On the political implications of Nicki Minaj’s ‘Pound the Alarm’

Party anthems can be political. And Nicki Minaj’s latest video is, whether or not the average viewer realises it:

There is also a not-so-subtle unwillingness on behalf of many of her critics to dialogue with Minaj’s work on her own terms, which the Pound the Alarm reviews each fall prey to. Though most of them acknowledge that Minaj was born in Trinidad, the video’s location, none of them attempt to place the video within its context—Trinidadian party culture and national politics.

Trinidad & Tobago was in a state of emergency for a sizeable portion of 2011, and nightlife was forced underground after a curfew was imposed. 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 informally 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.

Nicki isn’t the first Trini to release nationalist or politically charged party music, and indeed the Caribbean has a long tradition of political expression via what most non-Caribbean people hear as generic party songs. This is why placing “Pound the Alarm” within its context as a party song in this tradition is critical—situating it within this framework of understanding demonstrates that the above-mentioned reviews hardly do Minaj justice, much less recognize the political subtext of the video.

Think about what it really means to produce that video within the context of the political climate in 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. In this context, partying can be seen as a form of resistance against the criminalization of low-income and youth Trinis (and the imperialism which fueled and necessitated it). Creating a music video homage to Trini party culture, titled “Pound the Alarm,” with the Bissessar government’s post-bacchanal prediction as the final shot, and connecting that to implications of aesthetics of militant nationalism (via the bandana), is extremely significant.

All this aside, 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. However, the point is that even if you’re not a fan of Nicki Minaj, she deserves some credit—this is not a simple beachside club jam. Again, too many gloss over her work when talking about ‘politically engaged rap’ due to the dominate narrative on her fame, and don’t realize all the subtext 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.

–Annita Lucchesi, “Nicki Minaj’s ‘Pound the Alarm’ Reveals Trinidadian Party Politics

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