The world has been watching the ongoing beef between Cardi B and Nicki Minaj, and has a lot of feelings about it. Onlookers have taken sides and made their allegiances clear on social media, vigilantly trolling comment sections on Instagram and elongating threads on Twitter. I know, because I’ve taken part, too. The tension between these two women has cracked open conversations about the wrongs committed against women in hip-hop. Even those who aren’t invested the feud at all — including those who pretend not to be — seem to have have settled on the position that the very fact that these two are going at it is a failure in itself. A quick search for “Beyoncé would never” on Twitter will reveal how respectability has manifested itself in the debate between the “Queen” and the “Trap Selena.” However, as their conflict spreads from the confines of recording studios, many of these perspectives — perhaps even mine — are misguided. If you didn’t learn some of the unwritten codes governing how this disagreement has played out, it’s much easier to condemn Cardi and Nicki for succumbing to petty drama.
If you want to understand every tit-for-tat between the two, you can read about it all over the internet. I won’t be documenting the history of their feud here. For the purposes of this conversation, what happened is less important than interrogating why things have escalated to this degree. A negative reaction to what we perceive as disrespect is pretty universal. But depending on your unique cultural practices, that disrespect can take make forms.
We must remember that the interpersonal beef between two women, famous or not, is just that: extremely personal, and therefore completely unmoved by our opinions.
Last year — when Nicki was in the middle of another nasty battle with Remy Ma — onlookers couldn’t pinpoint where Cardi and Nicki stood, because we only had cryptic lyrics and tweets to go by. In interviews and on social media, both parties denied for months that there was any animosity between them. They were even photographed together at this year’s Met Gala, apparently talking through whatever differences they had. But the lyrical jabs wouldn’t let up. On “Ganja Burns,” Nicki quipped “Unlike a lot of these hoes whether wack or lit/At least I can say I wrote every rap I spit.” This seemed to confirm the fan theory: There was definitely smoke.
There is a term to describe the practice of speaking ill of someone else while not addressing them directly and/or pretending to not Be harboring any negative feelings. It’s called sneak dissing, a culturally specific form of disrespect that is particularly offensive. Cardi addressed this when she was featured on G-Eazy’s “No Limit” and delivered the line “Can you stop with all the subs? Bitch I aint Jared.” She was rapping about those subliminal shots taken by her unnamed enemy. Others may find it rude or unnecessarily confrontational, but according to the street code, if you have a personal beef, confronting your adversary directly is always the more noble route, no matter the consequences.
In the court of public opinion, things finally went too far at the pair’s most recent run-in at the Harper’s Bazaar Icons Party during NYFW — where Cardi B threw a shoe at Nicki’s camp and left with a bulging lump on her forehead from either a security guard or Nicki’s friend Rah Ali, depending on who you ask. It was also a moment that, for me, underscored a disconnect between how this bad blood was being perceived by people with an intimate understanding of certain street codes and those without it. The violent altercation between Nicki and Cardi on September 8 was a collision of two different worlds: An elite fashion party became the site of a street fight. As such, it was also an important reminder that anger and resentment between two Black women does not exist to serve as everyone else’s entertainment.
Cardi has since doubled down on her willingness to either talk things through withNicki or “fight it out,” proving that her politics around conflict resolution haven’t changed much since she was a regular degular girl in the Bronx. Nicki sometimes positions herself above such squabbling, but has also delivered threats of physical violence to other enemies (like DJ Self) and bragged about her own friend beating up Cardi on Queen Radio. To be clear, I’m not condoning violence. Even in the hood, physical dueling isn’t a first response. But I do know better than to vilify people just for simply getting into a weapons-free exchange of hands. Truthfully, I’ve been involved in several physical fights in my lifetime. I grew up in a part of Chicago where that’s just what I had to do — sometimes in defense of my physical body and sometimes to simply stand my ground.
When you come from a community where you can’t trust or afford to have legal intervention, this becomes a viable solution. Pride and integrity are values that deserve defending, too. It’s not an alternative that does not call for guns, knives, or any other mechanism of senseless violence that is normalized in our country. But where I’m from, people are willing to risk a few scrapes and bruises to right a wrong. If the thought of this kind of law and order makes you clutch your pearls, you arguably don’t have the range to even comment on what happened between Nicki and Cardi.
It’s unfortunate that the very real enmity between these two talents has played out on a public stage and has been subjected to a gaze that filters out the parts of Blackness deemed uncivil or unsavory. There is definitely an opening to talk about who the best rapper is, why the hip-hop industry needs to make more room for female MCs, and how Black women are pitted against one another. But we cannot afford to ignore how race, gender and class — yes, it matters that these are two Black women from non-affluent backgrounds — have played a part in how we view this situation. Furthermore, we must remember that the interpersonal beef between two women, famous or not, is just that: extremely personal, and therefore completely unmoved by our opinions.
R29 Unbothered presents Trap Glazed, a bi-weekly column where Senior Entertainment Writer Sesali Bowen looks deeper at what’s happening in Black pop culture.