Hip-hop has been a vehicle for free speech since its emergence to mainstream media in 1979. The genre became political in the late 80s when rappers and MCs (master of ceremonies) began to voice their opinions and experience in America in their lyrics.
From hip-hop groups such as Public Enemy to N.W.A., rap has been used as a tool to express opinion, talk politics and stroke egos. Hip-hop feeds off the First Amendment and is ultimately protected by it. Then there are the ones who take it a step further.
Rapper Nicki Minaj debuted her first single “Yikes” Friday since the release of her fourth studio album “Queen” (2018). In the song, Minaj says a line that seems to have social media in a frenzy. “All you b—-es Rosa Parks, uh-oh, get your a– up, uh.”
Music listeners on social media have explained their issues with Minaj’s Rosa Parks lyrics saying they were disrespectful and distasteful given the song was released during Black History Month and soon after Parks’ birthday.
This is not Minaj’s first time in the hot seat for her comments on historical figures.
Back in 2014, Minaj was called out for her usage of Malcolm X as cover art for a song with the use of the N-word that drew criticism from Malcolm X’s family.
“Ms. Minaj’s artwork for her single does not depict the truth of Malcolm X’s legacy,” Malcolm X’s daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz said in a statement to the Associated Press.
An attorney for the estate and family threatened legal action if the photo was not removed.
“This is a family photo that was taken out of context in a totally inaccurate and tasteless way,” said Mark Roesler, CEO of the business representative for the Malcolm X estate to Rolling Stone.
“For his image to be misused this way, it’s despicable,” Jacob Morris, head of the Harlem Historical Society, told the New York Daily News. “It’s disgraceful to attach the n-word to him — flat out.”
After the backlash from Malcolm X’s family, Minaj proceeded to make reference to the incident in her 2014 single “Chiraq” stating, “Malcolm X daughter, came at me.”
Nicki Minaj has also made references to the late “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin.
In 2014, Franklin sat down with Senior Editor Christopher John Farley of the Wall Street Journal and when asked about this decade’s women in music the singer did not have much to say about Minaj responding, “I’m going to pass on that one.”
In 2017, Minaj passed Franklin for most Billboard Hot 100 Hits of any female artist and later delivered the iconic line, “Papoose wrote an Ether record but I broke Aretha record,” both accusing rapper Remy Ma of using a ghostwriter and addressing her ego-boosting accolade.
Minaj did not stop there. A year later, on her latest album “Queen,” Minaj name drops the Queen of Soul again saying, “Miss Aretha, I think I just passed her (passed her)” following Franklin’s death.
Hip-hop and rap have never conformed to society. I would go as far as to say the foundation of hip-hop is built off rebellion and free speech. Nicki Minaj is the embodiment of no filter and her aggressive cadence is why people listen to her music — at least why I listen. Especially, for a female in a male-dominated genre, Minaj felt like she had to come harder than anyone else in hip-hop and music in general. But, the question that arises is, what is off-limits and what is considered to be free speech?
I believe Nicki Minaj uses the art of metaphors, similes and hyperboles to transcend the imagination and reality of her music which she has done through her multiple personas and character development. I do not believe Minaj meant any malice or disrespect by her lyrics but for the sake of the craft, she is willing to cross those lines of formality and uncomfortableness. Whether she mentions the malpractice of Michael Jackson’s doctor (Flawless Remix) or how President Donald Trump is going to deport her because of her Carribean heritage (Black Barbies), the rapper has not taken her foot off the neck of the music industry. So why should she let up now?
junior journalism major