Nicki Minaj Uses Picture of Malcolm X for Album Art
Taari Coleman | Staff Writer
Two weeks ago, rapper Nicki Minaj released controversial artwork for her new single, “Looking Ass N*gga.” The artwork featured an iconic photograph of Malcolm X, circa 1964, holding a large assault rifle, peering through window curtains. The public sphere erupted with criticism toward Minaj’s expression of art, prompting Minaj to release an apology to the Malcolm X estate, via Instagram. She began her apology saying in part, “What seems to be the issue now? Do you have a problem with me referring to the people Malcolm X was ready to pull his gun out on as Lookin Ass N*ggaz? Well, I apologize.”
To answer Minaj’s question: yes. A lot of individuals have a problem with her referral of the people Malcolm X despised as “Lookin Ass N*ggaz.” This is largely because it creates an implication that the people who threatened Malcolm X’s life and family and the people jealous of her success are one and the same. Unless the group who Minaj referred to as “Lookin Ass N*ggaz” is the same closed-minded group that once was on the wrong side of the Civil Rights Movement, calling them such and likening her so-called struggle to that of Malcolm X is misappropriation.
Minaj concluded her apology saying, “That was never the official artwork nor is this an official single. This is a conversation. Not a single. I am in the video shooting at “Lookin Ass N*ggaz” and there happened to be an iconic photo of Malcolm X ready to do the same thing for what he believed in!!!!”
In the music video for the “non-official” single, Minaj fires two AK-47 assault rifles simultaneously, with her arms at her sides and her elbows on her hips. There is not one piece of recorded evidence indicating that Malcolm X ever arbitrarily fired a semi automatic weapon for the sole purpose of entertainment. Malcolm X owned and wielded his gun because of the fear and concern he felt on a daily basis for the safety of his loved ones and the ideals of freedom which he was prepared to die for.
Unless the individuals Minaj is pretending to shoot in her video are openly oppressing and causing her genuine insecurity, calling what she is doing and what X did the “same thing” is misappropriation.
Though she didn’t say this, Minaj’s apology was a PR stunt meant to pacify those wounded by her cuthless album art. It also screams “I’m doing this because I have to, but I am not really sure why.”
Minaj is one of a few celebrities to abuse culture lately. “Drunk in Love,” a song on singer Beyonce’s, self-named album, contains the lyrics “eat the cake/Anna Mae” a reference to an abusive relationship between Motown Legends, Ike and Tina Turner. The backlash to the lyric has been minimal though.
It is interesting that the many within the Black community were so up in arms over Miley Cyrus’ alleged use of Black people as props, but allow other celebrities passes to not only use Black icons as props, but exploit domestic violence.
It appears that, much like “the n-word,” abusing Black culture and history is something that’s only okay when we do it.