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.