Nicki Minaj Is Probably Not Voting For Mitt Romney

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After a year in which her rep as a legitimate rap artist has been dented by an album that split its time between dense rhymes and enormous, danceable beats, America has suddenly decided to take Nicki Minaj seriously. And all it took was her bigging up rich white dude Mitt Romney on a verse over G.O.O.D. Music's "Mercy."

"I'm a Republican, votin' for Mitt Romney/ You lazy bitches is fuckin' up the econ'my," she raps near the end of the verse, which appears on Lil Wayne's Dedication 4 mixtape. The Internet, whose geniuses often struggle with understanding rap lyrics, took her at her word: Google News has blown up with stories about the mention, with Twitter/Reddit/4chan distillery BuzzFeed among many outlets to publish a post to the effect of "Nicki Minaj is voting for Mitt Romney!" without engaging the context of the song.

That bloggers, reporters, and Twitter users would do this is unsurprising—engaging with the context of rap can be difficult!—but taking rappers at their literal word is almost always a no-no, especially when the lines take to the absurd.

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The 20 Best Things About "Hot Cheetos And Takis"

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Surely you've heard of "Hot Cheetos and Takis," the banger from the Y.N.RichKids, by now? The song, a product of the Minneapolis North Community YMCA's Beats and Rhymes Program, is as infectious as its titular snacks are artificially flavored, with what appears to be a bunch of community school-educated pre-teens spitting the ode to the convenience store staples. It's also sincerely one of the best rap songs of this summer. Let us count the reasons why.

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Angel Haze Forges Her Own Path On Reservation

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2012 is already one of the best years for female rappers in a long while. Nicki Minaj's "Starships" has given her another massive hit at a time when those are vanishingly rare in rap, and Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded balances her fearsome skill as a rapper with her newly-minted pop star status. Na'Tee's "No Love" is the best track by more than a few women (Sasha Go Hard and Katie Got Bandz) who have merged from Trina's old lane to the street where brittle bangers bounce off asphalt. Trina herself is back with the weirdly awesome "Beam"; Missy Elliott is, too, appearing on the remix for M.I.A.'s fantastic "Bad Girls" and in the hook to J. Cole's slow-burning "Nobody's Perfect." Despite a middle finger overshadowing the affair, Nicki and M.I.A. joined Madonna on a single the trio performed at halftime of the Super Bowl. Hell, Kreayshawn and Iggy Azalea are still things, and Kitty Pryde's maybe the breakout Internet figure in music this year.

No woman in rap is quite as exciting as Angel Haze, though. And Reservation, her new EP, gives listeners good reason to be excited both for what she is and what she will be.

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Kitty Pryde: Hazy Beats, Crushed-Out Lyrics, And A Keen Eye For Detail

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It would be easy to dismiss Kitty Pryde—scarlet-haired 19-year-old white women from Daytona Beach, Florida, would not fit anyone's profile of "the next to blow," and rap-singing songs about Justin Bieber ("Justin Bieber") and an object of her affection ("Okay Cupid") isn't the most direct path to street cred—and it would also be wrong. Kitty doesn't have sharp claws; her "hardest" bar, for my money, is from an obscure YouTube freestyle: "I'm Princess Fiona, I'm an ogre at night." But she does have a sharp eye for detail—she's earned her self-proclaimed "rap game Taylor Swift" title with precise lines about the imprecision of young love—as well as an ear for hazy, suspended-in-air beats, and a curlicue flow that approximates the ennui of being smart and young and living in Florida and is equal parts Tyler, The Creator and Lil B.

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The Trouble With Lupe Fiasco Goes Beyond Pete Rock And Touching "T.R.O.Y."

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via The LupEND Blog
It was all good for Lupe Fiasco just two albums ago. By 2008, the Chicago MC, co-signed by Jay-Z and brought on the Glow In The Dark Tour by Kanye West, had released two critically acclaimed albums, Food & Liquor and The Cool, and built on a reputation as a nimble lyricist with a political bent forged by a series of excellent mixtapes by demonstrating that he could write more traditionally radio-friendly singles ("Kick, Push," "Superstar") without forsaking his essence.

But those albums were only moderate commercial successes, leading Atlantic Records and Fiasco to squabble endlessly over what would eventually become 2011's Lasers. The struggle seemed to sap Fiasco's talents (Lasers is a mess of awkward collaborations and half-hearted you-can-do-it anthems that seemed like an ungainly swing at pop, despite Fiasco passing on what would become label mate B.o.B's "Nothin' on You"; Fiasco's last widely praised project was a 22-minute mixtape, Enemy of the State, released in November 2009) and embolden him politically (Fiasco, an avowed non-voter, called President Obama "the biggest terrorist" in 2011, has allied himself with Occupy Wall Street to the point of rapping "New gang alert, hashtag Occupy," and became one of the first rappers ever to look like an idiot in a dispute with Bill O'Reilly).

But Atlantic got what it wanted in Lasers, an album Fiasco confessed to hating: a hit. It debuted at No. 1 on Billboard, spawned two top-40 singles ("The Show Goes On" and "Out of My Head"), and re-established Fiasco as a source of lucre for the label while giving him a forum for his Alex Jones-caliber conspiracy theorizing—"All Black Everything" imagines a counter-factual world in which the African slave trade did not exist but rap still somehow evolved in the same way, while "Words I Never Said" allowed Lupe to indulge his 9/11 truther fantasies ("9/11, Building 7, did they really pull it?") and self-mythologize ("I'm a part of the problem, my problem is I'm peaceful") over leaden Alex da Kid production. With "Around My Way (Freedom Ain't Free)," released Monday night, Fiasco proved that he and Atlantic understand the template for his future commercial success—rap on pop tracks and continue to vomit incoherent political screeds—but have completely lost the plot when it comes to critical respect.

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Katy Perry Covers Jay-Z And Kanye West, Adds Rapping To List Of Things She Is The Worst At

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Off the top of my head, I can come up with more "controversial" stances Katy Perry has taken than I can count on one hand: "Ur So Gay" being mean, homophobic, and seemingly aimed at Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz; "I Kissed a Girl" being shock-Sapphic and heteronormative; "You / PMS / Like a bitch / I would know" in "Hot N Cold"; the Sesame Street debacle; the unparalleled mastery of the Maxim mien to optimize titillation; the use of "Last Friday Night" to hop on Rebecca Black's comet and put on nerd drag; the use of "Firework" to hop on the It Gets Better wave; the uncomfortably xenophobic "E.T.," and specifically a remix in which one of the most famous black rappers of the moment was turned into a lascivious, rape-y beast; the microwaved breakup "rage" of "Part of Me" getting timed to a) the end of a very public relationship, b) the re-release of an album, and c) the Grammys in which Adele's heartfelt kiss-offs were venerated. Her debut album was named One of the Boys; her "California Gurls" had a Snoop Dogg verse because casual misogyny and watered-down Golden State triumphalism fit, and "Gurls" because she decided to make it the least convincing Big Star tribute ever.

So why is Katy Perry not going all the way when covering "Niggas in Paris," and instead doing Karmin-style genre tourism? C'mon, Katy: We know what you're saying when you say "ninja," just like Reggie "Combat Jack" Osse did when he took the Voice's Tom Breihan to task for using "ninja" as a substitute for "nigga" in 2006. And you even admit in the opening seconds of your BBC performance that things are going to get embarrassing!

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Five Reasons Why XXL's Freshman Class Issue Is Going To Be A Yearly Ritual For A While

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XXL's Freshman Issue cover. Click to enlarge.
As traditions go, XXL's annual "Freshman Class" issue is neither all that time-honored or worthwhile. The magazine's been putting rappers it calls freshmen on its cover since 2008, but hasn't exactly been kingmaking or future forecasting in doing so: 2008's list featured Crooked I and Joell Ortiz, half of what would become Slaughterhouse, now doing hyper-lyrical rap over araabMUSIK beats; Rich Boy, who all but disappeared after the success of "Throw Some D's"; Lil Boosie, who has caught more charges than he has released albums since; Papoose, last seen insisting to deaf ears on Twitter that he is the reigning king of New York; Lupe Fiasco, who broke through with 2011's watered-down Lasers, an album he hates; Saigon, who was Jay Electronica before Jay Electronica and dropped a long-gestating solo debut in 2011; Young Dro, a T.I. lieutenant who never blew up; Plies, now a workmanlike Florida street rapper; and Gorilla Zoe, known to most beyond the Cocaine Blunts corner of the Internet only as a guy who was on Yung Joc's "Coffee Shop."

The predictive value of the list hasn't improved since, with abundant misses (2009's Charles Hamilton and Cory Gunz, 2010's OJ da Juiceman and Pill, 2011's Lil Twist and Fred tha Godson), premature calls (B.o.B was a freshman in 2009, but blew up in 2010; Curren$y and Wale showed up on 2009's list, and Big Sean and J. Cole got the look in 2010, but none of the three found their niches until 2011), and just a few right name, right time selections (Kid Cudi in 2009, Meek Mill and Kendrick Lamar in 2011). And worse still, for some, are the out-and-out whiffs: where was XXL on Drake and Nicki Minaj, two of rap's biggest rising stars of the last three years?

But that doesn't make it a bad list, or a bad exercise; it just makes it Sisyphean. And that's part of why the XXL list will be with us, good or bad, for as long as the magazine exists. Here are five more reasons why the magazine will keep publishing it—and why we'll keep lapping it up.

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Drake Takes Center Stage On Take Care

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"That was back in the days, Acura days," Drake raps at the end of both verses of "Under Ground Kings." It's half of one of the most revealing couplets of Take Care, his masterful second album, and it's a callback to his come-up, a transition in roles from Degrassi's Jimmy Brooks to a promising rookie rapper from Toronto.

You can see some of that in a segment from the MTV Cribs-style Degrassi Unscripted from 2004, which features a skinny, then-18-year-old Aubrey Graham tooling around in an Acura ("It's a nice first car, for, like, a teenager, I guess"), sneaking forbidden chocolate to his grandmother, and putting his massive music collection, his many dog-eared rhyme books, and his nascent rap talents on display for the world to see. It's goofy, sure, but it's one of the formative documents of Drake's stardom: He may seem like a silver spoon-fed product of entertainment industry nepotism, but he dreamed of rap stardom, and worked to be good enough to deserve it.

Take Care is more than proof that he is; it's as good a rap album as 2011 has had.

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Drake Continues His Sensitive-Guy Act On "Make Me Proud"

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"Make Me Proud," the new Drake track that premiered on Funkmaster Flex's show last night, is virtually guaranteed to be a hit. It's a song about and for women, who have been a crucial part of the Canadian MC's fanbase since "Best I Ever Had." It's got a distinctive sound—clean, deep drums and bass, a synth effect that simulates a landing strip—thanks to Toronto's T-Minus, one of the few young locals Drake's relying on for his sophomore album, Take Care. And it's got a catchy hook and a verse from fellow pop-rap icon Nicki Minaj, bragging about the condition of both her real estate portfolio and her vagina as only she can.

It's also got all of the things that make Drake the most loathsome pop star of the current moment.

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J. Cole Is Still Warming Up In Shadows On Cole World

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J. Cole stands in the intertwined shadows of two of rap's biggest figures: Jay-Z, his label boss/idol/mentor, and Drake, the LeBron James to his Darko Milicic. This is true both in terms of the long view and on Cole's debut album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, out today: Cole is shown up on his own terrain by both Jay, who turns in a uncharacteristically vicious verse on "Mr. Nice Watch," and Drake, who steals dawn sex ode "In the Morning" despite sounding like he regrets the last three whiskeys and tossing out a bizarre anecdote about his aunt riding equestrian.

The guests have the effect of pulling the talented Cole in particular directions; "Mr. Nice Watch" finds him flaunting newfound wealth, while "In the Morning" has him doing a loverman act. This phenomenon isn't new; since he became the first member of Jay-Z's Roc Nation label in early 2009, Cole has starred on the rugged Kanye West posse cut "Looking For Trouble," given Miguel's arresting "All I Want Is You" the voice of a player with a soft spot, and lit up Jay-Z's "A Star Is Born," a song explicitly designed as a coronation for him, with a verse that blended narrative deftness and winning, winking braggadocio. But when Cole is left to his own devices, he can't quite figure out how to turn all of the pieces that make him compelling into a cohesive whole.

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