The Curious Case of Nicki Minaj
By Caryn Ganz
'I still don't think hip-hop has any place for gay people,' says New York City gay rapper Cazwell. Shunda K adds, 'There are a lot of people in the industry fakin' it to make it. When you're not keeping it real, you can be any damn thing people want you to be.' But Cazwell thinks Minaj could go to number 1 even if she had a sudden public revelation about her sexuality. 'If she was butch and dressed like a guy, people would be turned off, but people like a pretty girl no matter who she sleeps with,' he says. 'It may even turn them on more!'
There may be no out MCs selling platinum records at the moment, but as rap has aged, it has moved further from the homophobic battleground where pink F bombs once reigned supreme. Nowadays, comments that could be perceived as gay in hip-hop songs are appended with the somewhat lighthearted phrase 'no homo.' Minaj used to say it, too, but traded it in for the less prejudicial 'pause' after a gay male fan complained to her via Twitter.
''Pause' means 'no sexual connotation intended,'' she explains, inadvertently demonstrating the proper usage when at one point she responds to a question about planning her upcoming tour with 'I'm so freaking, like, anal about every single thing, pause. So it's going to be freaking crazy.'
Minaj's craziness is a big part of her appeal, but as she makes the leap from street records to the mainstream, she risks losing some of the sharp edges that have become her hallmarks. She's toned down her most pornographic lyrics ('I feel like I've been there, done that'), and her chart-topping single 'Your Love' is a gooey R&B ballad in which she sings, 'You got spark, you, you got spunk, you / You got something all the girls want.' Says Jayson Rodriguez, a hip-hop writer for MTV News, ' 'Your Love' is tame and muted, and she's anything but. Nicki Minaj is saucy, lyrical, animated, flirtatious, beautiful, smart -- but she doesn't have a signature song that matches up to that yet. It feels like she'll explode once she gets that massive song that people identify with her on a mainstream level, but sometimes I fear she can't capture her persona on record.'
But Minaj is already prepared to bring her gay fans with her to the next level. Musing about hitting the road with her mentor, Lil Wayne, once he's out of jail, she says, 'Normally, Wayne probably wouldn't have gay guys coming to see his shows much, but they're definitely a big part of my movement, and I hope they'd still come out and see me.' She reveals that Wayne loves discussing how much ladies love her, and that the crew jokes with him, 'Nicki's gonna steal all your girls on tour this year!' She laughs and flashes one of her mischievous smiles that make the boys -- and girls -- swoon. 'I think that will be really, really interesting, just to start bridging that gap. We'll see.'
To view a slide show of photos from our Nicki Minaj cover shoot, as well as an exclusive behind-the-scene video, click here.