Nicki Minaj's Queen is good, but it's getting overshadowed by beef
My relationship with Nicki Minaj’s music has been a long and turbulent one. I used to be a devout ‘Barbie’ — too young to have witnessed the rises of female rap legends Lil Kim and Remy Ma, Nicki brought me my first taste of the gassed pride I feel hearing a woman effortlessly deliver a fire bar. Her break-through verse in ‘Bed-Rock’ showed she was every bit as good as any male talent label Young Money Cash Money had to offer, but it wasn’t until that razor-sharp feature on Kanye West’s ‘Monster’ that she assumed her place as the 21st century Queen of Rap.
As somebody who’s sick of watching the faves of my adolescence slip from majesty to mediocrity, I’ve really been rooting for Nicki. Her fourth studio album Queen was supposed to be a reassertion of her status, a reminder to the pretenders that her crown can’t be challenged despite having not released anything since 2014’s The Pinkprint. Four years is a long time to stay relevant off the back of features alone, especially with rising talents like Cardi B hot on your heels. To be honest, in listening to the album (and observing the ongoing media storm surrounding it) it's apparent the pressure was felt.
On Queen, Nicki takes a scattergun approach to pretty much everything: beef, beats, genre, it's all fair game. Some of it works — Nicki sends for everyone and their mum with lines like “had to cancel DJ Khaled boy we ain’t speakin’/ Aint no fat n**** tellin’ me what he aint eatin” (in reference to the producer’s claims that he doesn’t perform oral sex on his wife), a perfect example of the witty pars that have become Minaj’s trademark. Against the nostalgic hip-hop beat of that Notorious B.I.G sample on ‘Barbie Dreams’, below-the belt punches like that one are easily forgiven — if only her royal highness had left the low-blows in their rightful domain.
All online praise of the album has been overshadowed by the commotion that Nicki and her Stans have been making on Twitter these past few months. Some of the controversial jabs made on the album have stirred up the TL quite a bit (see: gamers' reaction to the assertion in 'Chun-Li' that the Street Fighter character is a 'bad guy') and the last few days have seen Nicki at war with ex-boyfriend Safaree, who proclaimed to Twitter that Nicki once cut him to the point where he “almost died” in retort to a promotional interview for Queen, in which Nicki insinuated she would never forgive the fellow rapper for his claims that he wrote some of her raps earlier in her career. And let's not forget about the time, back in early July, that Nicki came for a fan who Tweeted that she hoped for some more mature content on this album cycle. The fan proceeded to be chastised by Nicki over DM, and doxed by Nicki fans, one of whom even went so far as to publish a photo of the woman's four-year-old daughter on Instagram. All this drama is overshadowing Nicki’s attempts on Queen to show some growth.
To be sure, there is (a little) growth to be found. Queen boasts several more experimental tracks on this album than on previous Nicki albums. She makes moves to diversify her typical punchy rap flows with broody ballads ‘Come See About Me’ and ‘Thought I Knew You’ with the Weeknd (though, unfortunately, both flop royally). ‘Majesty’, an electro-pop-rap collab with Labrinth and Eminem is at once strangely catchy and incredibly annoying, but nonetheless it shows Nicki’s potential to transcend the soft-rap/urban-pop space she currently occupies. The strength of tracks ‘Rich Sex’, ‘Miami’ and ‘Chun-Li’ — one of my favourite rap releases of the year, gamers be damned! — erase any doubt cast by the aforementioned songs. Those three will remain MVPs of my playlists for years to come.
While I don’t think it’s Nicki’s responsibility to make sure her fans are well-behaved on social media, I welcome the day that artists no longer feel they have to supplement their art by airing their dirtiest of laundry on public platforms and encouraging armies of belligerent fans to bring down their competition. Don’t get me wrong, Queen is a good album, but it could’ve perhaps been great if Nicki had focused more on the music and less on the beef.
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