pound the alarm - nicki minaj
tbh I’m a little surprised I haven’t seen very many people talking about Nicki Minaj’s video for Pound the Alarm, especially in relation to Trinidadian politics. I feel like she gets overlooked a lot because she’s so hypersexualized and everyone seems to magically forget she was formally trained as a musician (too much of the narrative on her fame is about her body and relationships with male rappers, as if she’s not an intelligent artist who is very intentional about her image and her work), but a lot of her music has some pretty strong politics in it, albeit not obvious to anyone who isn’t base-level literate in her culture(s).
Trinidad & Tobago was under martial law for a sizeable portion of 2011, and the fete scene was forced underground to 6-to-6 house parties. Trinis were understandably upset about the curfew and state of emergency, considering it was credited to an escalating murder rate that has more to do with police brutality and persistant socioeconomic factors that the government has yet to substantially address than anything else. While the curfew was lifted in late 2011, the state of emergency continued and in the last 8 months, several US and UK officials have implied threats of intervention, and there was an (unsuccessful) vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar this March. The nation is still under the British Commonwealth, receives military and law enforcement aid from the US, and is currently economically dependent on its gigantic oil industry (though illicit drug trafficking is also a major enterprise on the island, being a transit hub between Venezuela and the rest of the Caribbean & the US/Canada).
Nicki Minaj is a US-raised Trini, and (though months after T&T’s Carnival) released a music video tribute to T&T Carnival at the height of this (Caribbean) carnival season. The very first shots of the video are famous places all over the island—Port of Spain, Chaguaramas beach, Caroni swamp, & the gate over the entrance to St. James (the party district outside Port of Spain, known for nightlife and as home point for mas camps—also Nicki’s hometown, and one of the most racially diverse places on the island), all to the tune of the chorus on steel pan (what is essentially the national instrument, having first been the instrument of low-income Trinis and now a mas tradition). Later we see her in Carnival costume that harkens to fellow Caribbean-American artist Rihanna’s 2011 costume, featured in her tribute to Bajan Crop Over last year (Cheers; did you see both videos even have shots of them each on wagons waving to the crowd with Digicel stuff in their hands??! got me feeling lame out here with my Lime phone). Towards the end, we even see her with a T&T bandana tied to mask her face, walking thru some kind of post-mas apocalypse-type aftermath.
Nicki isn’t the first Trini to release nationalist or politically charged party music in the last year, but think about what it really means to produce that video within the context of the political climate in and outside Trinidad: the curfew was set in place because the Trinidadian government believed it would be easier to prevent and monitor gang violence (the perceived cause of the high murder rate) if people didn’t congregate at night—to party was a form of resistance against the criminalization of low-income and youth Trinis (and the imperialism which fueled and necessitated it). Making a music video homage to Trini party culture (with the title Pound the Alarm!), with the Bissessar government’s prediction as the final shot (a party-produced wasteland), and connecting that to implications of aesthetics of militant nationalism (ie bandana), is a big deal. (and connecting it to Bajan nationalism & party culture, re: Rihanna, is important—more and more Barbados is becoming a node of US power and means to monitor T&T, and that West Indian solidarity shouldn’t get swept under the rug.)
That said, the video is nowhere near perfect. Others have pointed out how shockingly whitewashed Nicki is, and the video as a whole certainly has a strong absence of dark-skinned Trinis. I’m also not a fan of the “Plains Indian-style” headdresses & outfits worn—I suspect this has more to do with the growing popularity of hipster headdresses & catering to a US market than anything else; traditional carnival outfits do include feathered headdresses, but they are not North American Plains-inspired (the hipster headdresses are a US-imperialism related import, I think, since the normal carnival outfits have a long history tied to sugar cultivation seasons, and mixing of African & indigenous cultures/identities).
anyways, there’s a lot more to say about the video (the race & nationality politics, considering Nicki is US-raised and mixed, and that in relation to the racial politics in T&T and Guyana right now is pretty interesting…also the fact that Nicki has Gunshot and Fire Burns on her new album says a lot, especially in relation to Beez in the Trap—that’s a whole new post on transnationalism, identity, etc), but the point is: this video is really fucking important, and even if you don’t like Nicki, she deserves some credit for everything she’s doing with it. again, I really think people gloss over her work when talking about ‘politically engaged rap’ because of her image, and don’t realize all the meaning they’re missing by overlooking her; just because you’re not literate in the discourse she situates herself in, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.