Nicki Minaj dropped a new single tonight called “Lookin’ Ass Ni**a,” and the Internets is doing what it does on such occasions; discussing it pros and cons with healthy doses of slander in the mix. However, also being hotly debated is the image of Malcolm X that is used as the single’s artwork.
The photograph of Malcolm X holding an M1 Carbine rifle while peering out of a window is thought to be published in Ebony and Life magazine in 1964 (its exact origin is debated). The picture was taken in his Queens home, after he left the Nation of Islam, and would be assassinated a year later. Hip-Hop heads with plenty of years under their belt will surely remember KRS-One using the same pose (hold an Uzi instead of a rifle) as the cover of the Boogie Down Productions album By All Means Necessary. Official Hip-Hop purists will also note that Jay Z’s The Blueprint (2001) album actually followed BDP’s Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop (1989) album, which with Nicki Minaj titling her next album The Pink Print means extra irony.
But the issue at hand is the use of Brother Malcolm’s image. Juxtaposting the words “Lookin Ass Ni**a” anywhere near the likeness of a man who is an icon and hero to many African-Americans, and progressive people in general, is uncomfortable. Actually, plenty of people see it as utmost disrespect. Also, we haven’t discussed the song’s less than savory and wholly unrighteous content.
Say what you will about his days as Detroit Red hustling on the streets of Harlem, there is nothing N-word like about Malcolm X. That sentiment increases exponentially when he became El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz after his trip to Mecca. The trip led X to distance himself further from the separatist teachings of the Nation of Islam, adopt and dedicate himself to Sunni Islam and in turn push a viewpoint of the acceptance of people of all creeds and colors.
To equate a man that literally died for his cause—the advancement of human rights for people of color—is just wrong on multiple levels.
Dismissing the photo as just a throwaway or with a “who really cares?” is dangerous ground to tread. It’s the sort of indifference that led to such artwork being okayed in the first place. Or, it could very well be a case of trolling, which would be despicable in its own right.
However this tacky single cover came to be, someone has some explaining to do. The man born Malcolm Little was no “lookin ass ni**a,” period. At least a little respect should always be shown his way.
Photo: AP Photo/Henry Griffin