Perhaps you stumbled across David’s Twitter rant last night about the representation – or lack thereof – of credible Hip-Hop sources in mainstream media. Right or wrong, it’s an issue that’s been an elephant in the room for years now. His argument was spurred by an article written by The New York Times‘ Jon Caramanica who dubbed Nicki Minaj the most influential female rapper of all time.
For what it’s worth, I’ve long been a fan of Jon’s career. He’s a brilliant writer. Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, on the other hand, is expected to sell well north of 200K in its rookie week and Nicki’s now two year run through Hip-Hop and pop music will continue for who knows how long. Great for her, superb for Stunna’s pockets. And, to Caramanica’s credit, Minaj is influential. It’s apparent in her Twitter followers, her album sales and the fact she’s invited to perform on music’s biggest stages even if they’re largely considered washes. She’s influential and I’d challenge anyone to say she isn’t. Nicki’s the only female rapper making any sort of mainstream noise and the clones who have emerged in recent years all tout her blueprint embedded in their career’s DNA to some degree. Nicki’s 2012 isn’t all that surprising and something I expected as far back as 2007 when she appeared on the occasional Come Up! DVD and then later creating several enjoyable tracks with hood favorites Gucci Mane and Yo Gotti.
Darling Nicki had everything a star would need in a female rapper. She could spit, contrary to what some of her current pop-drunken ballads prove. Also, never forget she is possibly the only artist alive not named T.I. (“Swagger Like Us”) to ever outshine Jay-Z and Kanye on the same song (“Monster”). She was more charismatic than the majority of her peers, male or female. And, as chauvinistic as it reads, she was and still is sexy. So, yes, with the birth of artists like Iggy Azalea, Brianna Perry and more, they can credit their gimmicks to the current success of Minaj in the same manner Minaj can credit the likes of Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, Missy Elliott and others before her.
But the question I’ve always had in regards to Nicki is this, can she be considered legendary because of what her image crafted her to be, or what her natural talent actually dictated?
Ironically, the name Lauryn Hill or the title The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill never once show face in Caramanica’s piece. Where Nicki is currently breaking molds and straddling the lines of rap and pop music like a modern day Houdini, L-Boogie did the same as well, albeit in different eras. She was never a true sex symbol, something blasphemous for an artist with breasts and reproductive organs. Her fusion of Hip-Hop, R&B and neo-soul both on 1996’s The Score with The Fugees and two years later with TMOLH laid forth a groundwork transcending gender roles (artists from Beyonce, to Jay-Z, to Kanye to Common have all sang her praises as one of the greatest talents ever).
Calling Nicki the most influential female MC ever, at least at this point, screams prisoner of the moment almost in the sense of how Scottie Pippen coined LeBron the greatest of all time prior to the 2011 Finals*. She’s obviously more club and crossover friendly, both of which are factors in providing influence. Yet, I have a hard time believing Nicki’s made anything on her first two albums even marginally comparing to a record like “Doo Wop,” or “To Zion,” or “Every Ghetto, Every City” or especially “Nothing Even Matters.” And, to keep it 100 while not questioning Nick’s intelligence, witnessing her speak with such cadence and conviction in the manner Lauryn did in 2000 just doesn’t seem in her character. Then there’s the acting world where Boogie made her presence felt (if nothing else, Sister Act 2) and where Minaj hopes to enter in the coming months.
We won’t know the true, holistic impact of Minaj’s career until years down the road. It sucks because while it requires a huge set of balls to label a person or item as the G.O.A.T. while still active, it’s also easier to say nothing released in the present will exceed anything from the past quality wise. And with that, we’re left one of the greatest double edged swords society has developed over the decades. Young Money’s lead Barbie, in the long run, could and will likely be revered for her wardrobe and personality, both of which are unique only to her (and maybe Gaga). Yet, when it revolves around her actual music product, whether it will stand the test of time as truly trailblazing material is her greatest challenge. Will either Pink Friday be remembered as generational defining? Will her accents and clothes carry more weight than her rhymes? Will she ever be considered the best artist in her own camp? Can you grow old with Nicki’s music?
Nicki Minaj is and will be influential. That’s not the question. It’s just a matter of what type of influential we’re talking about.
* – Part of me blames a small part of what happened last June on Scottie. Childish, I know.