Last night, Nicki Minaj revealed on Instagram that she'd give three artists a chance to join her and Future on their collaborative tour. Controversial Brooklyn rapper, 6ix9ine, has landed one of those spots. It's surprising, but not really. The news comes immediately after the two released "FeFe," a candy-coated joint effort that's managed to amass 32 million views on YouTube in only two days. Adding 6ix9ine to the tour makes sense given their new work together, but it's troubling. Could his presence shroud the theme of "self-respect" she's hoping to evoke on Queen?
I cringed when I watched "FeFe," not because of who the two polarizing rappers happened to be but because of the imagery. The visuals were childlike and reminiscent of Candyland, an ill-fitting choice for 6ix9ine, who was charged with the "use of a child in a sexual performance" in 2015. He licks a dripping ice cream cone multiple times, the sugary concoction still dripping from the corners of his lips—and before you ask, it's exactly as gross as it sounds. This was enough for me to shut it off entirely, but one scene upped the ante: he and Nicki lean in, suggestively sharing an ice cream cone together. The collaboration is a one thing. Features are mutually beneficial to artists, and sometimes there is a sense of something being more strategic than it is organic. This feels like the former. But this was more than a co-sign of his sound and read like an endorsement of his behavior just for the sake of being provocative.
Nicki recently made a public misstep when she slid in the DMs of culture critic, Wanna Thompson, after Thompson posted a mildly critical tweet in anticipation for Minaj's Queen. In reponses, Minaj acted as if her career was above reproach, listing her accomplishments, misstating her age, and claiming the writer is jealous because Minaj is "rich and famous." Even after Wanna received death threats from the Barbz, Minaj has yet to address her role in the situation.
Minaj's involvement with Thompson coupled with her new friendship with 6ix9ine make his addition to the NickiHndrxx Tour feel especially gross. It blurs the lines on how she's expecting Queen to be perceived versus how it may actually be internalized. In a recent interview with Elle, she seemed to be trying to awaken a different version of women's empowerment than she'd shown before, one that's less about sitting on your favorite rapper's sideburns, and more aligned with the fact that she's single for the first time in 20 years. "I don't really know how to say that without being offensive," she told the magazine. But how then, does she feel about offending people after positioning herself next to one of rap's newest problematic figures?
Nicki has made it a point to be vocal about taking a stand for women since the "pickle juice" speech in her 2010 MTV documentary. "Is that wrong for wanting more for myself? Wanting people to treat me with respect?" she asked. "But had I accepted the pickle juice, I would be drinking pickle juice right now." She carried this rhetoric on throughout her career when it was time to defend "Anaconda's" risqué video being snubbed for video of the year at the 2015 VMA's. "If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year," she tweeted. It was a poignant way to recognize pop culture's habit of compartmentalizing black women and their figures to something more niche, hence it's appearance in the best female and best hip-hop video categories. It makes it difficult to see how Queen will play out in the grand scheme of this rhetoric, with "Gunmo" and "BILLY" played just before it. Working with an alleged abuser runs counter to so much Nicki has claimed to stand for throughout her career.
Minaj isn't the only one to blame here, because Future is on the bill, too. Although his next project isn't aimed to be feminist project, men need to hold their peers accountable as well. Which means any and all artists who work with purported abusers are on the hook too. Just imagine how groundbreaking it would be for Future to take a stand and say, "I won't stand with an artist who represents that." Imagine the impact it would make if other major artists would disavow alleged abusers. This is the kind of conversation that is beyond just boycotting problematic artists on a personal level, but is worth figuring out what that means for music's larger ecosystem.
Seeing Nicki work with 6ix9ine is disappointing. Not only for the fact that I can no longer look at ice cream the same way.
Kristin Corry is a staff writer for Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.