Someone recently asked me how I, a respected editrix, can embrace two artists as polarizing as Nicki Minaj and Janelle Monae. I ask: Why do I have to choose? I find it funny how quick people are to crown one with a halo and one with horns. Why do we have to evangelize one and demonize the other? Seems kind of lazy to me.
Now, I’m not saying Nicki and Janelle are kindred spirits or even cut from the same cloth—they clearly have a yin yang thing going on: Saddlebacks versus stilettos. The asexual versus the bisexual. One’s from ‘round the way, the other from outer space. Janelle wears tails. Nicki shakes hers. But even with all of their obvious contradictions, it’s hard to mute their similarities.
Both have strategically branded themselves. Monae, the artist. Minaj, the temptress. Though they appear to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, both performers have built their careers around cleverly constructed characters.
Costumes and alter egos have been an integral part of both of their imaging. Nicki is the impossibly inflated Harajuku Barbie dripping in hot pink and diamonds. Janelle is the tuxedo-clad, bouffant-rocking intergalactic android, Cindy Mayweather.
Their sexuality—or rejection of it—is a vital part of their personas. While half the audience crucifies Nicki for being attracted to both boys and girls, the rest are trying to figure out if Janelle likes either. Both toy with the ideals of gender identity head on—one wearing a corset and the other a cummerbund.
They each sport their artistic inspirations on their sleeves. Though she attempts to distance herself from the comparison now, in the beginning of her career Nicki took more than just a cue from Lil Kim—she took her infamous crotch shot and ran with it. She’s adopted the Queen Bee’s affinity for Technicolor tresses, echoes her sexual politics, and even resurrects her familiar cadence and flow.
You can tell that Janelle studied James Brown and MJ’s classic performance footage like an athlete reviewing game film—she can Mashed Potato and Moonwalk like she’s possessed. And the whole cape thing? An obvious homage to the Godfather Of Soul.
And while Janelle is busy revolutionizing soul music, Nicki is reinventing the hip pop wheel. Both ladies are pushing the limits in their respective genres and simultaneously challenging the ever-evolving sound of Black Music. As much as they appeal to separate niches, their once cultish followings are swelling to mainstream mania. Wayne was Nicki’s first serious co-sign, Big Boi, Janelle’s. Now, both are officially part of the Diddy regime. The Bad Boy clearly believes in each of their individual behemoth potentials. Both of his recruits have earned MVP status and are prepped for an A.I. crossover move; the one that thrusts them onto a global arena. Or better yet, galactic. A place where an android and ninja can harmoniously co-exist. Or even collaborate?