My relationship with Nicki Minaj is a story of heartbreak. While I was never among the hoards of people who called themselves Barbz, or any other derivative of Barbie, I considered myself a fan. When she was featured on Gucci Mane tracks like “Slumber Party” and “Failure,” I was telling anyone who would listen that Nicki was the female rapper the game needed.
I had a special connection to this wordsmith who was holding her own in the rap game. It also meant something to me that I was able to witness her humble beginnings. While other favorites like Lil Kim and Trina had already started to lay down their rap roots before I was old enough to interpret their sexual innuendo, Nicki was the lady rapper of my generation. In a lot of ways that’s still true, for better and for worse.
The New Yorker just published an insightful piece on Nicki’s current tactics for engaging fans, the public, and her fellow rappers. Despite successfully crossing over into the mainstream music industry years ago, Nicki continues to be obsessively preoccupied with album sales, chart numbers, and fan fervor as the show of force for her artistry. It’s an obsession that has come back to bite her in the past few months. Spectators weren’t happy about Minaj’s response (or response time) to Remy Ma’s “ShEther”; Minaj's counter-attack amounted to another boast about her album sales and level of fame. And then, following this year’s Met Gala, Nicki hastily reposted a list of publications that named her best dressed and was forced to delete it after realizing the list was fake. Even though Nicki and I have long parted ways, it’s been painful to watch these fumbles unfold publicly, because they get to the heart of my issues with her.
I’m very proud of Nicki Minaj for accomplishing what she has in a music industry that is not friendly to Black women. And although you’ll never catch me bumping “Super Bass” from my portable speaker or recreating any of Nicki’s looks from that time, I understand why that era of her career was strategically necessary to secure the credibility and capital she needed to be self-sufficient and build an empire. And make no mistake about it, that’s exactly what she has done. But Nicki didn’t break my heart by crossing over. She broke it by not coming back.
Today, platinum-blonde is the boldest hair color you are likely to catch Nicki Minaj wearing. Thankfully, she has retired her chicken-wing necklace and weird costumes. But her body of work has yet to reinspire me. Her verse on Beyoncé’s “***Flawless” remix is lackluster and “Feeling Myself” isn’t the self-empowerment anthem that “***Flawless” is. “No Frauds,” her official response to “ShEther,” came a day late and a dollar short. What she’s best at now is reciting the historic milestones she crossed in her more poppy days. The New Yorker also did well to document the fact that her current chartings aren’t all that impressive.
Which brings me to my final point, the one that contextualizes Nicki as an artist for a millennial generation. Caught in the throes of celebrating herself, I wonder if Nicki is aware of how fleeting this moment may be. She’s the queen of rap today — something she accomplished by doing a lot of things that aren’t rapping. Next year, that title could go to another artist who bends herself to the will of the mainstream music establishment. A selfie with Kim Kardashian to show off her social status won’t change that, but a dope fourth album might.