Dear Nicki Minaj:
I’m supposed to be mad at you. Because of the whole Barbie thing. I don’t know if you know this, but Ruth Handler created Barbie for Mattel about 50 years ago. She was based on Lily, a blond European comic strip character with, shall we say, loose morals. As a doll, Barbie prostituted herself for the multiple outfits, shoes, cars, houses and other accessories that parents would buy for their daughters.
A woman who compares herself to Barbie is a woman who desires to be purchased. A black woman who compares herself to Barbie is celebrating white standards of beauty in order to be bought. It’s objectifying, it supports patriarchy, it’s reminiscent of slavery, it’s problematic, and it’s working for you, ma.
Maybe it’s because no one can make the rumors about you hooking up with Weezy and Drake to get signed actually stick. Maybe it’s because your glam is hotter than anything designed for Barbie. Maybe it’s because even in your blond wigs, you look black unlike Barbie’s first black friend, Christie. Maybe it’s because you got ass Barbie can only dream of. Maybe it’s because this Barbie business is your business.
Times are hard. The black unemployment rate is 16%. One in seven Americans live in poverty. Gainful employment that pays a living wage is hard to find. You found it by being a Barbie. Congratulations. The more complex the package, the more there is to talk about, and people are talking about you, Nicki. We’ve been checking for your album over a year before it dropped.
Today, November 22, 2010, is your holiday. You’ve got a lipstick collabo with MAC, a partnership with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest breast cancer .organization, a MTV documentary titled My Time Now, the Pink Friday album, and a pending tour. You are packaging yourself to be sold because that’s how the game is played. Men sell themselves all the time. When they’re successful we call them Donald Trump. When women do it, we call them dolls, puppets, pawns. You’re doing it right, but you’re wrong about one thing. Your time isn’t now. Your time is in the future. This is the beginning.
Turn hip pop on it’s head. Teach black girls how to be entrepreneurs—how to self promote guerilla style. Share as much as you feel comfortable about your childhood, your immigration, the domestic violence between your parents, your sexuality, your life in the industry with all those boys, and your round-the-way-girl attempts to figure these men out. How do they do that shit?
Barbie is your business. I understand that. Lil Kim understands that too, and that’s why she’s challenging you. I know you didn’t name any names in “Roman’s Revenge.” It has some clever lines, but Roman and Shady both hate women so I can’t give you any props on that. Just don’t go starting any mess. Your Sucka Free cover is Kim. She’s your godmother in the game even if she’s not acting like it. Think of giving everyone who comes at you, an opportunity to eat too. Savvy women parlay hateration into product that profits the major player and all the people on her team.
I listened to your interviews, I heard you rhyme, I read about that 360 deal. I know that your time is coming. What’s next? Your own label, your own school for girls, your own non-profit? I know you can do it, Nicki. The question is will you? I’ll only be mad if you stay a Barbie.
By the way Lil Kim’s Pink Friday Mixtape is something you don’t want to mess with, really.
Just don’t pose in any more plastic boxes, okay?
Dr. Ebony Utley
The Woman with Ideas
Ebony A. Utley, Ph.D. is an expert in hip hop, race, and love relationships. Her forthcoming book, The Gangsta’s God: The Quest for Respectability in Hip Hop (Praeger, forthcoming), blends rap, religion, and urban African American history to reveal how a God-sanctioned gangsta identity empowers young black people facing declining economic opportunities.