The Curious Case of Nicki Minaj
By Caryn Ganz
The rhymes brought attention, then rumors, then a denial in the July issue of Black Men magazine that reads remarkably like Bill Clinton's infamous 'I did not have sexual relations with that woman' statement: 'I don't date women and I don't have sex with women.' Nicki Lewinsky laughs at the resemblance and adds almost tauntingly, 'But I don't date men either.' Her bottom line: No labels. 'People who like me -- they'll listen to my music, and they'll know who I am. I just don't like that people want you to say what you are, who you are. I just am. I do what the fuck I want to do.' She likes to beckon ladies to the stage at her shows, brandishing a marker for sweaty boob-signing sessions, but 95% of her racy lyrics are about encounters with men. Adding that she'll grab her best friend's breasts for fun far from paparazzi cameras, she says, 'The point is, everyone is not black and white. There are so many shades in the middle, and you've got to let people feel comfortable with saying what they want to say when they want to say it. I don't want to feel like I've got the gun pointed at my head and you're about to pull the trigger if I don't say what you want to hear. I just want to be me and do me.'
Minaj definitely has a lot to say about the politics of being a woman in the 21st-century music biz. 'Everybody knows I can go out and pick a dude and date him,' she says. 'But I want to do what people think I can't do, which is have the number 1 album in the country and be the first female rapper to sell records like dudes in this day and age.' After taking some heat for identifying with one of the best-selling, and most disproportioned, toys in history'she ends phone calls with a screeched 'It's Barbie, bitch!' -- she was accused of being plastic. 'It's interesting that people have more negative things to say about me saying 'I'm Barbie' than me saying 'I'm a bad bitch,' ' she says, getting a bit heated. 'So you can call yourself a female dog because that's cool in our community. But if you call yourself a Barbie, that's fake.' The criticism didn't just irk her; it inspired her. 'Once I figure something is irritating people, I'm going to do it more,' she says, smiling, 'because I like to get on your nerves until you realize how fucking stupid you are.'
If girls are attracted to Minaj's unapologetic feminism and appreciation for the female body (not to mention her own 'berhot photo shoots), gay guys can't get enough of her over-the-top wardrobe, neck-snapping put-downs, and theatrical play-acting. Hip-hop has always had a flair for the dramatic, from Flavor Flav's oversize clock to the comedic skits tucked between tracks on Wu-Tang Clan and Snoop Dogg albums. But Minaj has taken the art to the next level with her drag-queen-like outfits (she's rocked Wonder Woman spandex and Freddy Krueger nails), wild-eyed rapping, and split personalities. 'Roman is so flamboyant, so outspoken, so open, and, you know, creative,' she says of her inner gay boy Zolanski, which she pronounces 'Zo-lan-sky' with a touch of an East End accent. The name is, of course, a play on director Roman Polanski, but she can't explain why she opted to identify with a white man known for being a deviant. Screwing with sexual conventions has become a Minaj trademark, though: In her guest spot on Mariah Carey's 'Up Out My Face' she calls out a cheating boyfriend who wasn't just two-timing her with another girl -- he was 'sneakin' with the deacon.'
As for her increasingly elaborate looks, Minaj insists, 'No one would even have had the balls before to suggest things like my hair.' She appears in Ludacris's 'My Chick Bad' video with a pin stuck in her pink do, jet-black lipstick, and spikes on her shoulders. She sports a half-pink, half-blonde wig in the clip for Young Money's 'Roger That' because her stylist 'hadn't dyed one half of the wig yet, and I really wanted to wear it.' Though she didn't realize it, these bold choices paired with her frank sex talk were making Minaj an underground gay heroine. She first learned of her gay male following when she spied fans' spot-on renditions of her verses on the Web. She was blown away by the replications of her voices and mannerisms. 'If a gay guy impersonates you, you are a bad bitch. Period,' she says, waving her bright-orange nails in the air. 'There are no ifs, ands, or buts, because they only impersonate the best.'
Hip-hop, however, has never been a hospitable place for gays, especially gay men. Female rappers including Lady Sovereign and Yo! Majesty's Shunda K have revealed they're queer to little fanfare, but the biggest names in the game wouldn't dare broach the subject. 'I think there have been many gay rappers, they just haven't come out of the closet,' Minaj says slyly. 'Yup, lots of them. They're lurking around the industry now.' While she believes we'll see a blockbuster gay rapper fess up soon, Minaj acknowledges it won't be an easy road. 'Obviously, the majority of the men in hip-hop don't want you to think they're gay. That's just the reality of it,' Minaj says. 'I'm a woman, so I have a lot more flexibility. And I don't lose credibility in any way if I say I think girls are dope and sexy.'
Saying girls are sexy and actually having sex with them are very different things, though, putting Minaj at risk of being labeled a 'fauxmosexual' -- someone who uses gay titillation to score pop culture points, like girl-kissing Katy Perry or muffin-bluffing Lady Gaga. While it's clear Minaj enjoys the attention she gets from both men and women for flirting with ladies -- she licked her lips suggestively and batted her eyelashes when a female fan announced she wanted to kiss her on a recent Ustream webcast -- because she's a hip-hop artist, she's gambling with her career, and the stakes are high.