Author's Note: This op-ed was originally written in response to Nicki Minaj's decision to collaborate with Tekashi 6ix9ine and evolved from there into a larger critique of what I, like countless others, would like to see in the next era of her artistry. The original publication was required to pull the piece for internal reasons. In hindsight, I would have liked to have mentioned that she brought DeJ Loaf and Tinashe on tour with her in 2015 as well as has "hinted" at bringing several women mentioned in this piece on her 2018 tour with her, a detail that in my research I could not confirm to be true at this moment in time. Both of those points are valid and should be included in the narrative. However, I also feel that there overall is a larger desire to see that same energy continued now that a new era of women-made rap is upon us. Like many fans who respect and honor Nicki's legacy, I'm curious to see where she fits into the conversation and cultural landscape today, and how her next album speaks to her legacy and evolution (or lack thereof) alike. Overall, I appreciate the opportunity to explore this topic openly and continue a conversation that so many are adamantly and visibly passionate about. Thank you for reading.
How Nicki Minaj’s disregard of the women she inspires may ultimately cost her
What’s a queen without her kingdom?
Nicki Minaj has spent her entire career demanding respect and settling for nothing less. Now entering her second decade of consistently commanding the spotlight, topping the Billboard charts and becoming one of the world’s best-selling artists across genres (let alone in rap), it’s safe to say she’s more than paid her dues and rightfully earned her throne. However, with all eyes on her leading up to her fourth studio album, Queen, due out August 10, Minaj still has something to prove. It’s not necessarily about questioning her past accomplishments but more so about what this next chapter of her career will say about her legacy, especially in the eyes of her female fans and counterparts.
While the majority of her focus has been determinedly and justifiably pointed at earning her spot in a male rapper’s world—occasionally offering the valid observation that regardless of the industry, women have to work twice as hard for half the recognition—a lot has shifted culturally in the four years since the release of her 2014 magnum opus, The Pinkprint.
Putting aside the feminist resurgence the world at large is experiencing as I type this, a new era has also arrived for rap. For one, as exemplified by Remy Ma and Cardi B being recipients of the 2017 and 2018 BET Award for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist respectively, Nicki isn’t competing with herself anymore. As a new, much-embraced wave of women creators continues to flourish—dozens of which credit the Queens MC for inspiring their careers in the first place—one can’t help but wonder where Nicki now fits after spending a decade fighting for her lane and, in turn, whether she likes it or not, paving a path for the next generation of women creators.
Competition will always be woven into the very fabric of rap music regardless of gender. With that in mind and considering the fact that the hip-hop historically doesn’t bode well when it gets wind of two women succeeding at once, it’s as easy to criticize Minaj’s lack of hip-hop sisterhood as it is to understand it from the root.
When Nicki collaborated with Migos and Cardi B on “Motorsport,” she experienced a full circle moment, one sewn together by the contrasting feelings of longing for respect and not receiving it in return; a historic cycle reminiscent of what she had gone through with Lil’ Kim at the beginning of her career (and alternatively, what Kim went through previously with Foxy Brown). Cardi B’s apparent disregard of Nicki as her OG hit her hard, just as Nicki’s homages to Kim eventually crossed a line and ignited a lasting beef.
With lessons learned the hard way that the relationships between other women in hip-hop have been inherently confusing to navigate, thanks largely in part to how the culture’s reflex is to pit women against each other, Nicki has fallen short on a couple recent occasions, leaving some of hip-hop’s widespread audience feeling a bit uncertain or even indifferent about her forthcoming project. We all know the project will do numbers (how can it not) but what will it add to her legacy?
First, her beef with Remy Ma ignited in hip-hop fans that track-for-track excitement that so many had been nostalgic for. However, instead of fighting to protect her crown, she instead chose to polish it by reminding Remy that she has more hits and has secured more bags at the end of the day. And while numbers are an undeniably important part of the conversation, fans wanted and expected more from Nicki; perhaps because they had grown accustomed to her coming out on top regardless of circumstance. While her back and forth with Remy arguably fell short and fizzled out, Nicki would later put that same money she bragged about to good use, admirably paying off dozens of student loan payments after asking for her Barbz fanbase to tweet her receipts and winning back the adoration of some of her critics.
However, her philanthropy alone isn’t enough to protect her from those same critics coming back in swarms, especially considering how Nicki has had a couple of misses with the press lately, a key factor in building hype around her new music (outside of her own ginormous social followings, of course). From her offensive commentary during a recent interview with Elle (which was framed with a “I don’t really know how to say that without being offensive”) during which she blasts “modern day prostitutes” and wonders if she’s “contributed to that in some way;” to lashing out at music journalist Wanna Thompson for sharing her personal music opinions on Twitter; to receiving backlash from Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness for entertaining a cover story with Harper’s Bazaar Russia and alienating her LGBTQ+ fans by doing so, it’s as if Nicki should know better by now. She either doesn’t care about potential repercussions with the media or is so lost in her own sauce a la Kanye West her missteps don’t ever get back to her. Regardless of what the “haters” may be saying, Nicki continues to blissfully tweet about her upcoming album, reporting live from her own world and making it clear it’s going to take more than some social media backlash to steal her renowned razor-sharp focus. After all, she has the Barbz equipped and ready to fight for her in her mentions and the mentions of those brave (or naive) enough to strike back.
So now, after releasing two successful singles (“Chun-Li” and “Barbie Tingz”) and the ball back in her court, what’s her next move? Announcing a massive tour with Future (okay, sure) and most recently, dropping a song with the ever-polarizing Tekashi 6ix9ine (uh, sis?!).
Did we need this “Fefe” joint? Did anyone (above the age of 15) ask for that? Is anyone else grossed out by a 35-year-old who denounces promiscuity in practice while being promiscuous in image and a 22-year-old with a criminal past of pedophilia trading raunchiness bar-for-bar and promoting such a track with cutesy Claymations of themselves licking the same ice cream cone? Aesthetically speaking, this might just be the biggest L of 2018 so far. And that goes without even bringing her brother's criminal convictions into the conversation. All that aside, the collaboration with Tekashi 6ix9ine stings the most because it further amplifies how Nicki is not only capable of working with a plethora of up-and-coming artists and is open to the idea but actively chooses not to indulge any of the dozens of black women who openly credit her for inspiring their own music careers. Many critics of this stance point out that other women can't afford a Nicki feature, and that 6ix9ine can, but does that excuse her refusal to read the proverbial rap room that this might be a decision she'll have to defend? With the Cardi B feature, Nicki laughed off the theory that she didn't know who she was doing a song with, which further illustrates how her collaboration with 6ix9ine was more than a check clearing; it was calculated. She's going to have to defend this decision at some point.
As of now, all signs point to the fact that the decision to name her album Queen was a self-serving one that further expands her 'me against the world attitude,' when the word could also serve to explore its definition as a term of endearment, empowerment and the relationships women have with themselves and with other women. Why should someone like Cardi B give Nicki “genuine love” if it's easier to avoid the hassle that ensued following their haphazard collaboration? I’m not saying the world won’t spin if they never get together on a track again, but damn, Nicki didn’t even hesitate at the opportunity to get in the studio with a rainbow-haired troll who pled guilty to the use of a child in a sexual performance, let alone entertain calling one of rap’s next female stars, such as Asian Doll, Kash Doll, Rico Nasty, Kamaiyah, Saweetie, Bhad Bhabie (who arguably would fill the same troll quota as 6ix9ine for those who refuse to accept Danielle Bregoli as a legitimate rapper), Kodie Shane, Maliibu Miitch and Tierra Whack, to name a few.
Although she herself has said, during an emotional conversation with Zane Lowe, she “can only imagine how many girls wished they could’ve been on a song with Nicki Minaj,” it appears as though such a possibility still only lives within. Her ego, or perhaps her conditioning, will never allow such an idea to come to surface, especially considering the women she shouted out in that same interview deserve more than a namedrop. While Nicki has no problem collaborating with Ariana Grande, who is a confirmed featured artist on Queen (“Bed”), her hesitancy to fully embrace younger female rappers is both disappointing and predictable; a blow that is only strengthened in the existence of her track with someone like a Tekashi 6ix9ine.
At what point does Nicki Minaj’s blatant disregard for dishing out the same respect she herself spent years working for, as well as her apparent inability to take criticism, come back to bite her? At what point does the Barbz fanbase have second thoughts about their unconditional fandom? Or will grow up and get tired of defending her shiny, plastic narrative? Her habitual choice to not work with or lift up other women, seems like a bad call, especially at a time where such a choice could lift her legacy even higher. Fans want to see evolution and growth at this stage in the game. Mentoring others and passing the baton would show she’s in control of her influence and invested in a culture she helped create, much like how her legendary contemporaries, such as JAY-Z, Nas, Drake, Lil Wayne, T.I., Diddy, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole, among others, have had not only the business acumen but the genuine desire to give back to a culture that made them tastemakers and millionaires in the first place, such as with endeavors like TIDAL, Mass Appeal, OVO Sound, Hustle Gang, REVOLT TV, TDE and Dreamville. While she has had smart collaborations in the past, such as her M.A.C lipstick, her perfume or her wine spritzer company Myx Beverage, these showcase the strength of her personal brand, not her interest in providing resources for others to utilize and grow with. There's an untapped market as a female entrepreneur in hip-hop and Nicki could truly do some amazing things if she chose to tap in.
From her interviews to her four-year hiatus, it’s evident Nicki is in a state of reinvention, with hopes to “get deep” with fans by openly discussing things like heartbreak, betrayal, abandonment, relationship rumors, spirituality, and workaholism fueled by perfectionism, among other personal topics. The best reinvention, if you ask me, just might be beginning to embrace other women in music and seeing what you can build together, instead of ignoring the battle cries when you too were once in the trenches. We all can imagine it’s not easy being Nicki Minaj, but she can certainly make it a little easier for herself.