What’s your take on Roman Zolanski? Misogynist? Genius?
“Stupid Hoe” is not just stupid
I’m still thinking through all that’s going on in Nicki Minaj’s “Stupid Hoe” single/video. It’s complicated. It’s REALLY complicated. I don’t think anyone can rigorously analyze the piece and give a uniformly, one-sidedly condemnatory or exculpatory account of it. Is it misogynist? Yes. Is it feminist? Yes. Like I said, it’s complicated. It resists easy resolution into a clearly-defined meaning that fits neatly into pre-made boxes like “misogynist” or “feminist”.
Many in the mainstream feminist blogosphere are chiding Minaj for being, in bell hooks’s terms, “a dick in drag,” i.e., a woman as patriarch. But this read overlooks and under-hears the song’s and video’s nuances. So, in this post, I just want to consider—not really come to conclusions about, just consider—some of these nuances. I want to open the work to further, more careful consideration. I’m not going to say it is either misogynist or feminist, because it’s both and neither.
What follows are three somewhat separate “Stupid Hoe”-related discussions: First, an analysis of the gender politics/discourses in the track. Second, an argument against those who say “Well and good, but this is a song for children, who won’t understand that nuanced analysis you just did. So, what about the children?” Third, just an initial, underdeveloped list of things to consider in the video
Gender Scrambling, or the Role of Roman
This song isn’t facile misogyny spit out of a brightly-lipsticked mouth because gender is completely scrambled. Because of this scrambling, it is unclear if “women” are actually the referent of “hoes.”
It’s not Nicki (or Onika) who is the rapper here: the MC here is Roman Zolanski, Nicki’s gay male twin sister. Yeah: gay male twin sister. Roman is a man, but he’s also Minaj’s sister. Maybe they’re “fraternal” twins, as they say? But Roman also looks pretty identical to Nicki. Regardless, Roman’s gender identity is not at all clear: he’s a male twin sister of a female MC. Roman may not even be cis-male (as Nicki’s twin sister, maybe Roman is her FTM twin?). He’s like Minaj’s “Sasha Fierce,” except he’s a dude, sorta. Roman is Minaj’s aggressive (AG, maybe?) side, so it is no surprise that Minaj would choose his voice for a diss track. But the underlying point here is that the MC voicing this track has a really complicated gender identity: he’s neither clearly male or female, cis or trans, etc. In “Roman’s Revenge” (which is a play on the old-school classic, “Roxanne’s Revenge,” one of the first tracks by a female MC), Roman says “I’m a bad bitch, I’m a cunt”—so it’s entirely possible Roman is the “stupid hoe,” or at least one of the stupid hoes.
Minaj repeats the line “these bitches is my sons.” So maybe words that are generally taken to refer to females are being used, in this track, to refer to men? If Roman is her “sister,” “hoes” could certainly refer to quote-unquote men.
“Stupid hoes” could be her way of calling out what used to be termed “Uncle Toms”—i.e., black men who play into white stereotypes, desires, ideas, etc. This is really clear in the couplet:
Look Bubbles, go back to your habitat, MJ gone and I ain’t havin that
How you gonna be the stunt double to the n*gga monkey?
“Bubbles” was Michael Jackson’s pet monkey, made famous in the Jeff Koons’s sculpture of the pair. However, here the “n*igga monkey” is not Bubbles, but Jackson. So here Roman is dissing Michael Jackson, and probably other black men who similarly buy into whiteness/white ideals/etc. in an uncritical way. It could also be entirely possible that Roman is one of these “stupid hoes,” precisely because he engages in simplistic, gender-based dissing—which is a sort of stereotype of un-gender-reconstructed, “thuggish” or otherwise “primitive” black attitudes to gender that many, many white people and white hip hop audiences continue to assume and desire. So, if Roman is indeed one of these “stupid hoes” precisely for engaging in all-too-standard misogynist dissing, then the track actually critiques its superficial meaning.
So, what is clear is that gender is so scrambled in this track that the referent of “hoes” is not necessarily women, probably actually men, at least at times, and generally not assigned to one gender or another.
So we shouldn’t be so pedantic and literal about her word useage here. She’s playing with words, making them signify beyond their usual associations. For example, it is also in “Roman’s Revenge” where her repeated claims that she, or rather Roman, is “like a dungeon dragon” reminds us that Roman is a speculative MC, a fiction, and that we should not “mistake anti-social surrealism for social realism.” To be the “female Weezy” is, after all, to be a female alien, Martian, and above all, to not be a human being.
“But what about the kids?”
This is always a response to my attempts to give nuanced readings of pop songs as art. People always say, “But the audience for this is/includes children, who won’t understand all the nuance you’re trying to read into this video. So, while it might not actually be misogynist/harmful/whatever, the kids won’t understand the critique embedded in the video and they’ll just receive the damaging, hegemonic version of it”.
This argument is so incredibly demeaning to both children and pop stars—who are often female pop stars. Here’s why:
1. Kids are fans. They have the time and energy to accumulate detailed knowledge of an artist’s repertoire. They’re the ones who already know all the references, the interconnections among songs, etc. They spend a lot of time interpreting, re-interpreting, and reworking songs. Fans make their own video re-edits, for example. So don’t assume kids are just passive receptacles onto which ideology copies itself exactly, without disruption or resistance. Kids often fail to be perfectly interpellated.
2. This is the more important argument against this critique: This critique demands that any musician who makes popular/commercial music make only the most simple, literal, easily understandable work they can. In other words, this critique demands that musicians not be artists, that they not use subtle references, irony, sarcasm, and other complex means of signification. It demands that artists directly, literally say what they mean—that art be direct, didactic expression. If we demand that pop/commercial music always be kid-safe, then we require artists in this genre to restrict their creativity to only the most simplistic, easily-interpretable forms. Interestingly, commercial pop is one of the few areas in Western culture generally where women have significant cultural and monetary capital—here, women are both aesthetically and commercially influential. This argument trivializes women’s aesthetic accomplishments, saying that this genre isn’t one where “real art” ought to happen, because it should be restricted “just” for quote-unquote “kids,” who are actually smarter than this argument presents them as being. SO, this argument demands that women limit their artistic abilities for the sake of some mythical ‘Child’”. It demands that one of the few areas in which women are creatively and commercially important limit itself, that it not be innovative, that women not be innovative. That’s actually deeply misogynist, if not in explicit intent then at least in implicit effect. Do we really want to say that this area of significant female accomplishment should not be considered/practiced as art, just because some children might be listening? We certainly don’t demand that Mozart, Wagner, or any other really racist, misogynist classical composer’s works be edited for children’s sake. SO why is it only women (often, women of color) who we seek to censor or limit in this way? Or, right, as in the pro-life movement, the objective isn’t saving children, it’s oppressing women, limiting their self-determination and their opportunities for self-advancement.
Some initial remarks on the video itself:
1. Minaj is referenceing several female pop stars’ videos: Shakira (with the cage), Beyonce (with the dancers), Rihanna (with the Versailles-like background, as in “Umbrella”), and Katy Perry. There is perhaps a Gaga reference, too (the big Manga eyes).
2. Is she appropriating Ganguro appropriations of perceived blackness/American-ness (e.g., around the 1:00 mark)?
 When Minaj/Roman claims to be “The Female Weezy,” this complicates things even further. We have to think about her relationship to Lil Wayne, Young Money/Cash Money Crew, etc. In Y.U. Mad, Nicki, Weezy, and Birdman, who is more or less Weezy’s big brother/father-type figure, all appear in the same track, and Minaj is dressed as a blond Wayne. Here she really is the “female Weezy,” and, in this track, Birdman talks about beign a “stuntman,” which Roman then riffs on in “Stupid Hoe.” So Minaj is showing her filiation to both Weezy and Birdman, as Weezy’s older male family type figure. So the question we have to ask is: Is Weezy Nicki/Roman’s “twin brother,” in the same way that Roman is Nicki’s “twin sister”?
nice. as per the usual.
the dungen dragon line, however, is a direct reference to Busta Rhymes verse in Tribe’s “Scenario,” no? Which just further supports the gender-fuct reading, right?
Yes, right! I hadn’t thought of that, but it makes total sense. Thx!
re references to other female pop stars, there’s one you’ve missed: Grace Jones’s pose on the cover of Island Life.
This is a really, really smart reading–illustrating the skills needed to read hip hop well. As a popular culture scholar who talks about everything related to black popular culture except hip hop, I appreciate someone who can do this work. Thanks so much for this.
I had a question about point 2. What if we reframe the argument about “the children” and don’t make it about any particular group of people but just say that not everybody will “get” this reading of the video? Like there are people who won’t be aware of Roman’s gender presentation (although they’ll definitely hear a change in Nicki’s performance)… does it become damaging for that audience?
Just by the way, the entirety of point 2 is brilliant, thank you so much for saying that. I’m studying music at college and we never treat contemporary music or pop music like it has the kind of depth that you pointed out here, it’s really amazing to be in a space that regards pop music as art music.
Bat: thanks for the reference on the pose–you’re totally right about that. Anonymous, thanks for the compliment!
Cannot tell you how much I love your blog! I always refer to it when I need some inspiration. Thank you for your work that you do!
In order to discuss this video, I think you have to frame it as a response to Lil Kim’s video “Black Friday” which helps make sense of Minaj’s references esp. in regards to Lil’ Kim’s association with BP, “Big Poppa” Notorious B.I.G. In reading the MJ lines, she’s putting down Lil’ Kim and referencing the fact that L.K. ends her Black Friday video with a (inaccurately cited) quote that talks about originality, which is L.K.’s big beef with Minaj. It’s interesting that Minaj in turn responds with a video that rips on so many other artists. Any feminist reading I think would have to include how this rapper spat between these two women mirrors and also swerves from notorious spats like the one between B.I.G. and Tupac. Nice to see this discussion, and I like your take on the “female weezy” line.
I thought this was an extremely smart and interesting argument to a song I previously thought was highly demeaning and overall “stupid.” However, after seeing Solid Quarter’s comment, I did some further investigating and have to agree with her/him. It seems as though the song is virtually entirely about Lil Kim and the feud the two currently have between them. The Bubbles part was a huge indicator of this as already stated by Solid Quarter. However, there are tons of other references. In the first stanza she says “bitch talking she the queen,” and we see that in “Black Friday” Lil Kim refers to herself as the queen of hip hop and her production company is Queen Bee Entertainment. “Hey yo Baby Bop fuck you and your EP” can be construed as a reference to Lil Kim (lil, baby, etc.) and the new EP she recently released on Pay Pal that Nicki has already made fun of in one of her “Lil Kim disses.” “Who’s gassin this ho, BP?” can also be seen as being directed at Lil Kim, implying that Kim is living off the money of the Notorious B.I.G. (Big Poppa, BP) rather than earning anything on her own accord. The final punch is the odd line of “stupid hoes is my enemy stupid hoes is so whack. Stupid ho could have befriended me, then she coulda prolly came back.” implying that Lil Kim should have allied with her instead of dissing her, which might have helped improve her career and bring her back to success. The references to other female artists could be Nicki harping on the allegation Kim makes that Nicki is copying her style. She facetiously copies the styles of other artists as a way to anger Kim. I liked your analysis a lot, particularly the role of gender switching with her “male twin sister,” but after learning of this spat, it seems Nicki is mostly insulting Lil Kim.
THanks for your careful research and analysis. 🙂 I would argue that yes, the song is certainly, AT ONE LEVEL, about LK. However, art — and *especially* African-American art — works at more than one level, and deploys two or more layers of meaning. So sure, if you pick up on one set of references, the song is a diss song about LK. However, if you pick up on another set of references, the song is about something else; and if you pick up on yet another set of references, it’s about something else.
SO, for example, in this track there’s the feud reading, and there’s the genderfuck read I gave above (and there are likely other reads). So, mainstream hip hop audiences who generally have really regressive gender politics can write this track off as just women bickering amongst themselves. However, more progressive hip hop fans can read more progressive gender politics in the song, too. It’s actually a really clever move on Minaj’s part. She can do some really inventive shit without alienating mainstream audiences.