The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.
Much like the real life queens she often emulates, Nicki Minaj has always been royalty. Just one year after she signed with Young Money, the Trinidadian star had already built an entire empire thanks to the success of her debut album, which followed hot on the heels of her first Grammy nomination and that monstrous verse with Kanye.
However, her thirst for competition and outright conflict has grown more fierce than ever. Even with the undying respect of her subjects, a seemingly endless string of controversies has gnawed away at Nicki's position the past couple years. For someone so obsessed with the throne, she seems awfully close to getting knocked from the top spot.
Thought I Knew You
Most of hip-hop’s elite face controversy at some point, so it should come as no surprise that a force of nature like Nicki would ruffle some feathers too. Early career beefs with Lil’ Kim and Remy Ma didn’t stop Minaj from scoring hit after hit; in fact, quite the opposite. She also made headlines when her demonic alter ego Roman popped out for a good old fashioned Catholic exorcism at the 2012 Grammys.
So Nicki is no stranger to controversy, but something seems to have shifted in her public persona (personas?) over the past year or so, and it’s starting to affect her standing in the industry. Just last week, Nicki’s ongoing feud with Cardi B made headlines yet again when BET compared her to the recent Grammy winner in a derogatory fashion in a meme they live-tweeted during this year's Grammys. This must have been a particularly hard pill to swallow given how Nicki and her new album Queen were snubbed entirely by the awards ceremony this time around.
As a result, Minaj has pulled out of her scheduled BET Experience Concert appearance this summer. Of course it’s totally within Nicki’s rights to cancel a performance ahead of time like this, especially when BET unfairly dragged her into this conversation with the sole intent of riling up her fans. However, what she doesn’t need to do, arguably, is post various screenshots of fans dragging BET online.
Less than a year has passed since Nicki actively encouraged fans to troll a Twitter user called @MrJeromeTrammel just for calling her out in public. Continuing to incite this kind of behavior is hardly befitting of a queen, whether it’s against a company like BET or individuals who simply don’t like what Nicki has to say. It’s no wonder that people actively criticized Diesel last year when they recruited Minaj to be the face of a campaign designed to combat cyberbullying.
Did It On Em
While BET should have seen the potential dangers in pitting Nicki against Cardi B for clicks in the first place, both parties are entirely complicit in this feud. The two stars have publicly fueled the flames for some time now, and it culminated in physical violence during a party at Fashion Week last year. Given how the pair subsequently went back and forth on social media in the days that followed, it’s hard to know who’s to blame in regards to the fight – let alone the origins of their beef. It seems like a lifetime ago since Nicki showed Cardi some grace and congratulated her on the success of “Bodak Yellow.”
When Nicki Minaj unleashed the aptly named “Massive Attack” as her first single, she arrived during a curious time for female hip-hop. ‘90s legends like Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown had entered a career limbo of sorts, and heavy hitters like Missy Elliott were taking a break too. Nicki’s talent would have shone through regardless of whether her peers were operating at full capacity or not, but it’s interesting to note that it’s only been in the last year or so that she’s finally faced genuine competition from other female rappers on the charts.
Although women should never be baselessly pitted against each other in the music industry, or anywhere else for that matter, it’s clear that the recent rise of Cardi B and other female rappers of her ilk has still left Nicki feeling a bit shook. Once unchallenged for the throne, Minaj now feels the need to actively promote herself as rap royalty, something which she made literal through the focus of the Queen album rollout. She’s no longer content to just let the music do the talking, fixating instead on her own chart success, and this in turn brings to light the insecurities she might feel about her hold on the crown.
It’s no coincidence that Nicki’s enduring relationship with controversy intensified during this time. Accusations of homophobia, cultural appropriation, and copyright infringement have all plagued Nicki in the past year or so and that’s barely scratching the surface. What might prove most fatal to her career in the long term though is her affiliation with problematic rappers like XXXTentacion and 6ix9ine.
Before and after his death, Nicki publicly supported XXXTentacion, despite admitting his involvement in domestic abuse against women. Many were quick to put her on blast when she collaborated with 6ix9ine as well, even after he pled guilty in court to using a child in a sexual performance.
Azealia Banks claimed that Nicki later added the popular “Fefe” collab to her Queen album because she’s “desperate for chart success” and will do anything to achieve it. Whether that’s true or not, it’s still disappointing that Minaj would work with people like this in the first place and then go on to openly condemn those who question such behavior.
Male rappers should also be held accountable for actions that help normalize sexual assault and physical abuse against women, but they’re especially difficult to stomach when they come from a female star. This is true regardless of whether they’re doing so in a bid for chart success or genuinely share some kind of connection with the rapper in question.
More than ever before, Nicki seems obsessed with her position on the charts and the support of her loyal Barbz fanbase. No one would dare suggest that she shouldn’t be proud of the success she’s enjoyed thus far in her career, but even just a cursory glance at Nicki’s social media paints the picture of someone who’s overcompensating in a bid to stay relevant. Although boasts and bravado are a necessary staple of hip-hop, it seems strange that Nicki would brag about her achievements most at a point in her career when the acclaim is no longer universal.
Against any measure, the promotional rollout for Queen didn’t enjoy the kind of success that Minaj is used to. Aside from the various controversies already mentioned, the album itself was also delayed for months longer than expected and when it did eventually drop, the critical response was decidedly mixed. While we awarded Nicki’s latest album four crowns out of five, others derided Queen for its length and a general lack of direction.
Although Queen debuted at a respectable second place on the Billboard 200 behind Travis Scott’s Astroworld, how Nicki responded to this perceived "failure" was anything but respectable. Not only did she blame this lackluster debut on Spotify, claiming she was being punished for releasing the album early through other platforms, but she also called out Travis Scott too, arguing that his merch and ticket bundles gave him an unfair advantage. This point was particularly bizarre given that she too released the same kind of bundles to promote Queen.
Boasts about hitting No. 1 in 86 countries weren’t entirely accurate either. After all, topping the charts on iTunes isn’t quite the same as hitting the number one spot on the official charts. True, this is still a hugely impressive feat worth celebrating, but it’s rather telling that some key information was held back in Nicki’s tweet. Since then, it’s been revealed that ticket sales for the North American leg of her Queen tour were disappointing too, and there's just no way Nicki was happy about her snub at the Grammys this year either.
While some of these issues are entirely out of Nicki’s control, it’s clear that her behavior in public is feeding into these problems. After all, you can only blame other people for so long until even the fans become tired of hearing about these endless reams of controversy. Instead of wasting energy on unlikely collabs or calling out haters on her radio show, Minaj should consider putting the focus on her music once again.
It’s true that the pinkprint which mapped the foundations of her success is no longer what it once was – hip-hop is evolving faster than ever thanks to the genre’s dominance right now, but that doesn’t mean we should count Minaj out just yet. At her best, Nicki’s still one of the greatest rappers alive, and her next album could easily cement this further. Hopefully Barbie can finally start dreaming big again instead of dragging out this perpetual nightmare.