Nicki Minaj drew criticism from the family and estate of Malcolm X this week after using a photo of the slain civil rights leader to accompany her new single, “Lookin Ass N—a.” On Wednesday, Minaj had posted artwork that used a photo of Malcolm X looking out a window while holding a large rifle to promote the song on her website and Instagram.
“Ms. Minaj’s artwork for her single does not depict the truth of Malcolm X’s legacy,” Malcolm X’s daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz said in a statement to the Associated Press on Friday. An attorney for the estate and family threatened legal action if the photo was not removed. “This is a family photo that was taken out of context in a totally inaccurate and tasteless way,” said Mark Roesler, CEO of the business representative for the Malcolm X estate. The photo shows Malcolm X trying to protect his family from death threats after his home had been firebombed.
“For his image to be misused this way, it’s despicable,” Jacob Morris, head of the Harlem Historical Society, told the New York Daily News. “It’s disgraceful to attach the n-word to him – flat out.”
Minaj apologized for the image choice on Thursday and pulled the artwork from her sites, saying that it was “never the official artwork.” “I apologize to the Malcolm X estate if the meaning of the photo was misconstrued,” Minaj said in a statement posted on Instagram. “I have nothing but respect (and) adoration for u.”
In an interview on Hot 97 later that day, Minaj explained why she had seen the image as a good fit for a song intended to empower women. “It was almost parallel in my opinion because he has this big gun ready to shoot at a lookin’ (expletive) bleep, and that’s how I looked at it,” she said, according to the AP. “I looked at it as this is one of the most memorable people in our history, in black history, who voiced his opinion no matter what, and I understand how my intent was overlooked and I definitely didn’t want to offend his family or his legacy.”