Let's take a moment to appreciate the Nicki Minaj phenomenon. That, after all, is the surface-level meaning of "Freedom," from this week's Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded — The Re-Up, and its newly released video. She has a perfume. Clothing at Macy's. More significantly, she's a female rapper with two Billboard No. 1 albums, a distinctive voice, and a certain amount of critical acclaim. In the spirit of this song, let's make an unnecessarily extravagant comparison: As with "Obammer," to whom the Trinidad-born MC refers, not for the first time, on fellow Re-Up cut "I'm Legit," it's easy to forget in the day-to-day hustle of appearances at Dick Clark-founded awards shows what a historic figure she actually is. Not that Minaj is signing on to trendy political causes: When she mentions the "99 percent" here, it's to dismiss other artists as "nobody."
The "Freedom" video, however, isn't really about Nicki. Yup, there she is in a crown of thorns, bringing to life her self-comparison to Jesus from the song's lyrics. Yup, there she is as a queen on a throne. There's a Wizard of Oz-style shift from Kansas black-and-white to Munchkinland Technicolor. And melodramatic shots of birds and scenery. As for the song itself, despite the rapped verses, it's not a track for the diehard hip-hop heads who gravitated to her feral guest verses; slow and airily inspirational, with a lite-pop hook, it's halfway between Pink Friday's samurai romance "Your Love" and the same album's motivational Drake team-up "Moment 4 Life." It's soft, vulnerable.
And yet as with much of Minaj's work so far, the song and the video are true to her unique perspective on hip-hop. If the lyrics are self-aggrandizing, that's because she knows the rules of the game. Her aspirations here are larger; witness the staircase to nowhere that appears in the video as a recurring motif. "My career's been the pinkprint," she rhymes. She's on some Lilly Ledbetter, Elizabeth Warren shit here, setting herself out as pioneering woman who, much more than this, did it her way. The "freedom" described by the song is two-fold: For Nicki, she's big enough now that she can forget about "old Nicki" and "new Nicki" ("Mirror, mirror, won't you realize?") and just be Nicki; she can step off that staircase and see where it leads her. And for the many female MCs who have come up in her wake, who shouldn't be grouped as a genre based on gender but who still owe a real debt to Nicki's success, as the Harajuku Barbie's appeal grows broader and broader, there's a widening opportunity to fill her earlier rap-scene niche. After all, it's easy, right?