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Regional Interests

Jennifer Hough’s Harassment Lawsuit Against Nicki Minaj and Her Husband, Explained

If you’ve been having some trouble keeping up with all of the Nicki Minaj drama circulating on the internet these last few weeks, you are not alone. Chances are, most of what you’ve heard has revolved around Nicki’s assertion that one of her cousin’s friends got swollen testicles from the COVID vaccine, which apparently made him impotent, which apparently made his girlfriend leave him.

Truly, a tweet this preposterous is impossible for the internet to ignore, which is why Trinidad and Tobago’s health minister debunked Minaj’s claims. Twitter is still roasting her for it almost two weeks later. For some observers, however, the testicular Minaj tweet looks an awful lot like a deflection; a distraction from the very real legal trouble she and her husband, Kenneth “Zoo” Petty, are currently embroiled in. Legal trouble that could do Minaj’s reputation a lot more damage than asking people to “pray on it“ before they get vaccinated. And yesterday, that legal trouble hit daytime TV when Jennifer Hough made a heart-rending appearance on The Real.

Hough’s interview follows a civil lawsuit she filed on Aug. 13 against Minaj and Petty. According to legal documents obtained by E! News last month, Hough’s suit accuses the couple of a litany of serious offenses. These include: harassment, assault, battery, sexual assault and sexual harassment, witness intimidation and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The suit also accuses Minaj of threatening and attempting to bribe Hough. At one point, E! reports, the suit states:

As a direct result of the actions of Defendant Minaj and Defendant Petty, [Hough] has been traumatized her entire life. Plaintiff has moved to multiple states to avoid intimidation and harassment by Defendant Minaj, Defendant, and their allies, legal teams, and fans.

If you haven’t been following along in real time, you might be wondering where all of this stems from. To explain, we have to go way back to 1994. Specifically, Sept. 16, 1994—the day a 16-year-old Hough accused a 16-year-old Petty of rape. Hough reported that Petty approached her while she waited at a Jamaica, Queens bus stop, pressed an object to her back, forced her into a nearby house, fought against her objections, and raped her.

Petty was subsequently charged with first degree rape, but on April 5, 1995, he pleaded guilty to—and was convicted of—attempted rape in the first degree. (The offense listed on his conviction, however, states that “Actual, Sexual Intercourse” took place. It also states that he was in possession of a “Knife/cutting instrument” at the time of the attack.) Two days before his 17th birthday, Petty was sentenced to “18 to 54 months” in a state penitentiary. He served nearly four years for the attack on Hough.

On his release, Petty returned to Queens and promptly began a relationship with a 17-year-old Nicki Minaj—then known by her real name, Onika Tanya Maraj. But Petty didn’t stay out of trouble for long. By 2006—just one year before Minaj would release her first mixtape, Playtime is Over—Petty pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges, following a 2002 incident in which he shot and killed a man named Lamont Robinson.

According to Billboard, Petty served seven years before entering a supervised release program in 2013. He stayed in the program until 2018—the year he reunited with Minaj.

At that time, the couple’s reunion prompted the internet and tabloid media to begin reporting on Petty’s prior convictions in earnest. One report from TMZ that year, titled “Nicki Minaj’s BF Manslaughter Case Was Cold-Blooded,” stated:

We’re told Petty drove to the crime scene with a group of cohorts, hopped out of the car, walked across the street where Robinson was hanging out, pulled out a gun … and shot him in the stomach three times. Our sources say he then fled in the vehicle with the group.

This kind of media attention quickly put Minaj on the offensive. In June 2019, she included Petty in her video for “Megatron.” The track includes the lyrics, “I fuck him like I miss him / He just got out of prison / Bitches be talking shit / But they ain’t got a pot to piss in.” The following month, during a featured spot on Chance the Rapper’s “Zanies and Fools,” Minaj rapped: “I met my husband when I was 17 out in Queens / If you love it, let it go, now I know what that means / While he was up North for a body, I bodied everybody and got known for my body.”

Also in 2019, during an episode of her Apple Music show, Queen Radio, Minaj claimed that Petty was “wrongfully accused … when he was 15 years old.” (Petty’s arrest record clearly states he was 16 at the time of Hough’s assault.) Minaj went on to claim that Hough had attempted to recant her accusation, but didn’t after she was threatened with legal penalties for doing so. (Hough has denied this.) Minaj also used the phrase, “White is right,” implying that Hough was a white woman. She is not.

On another occasion, while defending Petty on Instagram in relation to the Hough case, Minaj claimed: “He was 15, she was 16 … in a relationship. But go awf Internet. y’all can’t run my life. Y’all can’t even run y’all own life.” In The Real interview, Hough also denied the idea that she and Petty dated.

Undeterred by Petty’s criminal history, or the negative publicity it was attracting, Minaj married him in October 2019. After moving from New York to Minaj’s home in L.A., Petty was pulled over by Beverly Hills police. The police discovered that Petty had failed to register as a sex offender when he moved to California—a condition left over from his 1995 conviction. On Sept. 9, Petty pleaded guilty during a virtual court hearing on the matter. He is expected to be sentenced in January 2022 and faces up to 10 years in prison.

Which brings us back to Hough’s appearance on The Real yesterday. Hough, visibly nervous and frequently tearful, cut a sympathetic figure. “I’m tired of being afraid,” she said. “I feel like the actions that were taken in regards to this whole situation have put me in a different type of fear.”

Hough went on to claim that, over the last couple of years, Minaj and Petty had “sent people” repeatedly to try and negotiate a financial sum with her, in an attempt to buy her silence. She said that after consistently refusing to cooperate with the couple, threats on her life were made. “The last message I received,” Hough said, “was that I should’ve taken the money ’cause they’re gonna use that money to put on my head.”

A Daily Beast article from March confirms that Hough had moved three times in 2020 alone, out of concern for her personal safety.

Hough’s appearance on The Real is bound to raise her public profile to a degree that might get uncomfortable for her. But it also caused something of a Minaj backlash on social media last night, even as the rapper attempted to boost the voices of her defenders by “liking” their positive posts about her.

The Real was a means for Hough to take back a narrative Minaj has used her considerable platform to try and control for the last three years. It was a means for Hough to show her humanity beyond salacious tabloid headlines. And it was a chance to explain the emotional and mental scars wrought by what happened to her in her teens, and how the fallout of that case continues to affect her now.

In 2018, on the track “Nip Tuck,” Minaj compared herself to Teflon. She may have spoken too soon.

Copyright 2021 KQED