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Usher‘s latest single, “Lil’ Freak,” is an ode to arranging a ménage à trois. Helping to schedule the girl-on-boy-on-girl arrangement is hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj. In the song, Usher informs Minaj of a prerequisite to sleeping with him: “You go get some girls, bring them to me.” She does.

This is not the first track to employ Minaj as threesome facilitator to the stars. In “Girls Kissing Girls,” a track off Minaj’s mixtape, Minaj aids Gucci Mane‘s request for participation in the song’s titular activity. And in each song, Minaj readily indulges the man’s sexual interest. From Minaj’s contribution to “Lil’ Freak”:

Excuse me lil mama, but you could say I’m on duty
I’m lookin’ for a cutie with a big old ghetto booty
I really like your kitty cat and if you let me touch her
I know you’re not a bluffer, I’ll take you to go see Usher

And from Minaj’s verse in “Girls Kissing Girls”:

Puh puh pop a beer, I’m a need some honey
Chew it like a gummy, stupid juicy oozy runny
Listen Gucci mane I got what u need
Keisha and Alisha and a million packs of weed
Girls everywhere Gucci go and get the camera
White girls too ohh Julie Annie Amber

There’s reason to believe that Minaj is just as into this type of action as Gucci Mane and Usher are. Natalie Stein, writing for Bitch Magazine, notes that Minaj’s music has consistently reinforced the popular assumption that Minaj is “a rumored lesbian (or bisexual, depending on who you ask)”—-but that Minaj herself has stopped short of officially coming out of the closet. In the hip-hop world, Minaj’s sexuality has been employed to fulfill the lesbian fantasies of heterosexual guys, but hip-hop hasn’t yet give Minaj the space to truly own her identity.

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As Nicki Escuerdo, who wrote on “Lil Freak” for feminist blog Heartless Doll, writes:

Who cares if the girl isn’t into hooking up with other girls? If you want to hook up with Usher, he makes it clear that it’s a requirement to bring another lady friend around. To prove not all women are opposed to Usher’s message, the song features Young Money rapper Nicki Minaj, who conveniently happens to be bisexual (it’s not a marketing ploy at all!) . . . Everybody should have the right to get their freak on and have threesomes if they want. But the way the Usher goes about getting two ladies in his bed, by using his celebrity to coerce girls to sleep with him, is sleazy.

But as Escuerdo goes on to note, the songs that situate Minaj’s sexuality as a tool for heterosexual men also give Minaj some room to define herself. This is where things start to get interesting. In “Lil Freak,” Minaj announces:

If i’m in yo city, I’m signin’ them tig ‘ol bitties
I’m plotting on how I can take Cassie away from Diddy
The girls want a Minaj yeah they wetter than the rain then
Usher buzz me in, everybody loves Raymond

I never thought I’d be commenting on the transgressive function of the phrase “tig ‘ol bitties.” Here, Minaj clues her listeners into the fact that her own sexual interests are hardly confined to pleasing Usher. In this verse, she’s not looking to hook up with Cassie to help P. Diddy get off; she’s looking to remove Diddy from the situation entirely. But after that little detour, Minaj brings the focus of her sexual interests back to Usher. At the moment the songs start to get gay, Minaj brings it back to a more acceptable sexual expression she converts her erotic energy to heterosexual fantasy.

“Girls Kissing Girls,” interestingly, contains no such final caveat. Yes, the song gets its wide appeal by accessing the “Girls Gone Wild” version of faux-lesbianism, but it also refuses to end with heterosexual bliss. Though the beginning of the song has Gucci Man getting hot by observing Minaj’s sexual relationships with women, in the end he loses the Minaj character to another girl: “Then I lost her number, never seen again / The best brain in the world, do her thing with a girl / But don’t call her yo girl, or let her hang with yo girl.”

In these songs, Minaj’s interest in other women is quarantined to a specific context (the threesome) that allows men to retain control over Minaj’s sexuality in public, even while Minaj winkingly suggests that these guys are hardly owning her in the bedroom. As Minaj gains more industry power as an independent artist, here’s to hoping she’ll be able to take lyrical control of her own sexuality—-without the watchful eye of a big-named guy.

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