Nicki Minaj- Part 3: "The Difference Between Nicki and...uh.. Everyone Else" / by Shanelle Gabriel

Feelings about Nicki Minaj are very polarized: either you love her (or just really like to look at her) or you hate her. I don't think she's bad or the anti-Christ of Hip Hop. I respect the grind. I recognize the inner workings of the industry in who she is. Nicki is not the first or the last formulated artist. Let's not forget how very different the "Pon Da Replay"-Rihanna is from today's pop-fashionista. Homegirl went from coconut to Coco Chanel in two albums, and as annoying as her nasal voice is, she's got the world's attention and eardrums.

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A lot of hate comes from other artists, many of them the underground independants that can't understand for the life of them why labels won't invest millions of dollars into making them stars. "I'm dope. I can actually sing/rap/dance/play/shuck & jive/etc, too. Why not meeeee???" Sadly, the people with the deepest wallets are rarely music experts...they are businessmen. They are marketers, and marketers  play on generalizations, sterotypes, and trends and invest in brands. Many indie artists do not consider the kind of brand they're putting out for themselves. If you were just your music, then we'd have no need to see your face. You are a PACKAGE. Your story, your look, AND your unique contribution to the music world is what will separate you from shorty that can spit a few bars and homeboy that can sing a mean falsetto. There are a billion talented artists out there with amazing music. Why should a company take a risk on you? What audience are you targeting that you KNOW will bring the highest level of success for YOU? What holes are there in the industry that need to be filled? Amidst the shiny-suit and flossy late 90s- early 2000s, DMX filled in the need for something more agressive and street. Ciara took over from where the late, lovely Aaliyah left off with her edgy music and fluid dancing skills. In the same breath, think about what makes you different because too much homogeneity results in one-hit wonders and 'oh-shoot-you're-still-around?' stars (Lloyd, Christina Milian, Mandy Moore). Do your image (your style, personality, attire, story) make you relatable, desirable, or someone your audience would want to be? Jill Scott is not a fashion model, but many admire her positivity and realness. This goes deeper than just being a cool chick with lyrics. Would I want to see you on a billboard or red carpet? I'm not saying my female artists need to be naked but you have to have enough individual style to make someone want your poster.

These are the things that a lot of artists don't get and then get mad when Def Jam or Universal aren't beating down their doors. Labels want to invest in someone that makes "sense," someone that will logically, not just musically, be a hit. They are barely making money as it is, so they're getting pickier by the year. It is sad that talent alone doesn't cut it, even though many of the greats were once told by execs that they didn't have what it takes to be successful (Brandy, Biggie, Alicia Keys, and shoot, even I myself have heard that I'm not "pretty enough" to make it). You can't let label BS get you down when you know in your heart this is what you were called to do. There are exceptions to the rule, and there are other ways to break down the platinum door of the industry- most require you to do it without them a la Drake. But don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. In general, music is communication. How do you communicate in your lyrics, music, body language, image, and message to make the most impact?

Artists like Nicki Minaj are products of that methodology. Do we hate on them for using what they have to get them where they need to be? I believe there is much to be learned from her, from Souljah Boy, and the other artists that are criticized for being gimmicky or basic in their image and music. When you hear a smash single, ask yourself WHY it's a hit. I don't really want Nicki Minaj marketed to my teenage nieces any more than my mom wanted me listening to Foxy Brown's "Ill Nana" or Lil' Kim's "Hardcore." But I know better than to hate the playa. I understand the game.