The cover art, which was featured on Minaj's website and Instagram account, appears to have been adapted from a photo featured in a 1964 issue of Ebony, just months before Malcolm X's assassination.
Former Green Party vice presidential candidate Rosa Clemente, for example, started a Change.org petition calling on Minaj to remove the photo.
"You come from a rich legacy," Clemente wrote. "Without the work and life of Malcolm X, you would not be able to do what you do. Unfortunately you have chosen to disrespect and dishonor the legacy that he left us. Why you choose to do this, we do not know, but we will not allow this disrespect to go unnoticed, unchecked or unchallenged."
Minaj took to Instagram Thursday to respond to the petition and social media backlash.
"What seems to be the issue now? Do you have a problem with me referring to the people Malcolm X was ready to pull his gun out on as Lookin Ass Ni**az?" she said. "Well, I apologize. That was never the official artwork nor is this an official single. This is a conversation. Not a single. I am in the video shooting at Lookin Ass Ni**az and there happened to be an iconic photo of Malcolm X ready to do the same thing for what he believed in!!!!"
"It is in no way to undermine his efforts and legacy," she continued. "I apologize to the Malcolm X estate if the meaning of the photo was misconstrued. The word "ni**a" causes so much debate in our community while the "ni**a" behavior gets praised and worship. Let's not. Apologies again to his family. I have nothing but respect an adoration for u. The photo was removed hours ago. Thank you."
Minaj isn't the only rapper to repurpose this photograph of Malcolm X. The Grio notes that rapper KRS-One invoked the same image for the cover of his 1988 album, By All Means Necessary.