Nicki Minaj Sees Herself in Victims of Police Brutality & Says Sandra Bland “Could Have Been Me”

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This year has been another history-making chapter of Nicki Minaj’s career. Back in March, she became a Billboard chart darling, becoming the first female artist to land four simultaneously charting songs in the top ten positions of R&B/Hip-Hop. Several months later, she had a watershed night at the BET Awards, bringing home her sixth consecutive win for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist, the winningest artist in the category. Her partnership in the music-streaming service Tidal and her hugely successful Pinkprint Tour earned more than $13 million in revenue make her one of the most successful artists in the game, and her high-profile relationship with Meek Mill continues to earn her significant attention. That is not to say the 33-year-old has not suffered tremendous personal pain along the way; as these words are being written, her brother is facing charges of rape stemming from an alleged relationship with a minor, the news having broken on December 3. Meek Mill is also dealing with some legal woes as he faces an ongoing process to negotiate terms of his parole related to a case from several years ago, a process in which Nicki has testified. What are undoubtedly very private and grueling matters, it is no surprise she has yet to make a formal announcement about the cases, but Nicki does have some compelling things to say about the United States justice system and today’s political climate, particularly as it relates to incarceration.

As the most recent cover story for Billboard, Nicki Minaj discussed some of the major goings-on in her life and career over the course of 2015. She shares with writer Jody Rosen her reflections on artistic validation, her New York City roots, her work in producing a sitcom for ABC, her budding acting career, and her television-watching habits. Towards the latter half of the lengthy conversation, Rosen asks Minaj about the looming end of the Obama administration, and which aspects of it she’s proud of and disappointed in. She takes the opportunity to discuss criminal-justice reform, and refers specifically to President Obama’s historic visit to a federal prison, something no other sitting president has done. “I thought it was so important when he went to prisons and spoke to people who got 20 and 30 and 40 and 50 years for drugs,” she says. “There are women who are raped, people who are killed and [offenders] don’t even serve 20 years. I was blown away, watching the footage of him speaking to the prisoners. They never felt like anyone in the White House cared about them. I loved that he made them people again.” Rosen explores Nicki’s heartfelt point further, asking her to remark on the appallingly disproportionate rates of incarceration in communities of color. “What it has become is not a war on drugs. It has become slavery,” Nicki argues.


The conversation dovetails into an examination of police brutality, another contemporary issue that is victimizing people of color in far higher numbers than other pockets of the population. To that effect, Nicki draws parallels between her life and those of Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin, all of whom were victims of negligence and brutality at the hands of police (or, as in Martin’s case, an overly zealous armed vigilante). Minaj speaks most directly about Bland’s case, a tragic tale of a Black woman’s being brusquely arrested only to die once in police custody under exceedingly suspicious circumstances. “I did research on the Sandra Bland case. That’s why it hit me so hard,” Nicki shares. “This could have been me. I’m a sassy woman. I may have given a little bit of attitude to a police officer. I could have never come home.” That powerful sentiment has echoed through the hearts and minds of millions of Americans, an indicator of just how frequently and quickly an interaction with an armed officer of the law can turn deadly for victims.

Nicki’s moving words continue through the interview, in which she also discusses her recent performance of Maya Angelou’s stirring “Still I Rise” poem at the Shining a Light: A Concert for Progress on Race in America event, as well as closing statements on her love life and what fans can expect to hear from her in the future.

Read: “Nicki Minaj Fronts Billboard No. 1s Year-End Cover in Candid, Outspoken Interview: ‘Fans Know My Struggle. I Was Ruthless'” at Billboard

Related: Thousands of Released Prisoners May Help Reform America’s Criminal Justice System (Video)