Nicki Minaj Crashes Hip-Hop’s Boys Club

From The New York Times:

The hip-hop movement that coalesced in the Bronx during the 1970s has spread around the globe, colonizing not just music, but also art, sports, fashion and every other aspect of popular culture. This black American idiom has seeded so many variants — in Europe, Australia, Africa, Asia and the Middle East — that some historians of music no longer speak of a single hip-hop culture, but point to plural schools of hip-hop that have distinctive flavors.

Hip-hoppers abroad may be working the underground, producing trenchant political commentary or wielding verse in an actual revolution. But rap in the United States has been thoroughly commoditized and brought to heel by its corporate masters. Gone from most playlists are the high concept rappers in the mold of, say, Mos Def, who once had wide exposure speaking to issues of the moment.

With some interesting exceptions, the medium is recycling well-worn ideas, as though the practitioners have reached a kind of creative limit. The rap video, which has long teetered on the pornographic, remains an homage to conspicuous consumption, with rap celebrities like Rick Ross singing of self-aggrandizement, piles of money and insanely expensive cars — just as any number of artists did in the 1990s. The idiom has also remained overwhelmingly and unrelentingly male, with women mainly cast as part of the scenery.

In capitalism, everything that rises must converge, to quote Flannery O’Connor. Given that rap and pop are corporate products, it is only logical that they would coalesce. Mainstream pop stars are increasingly seeking street cred by featuring rappers on their records. Money talks, of course. And rappers known for hard-core lyrics clean up very nicely when they sign on for cameo appearances with fresh-scrubbed pop stars like Justin Bieber.

It was only a matter of time before a hip-hop star would blow through the lines separating pop from rap and appeal to two lucrative audiences at once. And it was as inevitable that hip-hop purists would swiftly cry foul. It is particularly upsetting to the hip-hop boys club that the most successful transgressor, a freshly minted megastar named Nicki Minaj, is a woman.

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