Let me take you back in time. The year is 2015, and Nicki Minaj just caused a flurry of news for shooting back at the haters on Twitter. I know, these days it’s crazy to imagine.
She’s famous enough now where just about everything she does is news. The rap star propelled herself into the upper echelon of cultural recognition over the past three years via a few hit singles, a sort-of interesting sophomore album, and a viral music video which celebrates big butts and the fantastic developments in video technology that have allowed all cellulite to be removed from them.
Born in Trinidad and raised in Queens by immigrant parents Robert and Carol Maraj, Nicki had a childhood full of brilliant and traumatic conflict. Robert burned the family’s house down in an attempt to murder Carol when Nicki was five. He was addicted to crack and alcohol, and abused Carol for decades until receiving a restraining order from her in 2013. In 2014, Robert was arrested twice for drunk driving. Nicki’s ongoing relationship with her father is unclear, but Robert’s lawyer is Stacey Richman, who defended Lil Wayne’s felony gun charge in 2009.
In a lede that could’ve been written better by a seventh-grader, the National Enquirer broke news of more trouble in the Maraj family on December 10th of 2015, saying “Nicki Minaj’s brother Jelani Maraj made his first court appearance yesterday after cops accused him of repeatedly raping a 12-year-old!” I’ve never seen a less appropriate or professional use of an exclamation mark. The magazine couldn’t even hide its excitement.
Jelani’s bail was set at $100,000 and supposedly paid by Nicki, although many details of the situation have remained private. The very next day, December 11th, Nicki testified in court on behalf of her fiancé Meek Mill, who is facing prison time for violating parole. Meek was arrested in 2008 for gun and drug possession. “He doesn’t have a lot of structure,” Nicki said in court. “Since I’ve come into his life, I think I’ve been working on that a little bit … He’s just getting accustomed to being an adult.”
Apparently unaware of or simply insensitive to Nicki’s troubles, Bossip, a gossip and entertainment site, joined the Minaj dogpile on December 11th, initiating a discussion on Twitter about the current image of female rappers and then retweeting a user who wrote: “Men are visual creatures they don’t care if you can sing… That’s why nicki [sic] had to buy an ass to blow up! #Fact.”
Nicki, characteristically, responded.
“I’ve gone toe to toe w/everyone [sic] of your favorite male MC’s. To undermine my skill & diversity as an MC is actually comical @ this point.”
“I saw Bossip retweeting ignorance so I figured I’d put that out there. Lol.”
“Not giving me my props doesn’t stop me from being great. I am a mogul. Your hate is what made this possible.”
Your hate is what made this possible.
Similar to Nicki Minaj’s trajectory, haterdom rose from the world of underground hip-hop and has recently made its way into the mainstream. The word “hater” originated from Biggie Smalls, who popularized use of the phrase “player hater” to describe his own critics in the 1990s.
These days we use “hate” quite liberally as a term, so it’s important to underscore that when Biggie talked about player hate, he was talking about very real hate. After escalating tensions related to record deals and gang-related rivalries, in June of 1996, Tupac Shakur (who, I suppose, is the original hater) released “Hit ‘Em Up,” a diss track addressed to Biggie that in the third line proclaims “You claim to be a player but I fucked your wife.” Faith Evans, Biggie’s wife at the time, has neither confirmed nor denied Tupac’s assertion to this day.
Tupac’s feud with Biggie was perhaps the nastiest among public figures in the country’s history, rivaling Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. After the diss track and accompanying music video, things further devolved. In September 1996, Tupac was gunned down in Las Vegas by gang members allegedly on Biggie’s payroll. Biggie was killed in a drive-by shooting seven months later.
The player hate these artists shared was so strong, it killed them both.
Cut to 2015, where the chorus of Taylor Swift’s cheery billboard-buster “Shake It Off” is “The players gonna play, play, play, play, play, and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” Like the rest of hip-hop, “player hate” has been sucked up into the white mainstream and mashed into a weak facsimile of the real thing. Appropriation wins again.
That said, haters have proved to be extremely relevant to modern culture. We talk about haters all the time, and we love to hear how celebrities deal with them. The day Taylor dropped “Shake It Off,” she was interviewed by Amy Robach of ABC News. Amy says “Obviously we know why you wrote [the song], your lyrics are very telling, but it’s so applicable to anyone and everyone.”
“The message in the song is a problem I think we all deal with,” Taylor the everywoman responds, perhaps forgetting that most people don’t spend their day wading through rivers of tweets and Instagram comments from haters all across the world.
“When you’re being looked at under such a microscope, you try to be aware of what you post,” explains reality TV star Kendall Jenner in a blog post she penned about dealing with haters on Instagram. “In reality, I know it’s not a bad photo, but someone’s going to say something mean anyway. They’re just bored. You just have to remember that it’s them, not you.”
“You’ve actually decided to engage with critics on Twitter,” prompts Seth Meyers as he interviews Saturday Night Live’s Leslie Jones.
“Because I am a human being, okay?” Leslie responds over applause from the studio audience. “Y’all gonna applaud for that? Y’all gonna applaud for me saying I’m a human being?”
Seth laughs. Leslie quips, “That is so sad. What is our world coming to, man?”
Getting back to her original point, she says directly to the camera: “I don’t care how famous I am or how popular I am, if you call me a gorilla, I’mma call your mama one.”
Obviously it isn’t pleasant to be constantly insulted by random strangers, but I do think the point should be made: haters are a privilege. Yes, a privilege. And even further – haters have been weaponized. I’ll get to that.
Nicki has spent more time in the news for various spats, beefs and gossip-worthy moments than any other artist I can think of. She sent out a storm of tweets for not being nominated for best music video at the 2015 VMAs, and then called out Miley Cyrus during the show. She bailed on a festival concert in 2012 because one of the DJs, Peter Rosenberg, dissed Nicki earlier that day. She started a hoax that she had gotten married to Drake, another rap star. She cursed out Mariah Carey during her stint on American Idol. Ironically, in October she called off an interview with the New York Times when a reporter asked her if she “thrives on drama.”
“That’s disrespectful,” Nicki spat back. “Why would a grown-ass woman thrive off drama?”
Considering everything Nicki is going through, she must be exhausted by all the controversy that surrounds her and her loved ones, and yet she can’t seem to stop generating more of it. How sad, to build a livelihood based off of something that wears you down to the bone.
Haters have built the careers of many stars. Eminem, who will go down in history as one of hip-hop’s greatest rappers, started his career with about four albums worth of songs that were essentially reactions to reactions to his own controversy. Justin Bieber was extremely polarizing at the start of his career, hated by some as strongly as he was loved by others. The first time I heard of Kanye West was when he stole Taylor Swift’s stage time at the VMAs in 2009. And while all of these people (maybe Kanye excluded) might say that they don’t give a second thought to their haters, on some level, they all know that they owe their success to the controversy surrounding them. For the savvier ones, this was a calculated strategy. For others, it was just dumb luck.
“I am a mogul. Your hate is what made this possible.” A tweet that could easily have come from another mogul from Queens.
Donald Trump was born to Fred and Mary Trump, who were not immigrants and never lived in poverty. Donald inherited $200 million from his dad’s business. Had he done nothing with that money and invested it in the S&P 500, he would be worth $8.3 billion dollars today. Instead he became a real estate mogul, using his genius business skills to grow his inheritance to grow his net worth to a shocking $8.7 billion. Businessman my ass.
In the 1990s Trump gained some notoriety for leaving his supermodel wife Ivana Trump for an actress that he’d probably been in an affair with, Marla Maples. A year later he divorced Marla, churning up even more press. He was married a third time in 2005, right as he got the gig hosting The Apprentice. NBC paid Trump over $200 million across 14 seasons for yelling “you’re fired!”
Now he’s using his fortunes to run for president, and he’s doing quite well — leading the polls for months despite having already made five or six major political flubs that would usually be a death sentence.
And he’s not even spending that much money on the campaign. As of now he’s spent around $12 million, half of which is from individual contributions from supporters. Clearly his campaign is running off of a categorically different source of energy than his rivals. After pondering what that energy source could be, I realized that it’s the same thing that fueled Nicki Minaj’s career: haters.
Donald’s campaign is all about haters. Along with being a hater, Donald’s strategy depends on his supporters being haters too. Why should we build a wall? Because we hate Mexicans. Why should we embargo the entire Islamic faith? Because we hate terrorists, and we think that Muslims invented terrorism. Why doesn’t it matter that Donald keeps saying disparaging things about women? Because we kind of hate women, at least the stuck-up perky blonde ones who think they can run for president or moderate a GOP debate.
Why should we vote for Donald Trump? Because we hate America as it stands today after two terms under President Obama, whose race and politics we also hate, and we want to Make America Great Again.
Donald is the supreme hater, he rules over a potent and massive kingdom of haters, and he is also hated supremely. Columnists have descended upon him, writing some of the harshest things I’ve ever seen written about a presidential candidate. He has been compared to Hitler, an outright racist and sexist. His ridiculous promises have been shredded to pieces by the left and the establishment-right. The White House came out with an official statement saying that Donald’s actions are “disqualifying” for a presidential candidate. His big ugly face and his big ugly ideas are the definition of an easy target for liberal and moderate haters alike, and yet he continues climbing in the polls, raking in support from primarily poor, disenfranchised white conservatives who have spent the last eight years being conditioned by the GOP to become lowkey conspiracy theorists.
I’d like to posit something about Donald Trump. He’s stealing his campaign strategy from Nicki Minaj.
I may be the first to say that Donald Trump is very similar to Nicki Minaj, and their similarities are the reason for Donald’s unlikely success. Donald, like Nicki, is a strong and unique personality who isn’t afraid to stand his or her ground. Donald, like Nicki, gained national attention in part because of reality television – Donald on The Apprentice and Nicki on American Idol. Donald, like Nicki, has lots of haters and thrives off of their attention. Donald, like Nicki, knows that if you remain in an unending state of going off the rails, insulting others and causing controversy, you will be rewarded with an almost unbroken flood of publicity from a news media that is reactionary, polarized and desperate to dig up drama, no matter how irrelevant that drama may be.
You may ask how Donald could so easily employ Nicki Minaj’s fame-acquisition strategy to a primary campaign, when only trashy entertainment magazines and gossip sites with no ethical standards write about Nicki’s every move. If Donald’s campaign proves anything, it’s that this country’s most respected publications have become just as trashy and desperate as Bossip Magazine in the digital era.
So what are we to do? Is the American political system ruined? I don’t know, maybe. The upside here is that Nicki isn’t the most famous or powerful woman in America. Beyoncé is.
Beyoncé is incredible and everybody loves her. She has a voice of gold. Her dancing is mesmerizing. She is an outspoken feminist, she is one of the most beautiful living people, and when she isn’t publicizing her music she keeps to herself. When you search Google News for stories about Beyoncé, you will likely only find articles about the success of her albums, accolades and homages from her peers, and speculation about her future projects. Beyoncé has been making music for twenty years, and she is famous because she’s the best, and everybody loves her. Beyoncé fits into a category of celebrity that Nicki and most other celebrities won’t ever attain – while Nicki will be lost in the sands of time, in forty years I’m confident that we’ll hold Beyoncé in the same regard as we hold The Beatles, Elvis and Madonna today.
In short, I’m not worried about Donald Trump’s popularity because hate is usually a fuel that burns bright and fast. Haters might give you all the attention you’ve ever wanted, but they (likely) don’t have the backbone to carry you to the White House.
While we’re happy to obsess over Nicki and Donald today, we’ll forget about them tomorrow. Maybe I don’t want haters after all.