6. A Brilliant read! I, too love the trickster reference too. @Aker your references to Bert Williams and Dubois’ Double Conscious concept were right where my mind went also.

    Looks like Afro-Futurism, Smells like Afro-Futurism, but alas its filled with chemically processed ingredients and artificial flavorings. I suspect her interaction with Afro-Futurism is holding a record cover and saying “give me something that looks CraZy like that, but more f*&kable.”

    Q: “but then I wonder what the hell is she beholden to?” A: Cash & Attention

    This is an entertainer who uses art for imaging as opposed to authentic inspiration that results in brilliant artistic imagery. Captivating and seemingly self-determined but I don’t believe Minaj operates from any space other than what will work/shock/seem original, to/on her target audience. She’s an actor in a role she had the hustle to create for herself.

    • “She’s an actor in a role she had the hustle to create for herself.” Agreed. Can’t knock her hustle at all. But aren’t we all? Let’s discuss this issue of cashmoney some more because I’m definitely intrigued with how it influences art, artists and the choices we make (the masks we wear).

      “…alas its filled with chemically processed ingredients and artificial flavorings.”

      First of all, pitch perfect imagery. Word to that. And I can understand the sentiment; I’m just not sure I agree. :) Would love to hear you expand on that though. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for reading.

      • We’re all beholden to the financial system no matter how we feel about it. But we all have a choice about what we will and won’t do for money, where we draw our boundaries and have a scale in our minds on importance money or art/expression. If money/fame is the point the ends that justify the means are different than when art/expression is the point, and in that I’m not talking about not valuing yourself and abundance.

        Minaj’s goal is fame and fortune. She works hard for it, altered her body for it (, and will say the most provocative thing she (and her team) can think of (or think is) to say.

        She’s an actor with a marketing mind – Beyonce has the hot untouchable niche on lock, Rihanna is holding down the ghetto fab naughty girl next door thing, everybody else (by that I mean those seeking the sexpot spotlight ) is just trying to get a paid ballplayer to marry.

        What can I do? Nicki Minaj says to herself. Well I can rap instead of sing and be weird hot like the love child of Pamela Anderson & Grace Jones. She’s not the informed artistry of a Janelle Monet for the simple fact that you don’t need to be to accomplish her goal.

        Perhaps Lil’ Kim is the mother figure she rebels against and seeks to out-due.

        I personally don’t love her imagery. I think its banal and that she’s heading down a dead end road with it.

        All that said my friend directed the MTV doc on her My Time Now and she jumped right on in my heart personality wise – I’m just not buying what she’s sellin’.

  7. Girl you threw me for a loop with this chick with this post. I had not heard of or seen this video until the very end of your post, so watching in the context of afrofuturism FIRST…. bagh! Now I am like what did I just see??!!! I always held her as a live caricature in my mind- “I’m just drawn this way.” So the intent is hard to assign.
    Thanks for this!

    • *waves* hey there afrofuturista! Yeah, she throws me every time. I’m fascinated. I understand when people aren’t but I can’t help but be enthralled–and I want to know why. Questions, questions.

      Thanks for checking in and reading.

  8. Wow that’s a lot of verbage for someone like Nikki Minaj. It’s obvious she is trying to make dough. “we” “us” tend to come unhinged because “we” tend to hinge ourselves to one source. Nikki Minaj doed not represent “we”. Ms. Minaj represents the sickness of our world. Money taking priority over common sense.

  9. Pingback: How to not be a Hoe « creative commess

  10. Call me crazy… but I viewed this video and song very differently than most. I immediately perceived this as a feminist critique of the historical sexualization of the black body; (hence the cheetah in the cage), and the sexualization and treatment of black women in rap culture, as they are typically portrayed as scantily dressed sidekicks and repetitively referred to as “bitches and hoes.” I truly thought she was making a mockery of the stereotypes that have historically shaped puclic opinion. I thought when she sang the chorus she was singing it representing the dominant voice of “the oppressors.” I truly thought she was rejecting the misogyny, not reproducing it…. I think everyone has misinterpreted her approach. i think she comes from a sarcastic sort of “kiss my ass” perspective, that she is mocking the centuries-old ignorant stereotypes perpetuated by hypocritical dominant white male patriarchy, and I thought she was intellectually criticizing and rejecting these images of the black body and name calling…

    This is evidenced in her lyrics: ” Stupid hoes is my enemy
    stupid hoes is so wack
    Stupid hoe shoulda befriended me
    Then she coulda prolly came back!

    Notice also, the morphing of her face during the chorus, indicating the varied voice through whom these words are spoken. I think she is protesting having heard this all too often as she is far from being a stupid hoe…. and she points to this when she contradicts the stereotype of being a “stupid hoe” by confirming that yeah, she’s been treated as an object and a stupid hoe over and over but 2012 she’s in the Superbowl!!! I think everyone needs to take a second look at their interpretation of this. I’m surprised the black feminists didn’t view this as a black feminists critique, mockery, rejection and redefining of the sexualized, and animalized black body. I think she throws it right back at ’em, and is speaking out against the stupid hoe definition, and it rebelling and empowering black women, not reinforcing the stereotypes and misogyny. She’s embracing the history of abuse for black women, addressing it, throwing the history and her knowledge of it back in their face and basically telling them: “screw you” i’m not a stupid hoe… pointing out the stupidity and ignorance of the idiots who constructed these ideologies and stereotypes. The stupid hoe is her enemy because it denies her agency as an intelligent, black woman performer who has struggled to be taken seriously… Now she has earned her right to be taken seriously, and therefore can address these issues, reclaiming a voice and place for black women in rap culture other than that of a “stupid hoe” because NIkki Menaj is definitely NOT a stupid hoe…. IN fact… we need to give her a little more credit because I think we all miss the point when we immediately assume that she is reinforcing negative views of women…. I think she makes her point quite well… She’s a lot smarter than anyone is giving her credit for. It went over a lot of people’s heads…. But then again…. after the grammy’s a couple of weeks ago, everyone misinterpreted Billy Crystals comments as being “racist.” They didn’t get it that he was mocking Hollywood’s hypocrisy….. She raised the bar… regardless of the misinterpretations of this work… It is an intellectual and effective venting, mockery and rejection of the old images of the black body and negatively depicted images of black women… They’ll come around… At least that was my interpretation.

    Read more:

  11. Pingback: Three reasons I love Nicki Minaj to pieces | Ruminations

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  13. Ho is spelled incorrectly, there is no e as it is a contraction of the root word ‘whore’, and ‘ho’ is a phonetic spelling of that root word uttered by people who can’t pronounce their ‘r’s’, and say things like peppa (pepper),
    gangsta (gangster), solja (soldier). A ‘hoe’ is a garden tool.

  14. Pingback: Three reasons I love Nicki Minaj to pieces | My Website / Blog

  15. Pingback: ♪ ♫ ♪ Hip Hop & the South Appropriation ♪ ♫ ♪ | kaylonassignment3000

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