Queen Under Siege
Warning: This story contains explicit language.
When Nicki Minaj announced on Twitter in July that her fourth studio album Queen would be delayed for a second time, she appeared apologetic but confident. Having already pushed the release date once before, Minaj explained to fans that the most recent delay was due to “last-minute sampling clearance issues.”
“You guys can only imagine how much this means to me,” she tweeted. “It’s such a perfect body of work.”
When Queen finally dropped over a week later on August 10, the highly anticipated album was met with generally positive reviews, although not everyone was impressed. Nevertheless, it still debuted at number two on Billboard behind Travis Scott’s Astroworld.
For Minaj, second place wasn’t enough. Taking to Twitter, she called out Scott for using “unfair promotional tactics” like bundling albums with concert tickets and using his girlfriend Kylie Jenner’s massive social media platform to boost sales. Minaj also blasted the Astroworld rapper on her show Queen Radio, naming him “Ho N*gga of the Week.”
“What we’re not going to do is have this fucking auto tune man come up in here selling fucking sweaters and telling y’all he sold half a million fucking albums, because he didn’t,” she said.
The spat is just one of many events that have made for a tumultuous past few months for Nicki Minaj. The hip-hop megastar has repeatedly found herself at the centre of controversies, industry beefs and most recently, a highly publicized physical altercation with a rival rapper. Throughout the debacle, Minaj has remained unapologetically outspoken in her defense, citing sexism in the industry and unfair criticism as the cause of her demise.
For fans and critics alike, it’s been an unseemly spectacle to watch. While opinions of Minaj may differ, there’s one thing almost everyone can agree: When you’re queen on the throne, it’s always a long way down.
Like in any male-dominated industry, women must overcome insurmountable obstacles to reach the top. Hip-hop is no different. Throughout the music genres 45-year history, few female MCs have managed to gain the success and notoriety of their male counterparts.
It’s no wonder then, that for the few female rappers who do beat the odds, there’s an overwhelming need to claim the top spot and assert themselves. But when the unwritten rules of hip-hop demand that homage is paid to the greats who came before, this is no easy feat. How does an artist respect the legends while also setting out to prove that they’re just as good—if not better?
As an underground rapper back in 2007, Minaj straddled this fine line. Her music was largely unheard of by mainstream audiences but for those who did listen, many quickly drew comparisons to Lauryn Hill and Lil Kim, accusing the aspiring rapper of rifting the icons’ styles. Although the artists were influential to Minaj’s career (in an interview with AllHipHop in 2009, she included both Lauryn Hill and Lil Kim in her “Top 5 Dead or Alive” list), she was adamant that her lyrics and flow were entirely her own.
Comparisons aside, Minaj had talent, potential and appeal. Not long after she was signed to rapper Lil Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment label in 2009, her career began taking off. She collaborated with some of the biggest names in music and was increasingly featured on chart-topping singles like Bedrock, Up Out My Face and Monster (the infamous hit with Kanye West and Jay Z is widely viewed as a defining moment in Minaj’s career).
Just one year after signing to Young Money she released her debut album Pink Friday. It debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 (it’s since gone triple platinum) and had its fair share of hits. But one of the album’s songs stood out in particular: Roman’s Revenge. It was an unmistakable diss track aimed at none other than Lil Kim.
Minaj had found success and it was no longer about paying homage.
Nicki Minaj in her No Frauds music video.
By 2014, there was no denying the powerhouse that Nicki Minaj had become. Lyrically, she’d proven herself a force to be reckoned with. She’d released two more albums since Pink Friday and thanks to a series of pop hits like Starships, Super Bass and Pound the Alarm, her music had managed to transcend the borders of hip-hop.
But Minaj had more than simply talent on her side—she had opportunity. For the better part of her career, there had been no other female rappers around for competition. “Of course, there are so many women who opened the door for me, but there was a drought when I came,” Minaj herself admitted in a recent Genius interview. “It was a long drought for a long time.”
That changed following rival rapper Remy Ma’s release from prison. The two female MCs had a decade-old beef (it’s widely believed that Minaj instigated the dispute) but upon Ma’s incarceration, it had seemingly died. But the spat was revived in 2014 when Ma, working to resurrect her rap career, dropped a diss track aimed at Minaj, recorded over the Young Money rapper’s own Truffle Butter beat.
“Ain’t met a rapper chick yet that ain’t scared of me/ You talk tough but I really did a sentence,” Ma freestyled. “In black ink, your fingers never been printed/ Showing black love post, I invented/ You be dragging it ma, I’m authentic.”
Not to be outdone, Minaj fired back with two disses of her own, dropped into featured verses on Gucci Mane’s Make Love and Jason Derulo’s Swallain 2017. As rap beefs go, Ma responded in turn. This time though, all bets were off and Ma wasn’t holding back. The result was shETHER, a vicious and decimating seven-minute diss track that targeted everything from Minaj’s appearance to her lyrical skills. Adding insult to injury, that same year, Ma won the BET Award for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist, ending Minaj’s seven-year winning streak.
It was the first time in Minaj’s 10-year career that another female rapper had successfully managed to shake her empire. But it wouldn’t be the last.
The Queen was under siege.
In a recent interview with Genius Live, the self-proclaimed “Queen of Hip-Hop” broke down her most infamous lyrics, responded to her critics and set the record straight on her many rumoured industry beefs.
Contrary to the unlimited space hip-hop makes for male rappers, female MCs are constantly seen as each other’s competition, trained to believe that only one can dominate. As one writer once wrote for Complex, “men have free reign in the genre and—consciously or subconsciously—want to keep it that way. One way this plays out is, when women are pitted against each other, they’re occupied and out of the way, ensuring they take up as little space as possible.”
Such was the trap laid for Minaj and hip-hop newcomer Cardi B. Not long after the 25-year-old Bronx rapper and former reality TV star emerged on the scene, the two women were put in direct competition as those within and outside of the industry pit them against one another. Initially, both contended they had no qualms with each other. “Nobody got a problem with me, I don’t got a problem with them,” Cardi told Billboard last year.
Their behaviour told a different story though, as they engaged in a yearlong back-and-forth. Eventually, any public attempts at diplomacy were done away with altogether.
“To me, she may have taken an issue with things that I’ve said, but I’m not going to bite my tongue,” said Minaj this past August of Cardi. The comment was made on Queen Radio, her recently launched show on Apple Music’s Beats 1 station. “You gotta have thick skin. People talk shit about me all the time. You can’t expect to be liked and loved and praised all the fucking time. Give me a break.”
The brewing beef was just one of many ongoing distractions from her Queen press tour. That same month, Minaj had it out with her ex-boyfriend Safaree Samuels over rumours that during their relationship, he’d been her ghostwriter. The two engaged in a vulgar Twitter exchange, during which Minaj alleged that he’d stolen her credit cards and he in turn claimed that she’d stabbed him in a physical altercation. Then, one week later, Minaj shocked fans by announcing that the North American leg of her 2019 world tour was being postponed. Though she said it was to “reevaluate elements of production” according to one report, ticket sales for the tour were “in the toilet.”
What was meant to be a fulsome press tour in support of Queen had spiraled into a PR nightmare. With the exception of the Barbz, Minaj’s loyal fan base, public support for the once-proclaimed Queen of Rap was dwindling. Media headlines blasted her while on social media, users disparaged her as insecure, bitter and washed up. With more than one female MC now on the block, many questioned if Minaj could handle the competition.
Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse—they did. Minaj and Cardi B’s war-of-words reached a new level when the two got into a physical altercation at New York Fashion Week in September (it’s still unclear precisely what caused the confrontation). The highly publicized incident—which Minaj has referred to as “mortifying and humiliating”—dealt a devastating blow to her already smeared image.
“Of course, there are so many women who opened the door for me, but there was a drought when I came. It was a long drought for a long time.” – Nicki Minaj
If there’s one thing Nicki Minaj doesn’t do, it’s remain silent. Time and time again, she’s made clear her refusal to be a passive participant in the telling of her own narrative. While in the past she’s often used her lyrics to address controversies, over the last year she’s increasingly turned to unconventional methods like Twitter Queen Radio to respond to criticism.
For those still willing to listen, there was validity to be found in Minaj’s self-defense. She is a powerhouse, and her global success had reached a level many rappers—male or female—could only dream of. Like any artist, she was both proud and passionate about her craft and unwilling for it to be disparaged. Her recent behaviour was no different from that of any male rapper and yet, in her own words, she was being “portrayed as the bad guy.”
“People have the audacity to be angry with me for defending my fucking craft?” she recently questioned in a recent passionate interview with veteran hip-hop journalist Rob Markman. “Can you imagine someone coming in and treating Jay or Wayne like that?”
Nevertheless, general sympathy for Minaj was in short supply. As many pointed out, she was far from blameless in her own demise, having made several recent questionable personal and professional decisions. While her controversial collaboration with convicted sex offender 6ix9ine was widely criticized, people were further enraged by her choice to include the collaboration on Queenin spite of the intense backlash. Minaj has also refused to publicly acknowledge or apologize for participating in the vicious cyber bullying of a Toronto writer who critiqued her music earlier this year.
Minaj isn’t winning any popularity points among critics but whether she even cares to do so, is unlikely. By early September, just one month after its release, Queen had become certified RIAA gold. FEFE, her controversial single with rapper 6ix9ine, is currently enjoying double platinum status. Her scuffle with Cardi B and history of online bullying seemingly in the rearview, last week Minaj was unveiled as one of the faces of Diesel’s new Haute Couture line, a socially conscious fashion collection meant to address cyber bullying.
Despite the raucous year she’s had, it appears Minaj has come out on top, though, admittedly, things are different. For the first time in a long time, Nicki Minaj is no longer the only female MC at the table. Of course, there are more than enough seats for just one woman but if the rap industry has its way, room will only be given for one.
And so, for now, the Queen remains on her throne. For how long though, only time will tell.
But that’s just According to Adrienne.