Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How Do We Make Sense of "Little Freak"?

If you've had your radio tuned to a hip hop station recently I'm sure you've heard Usher's new single "Little Freak" featuring Nicki Minaj.  Minaj, who is openly bisexual, rhymes on the track about "keep[ing] a couple of hos" and seducing a women and bringing her back to  "meet" Usher.
Excuse me lil mama
But you could say I'm on duty
I'm lookin for a cutie
A real big ol' ghetto booty
I really like your kitty cat
and if you let me touch her
I know you're not a bluffer
I'll take you to go see usher
I keep a couple hos
like santa I keep a vixon
Got that dasher, dancer, prancer,
dixon, comet, cupid, donner, blitzen.
I'm hotter than 100 degrees
A lot of bread no sesame seeds
If i'm in yo city
I'm signin them Tig-O-bitties
I'm plotting on how I can take Cassie away from Diddy
The girls want a Minaj yeah they wetter than the rainin
Usher buzz me in
Everybody loves Raymond 

Full disclosure: I really like this song.  Yet, I find myself as a queer women of color and hip hop head trying to make sense of this song and the gender and sexuality performances at play in the song.  

Usher's lyrics tell ladies that if they're "really fucking" with him they better be "little freaks" down to be with other women and have threesomes.  Nothing new there, pretty much par for the course in contemporary hip hop and r&b.  Nicki Minaj's lyrics, however, both play into and complicate the common trope of women engaging in sexual activities with each other for the benefit of a male partner or spectator.  When placed into conversation with Ushers lyrics it would seem like her actions are for his pleasure, but based on Nicki Minaj's lyrics and her rendering of the scenario on its own it's clear that everything she's talking about is for her benefit and enjoyment [and maybe her partner's].  If its more complicated than the easy dismissal of queer female intimacy for male pleasure, the question then becomes, how do we make sense of a female artist enjoying her sexuality and talking about having the "hos" on lock?

Some critics, and feminists cut of a certain cloth, will say that Minaj is trying to gain power and privilege in a male dominated space  (hip hop, and the music industry in general) by acting like a "female chauvinist pig." It's seductive theory, but I've always found that argument to be too facile, slightly racist, and very heterosexist.  That being said, is it useful to think of Minaj as part of a long line of queer women playing with and eroticizing power relations?  I want to say yes but I also want to  acknowledge there there are some problematic things going on as well.   

I'm also interested in how Nicki Minaj's high-femme aesthetics allow her to perform queer female sexuality within hip hop.  While Minaj has definitely provoked a number of homophobic inquiries and comments, for the most part she remains commercially viable and successful.  My hunch is that if Minaj was an AG dyke from the Bronx "Little Freak" might be far more controversial (that is if it even made it to the recording booth in the first place).  How is Minaj putting the prescribed narrow confines of female sexuality within hip hop to work for her?

All that is to say that clearly I have no idea how to make sense of "Little Freak," nor am I sure that we should even be trying to make it "make sense."  But I'd love to know what other folks have to say about the song, Nicki Minaj, and female sexuality and gender performances in hip hop.


N said...

I live in and went to high school in 95+% African American schools down south. My gut feeling is that she is playing the Freak role, just as the song says.

A big old butch dyke is HORRIFYING, a femme bisexual chick is a FREAK, a trisexual "she'll try anything". And down here there is a lot of display of ultrafemme "bi-sexuality" which seems to me more like display of pansexual promiscuity (I'll do straight men, straight women, bi men, bi women and hey, even gay men and women. Maybe a dog and some toys too.)designed to attract male attention.

Its not to proudly proclaim "I like women and I'm proud and I hope women like me." but "hey guys, Im REALLY fun".

Do I think that is her intention? No clue. Do I think that the people who thought her inclusion was a good idea are trying to cater to bisexual/lesbian women? No.

I don't know enough lesbians or biwomen to even speculate how her performance may or may not appeal to them,so I'm lost there.

The majority of straight African American women down here would find her loathesome and this IMO would not at ALL bring in more female fans.

Last night I was cleaning the kitchen and saw a cucumber and had the totally random thought- men see a woman and a cuke and get freaky ideas. But how many of them really appreciate the woman as a partner and someone they can share good times with and how many just think "shes a freak I can do anything to"? And I thought- A mans worth is measured by how many women he fucks, a woman's by how man men she doesn't fuck.

So I will say that I think if Nicki is bisexual and proud, like many women she may enjoy a little boasting about her prowess and the caliber of partner she can pull. And that the guys, because Im assuming they are guys, who wanted her to participate, are aware that freakiness is a draw to male audiences and using her to do that. To wrest a little power back, she has to frame her promiscuity in male terms not female terms. She's doing so in a way that does reinforce the idea of male as aggressor and collector of hoes because to NOT do so makes her the town bicycle, a used up nasty woman who has no morals or decency.

She's saying to the boys- yes Im fun and freaky and I want you to know AND to appreciate and enjoy it, but I control it and Im not being used.I'm one of you and my value too is measured by how many women I fuck, not by how many I DON'T.

Speculation, of course, but thats what Im feeling at this moment.

Marisol LeBron said...

I think you're right, she is playing the freak to an extent in this (although I feel like the missing third woman in the scenario is painted more as the freak, I don't know why but I do). The thing is I'm not sure Nicki Minaj's sexual performances are just trying to attract male attention. She takes on this stud persona that makes me think that her performance is about attracting women as much as it is about attracting men, if not more so.

I guess what I find interesting is that in interviews she talks more about being with women then men. So while men see her and see a freak, she isn't completely engaging with them on those terms. It's all very messy, but I'm reluctant to see her as just trying to attract the attention of men, although that may be how he is marketed.

I can see her being very polarizing among both queer and straight women, but ultimately I'm interested in hearing the discourse about gender, sexuality, race, and erotics that she is bound to provoke.

Anonymous said...


I found your website off a link from Racialicious, and realized that you went to Oberlin too! (I'm a Junior this year). Did you used to work at the MRC? Your profile pic looks kinda familiar. Anyway, just saying hi and keep up the good work :)


KB said...

I agree that she is trying to engage women more than men. I personally see her verse on the song as a confession of the type of women she likes and how she would approach them (trying to take Cassie away from Diddy!?!). Even in the line where she mentions Usher ("I know you're not a bluffer, I'll take you to go see Usher...") seems like she is taking this woman to see him as a fan and not to engage in a threesome a Usher suggests. She seems to be sending a different message than Usher on his own song while Usher's role, as well as the male perspective seem to fall back and are not as strong. (This may be because I'm queer and looking for certain clues, but nevertheless)

Also, seeing her in interviews talking about signing women's breasts on tour, not being into dating men, and not being used to wearing tight clothes and "dressing up" only adds to the theory that a threesome isn't really the idea here.

This is not to negate the fact that men may take it as a simple threesome song and hope their next "girl gotta girlfriend", but I think Nicki brings it in a way that would make a guy think twice before he tried to come in between her and her woman. Now if she was an AG stud, it would definitely be a completely different story/discussion...and definitely A LOT less acceptance.

Have you heard her song "girlfriend"? interested in your thoughts on that one...

Marisol LeBron said...

@Miga: Yep I went to Oberlin and worked at the MRC as Latina/o Community Coordinator. Thanks for the support!

@KB: I haven't heard her song "girlfriend" but I'll check it out. I think your right Nicki Minaj's lyrics don't necessarily reinforce Usher's. There's a lot going on in this song -- lots of layers and interpretations.

Otherwise known as Gingivitis said...

Good blog. I think she's genuinely bisexual and interested in having women as partners without a male involved, but really, who wants to listen to a woman rap about gettin women if a guy isn't involved reaping some sort of benefits? That's lame as hell, but they're still gonna see it as some sort of ridiculous competition. 'Oh it's fun and cute if a feminine girl approaches a woman and they hit it off, but ZOMGZ Where's the magic stick!? Oh you ladies are gonna be SO BORED without the D!' So yeah in a sense she exploits her own bisexuality for the pleasure of men but eh. I forgot what else I was gonna say. N said it best.

n said...

Interesting that you see the 3rd party woman as more of a freak, I guess because of the language used "taking" a woman, for example, I read it them as being more passive and maybe even"led astray".

Again, just because she seems to be the one wielding the power so the subtext to me is that she is "turning out", as they say at least a few of these partners.Im not sure if I read it that way so much as reading it as being meant to read that way, if that makes sense.

Her lolita-like persona is disarming,imagine if Missy Elliot in Sock it To Me had used definite lesbian imagery. I can't see that working with a straight crowd.

I see her as being marketed, at least in this context, as a freak with whom men can imagine 3somes ,thats not to say there is no Trojan horse aspect. If she can find a way to speak her mind and desires to a hiphop loving audience and get airplay and make some $$$, she's found a strategy that works for her.

I live near the Ma Rainey house and its interesting to consider the ways women in those times navigated their world and how women are doing so today.

Mark said...

Hello Marisol,

Thanks for posting this article. I'm a Bi-Bloke and i find these kinds of conversations very interesting. I think she seems be doing a little bit of both in the sense that she is trying to appeal to gay/bi women and straight men which could be kinda tricky for her later down the road.

I can't see an openly Bi Geezer being accepted in Hip-Hop unless he had crazy, crazy, crazy skills. I was talking to a friend the other night and we were chatting about Angelina Jolie. She definitely has more freedom to be herself than a bi guy would have if he was in a similar situation.

I am sort of glad i grew up in England because its a little more open over there. I can't imagine a male artist like Bowie emerging from any kind of genre here. Sort of sad really.

Nicole said...

Thanks for posting this blog. I'll echo that same sentiments that there's so much going on in this one particular song to digest. I'll guess I'll try to include some of my own thoughts...

I like the song, particularly nicki minaj's verse, but I (also a queer latina, hip hop head) do recognize the various tropes at play that could hinder representation of woc & qwoc in the hip hop genre- and more specifically this song. I think that if this song was written as sole a nicki minaj song, versus a feature on an Usher song, I would feel much more comfortable about liking the song.

For me what stops me from liking the song in all its entirety is that I know Usher has explicitly stated in interviews that he feels "women love eachother" (i.e bisexual women, queer women, ect) because of not having enough good love from men. AGAIN here the notion that female queer sexuality such as Minaj's open bisexuality is rendered as a result of- in more explicit terms- lack of a "good dick"-- again power dynamics are at play when its a straight male (usher) attempting to fixate the queer woman in one narrative.

However, I do see Nicki's verse as speaking against these types of tropes. Particularly at her line "tryna take cassi away from diddy"-- snap snap. I think Nicki in her own ways tries to push against these restrictions on her sexuality and attempts to freely and openly express her sexuality as she see fits within her lyrics.

However it's hard to gauge how much of her actions/lyrics are her own, and not the pressure of her crew. Let's not forget that she is the only female a part of Young Money (all male dominated)-- and is actually one of the only female mc's, if not the only, in major rotation right now in mainstream hip hop. I think there is something to be said with her saying how uncomfortable/not used to she is of wearing "tight and revealing clothing"-- who's pressuring her to do this? Producers? Crew members? Executives of the Record Company? -My good friend of mine Menda Francois who graduate from Bryn Mawr College last year wrote a provocative thesis, looking at Nicki Minaj's performance of sexuality, as an imposed form of aggravated masculinity. I'll have to get her thoughts on this song...

I'll echo the same sentiments, I do believe Minaj' is an exceptional case to examine this issue of performed sexuality of female mc's because there has YET to be a non "femme" emcee to take the mic by as much popularity as Minaj has able to garner.

My last note.. I think there needs to be a conversation, as well surrounding the fear that many men of color in the r&B hip hop game have against bisexual women: just recently Omarion attacked Amber Rose as being a "bottom bitch" who lacks class because she "plays for both teams"-- once again reproducing the same stereotypes against bisexuals, particularly bisexual women...

Again thanks for posting this blog, it's something that I'll have to take consideration during my talk at Princeton University on Hip hop feminisms happening this Saturday.

Please Marisol keep doing the work you are doing, I can't say enough how necessary and important it is. Much Love and support!

--Nikki Lopez

Anonymous said...

Very interesting discussion indeed. My confusion is less deep. What on earth is she talking about with her reference to Santa? ..."She keeps a coupe hos, like santa keeps a vixen,...cupid donner blitzen?" What on earth?

Later "Everybody Loves Raymond?" Why is that line there? It seems interesting to speculate on what it all means for gender issues etc., but part of me wonders why should we? Very little of it makes much sense.

Nicole said...

I believe the reference to santa is a couple of puns.Hoes" referencing women in the quantity that santa has his reindeers (quite a few). Also hoes as in the noise santa makes.

"Everybody loves raymond" is a pun on the television show but also refers to Usher himself- his last name is Raymond.