“What did [Nicki] do to y'all?” It’s a thought that has dwindled in the back of my mind for quite some time, but didn’t come to full realization until after I stumbled across a tweet from burgeoning rapper Kash Doll.
The post baring the simple question ignited a firestorm of debates in the Detroit rapper’s mentions. From self-proclaimed Nicki Minaj stans to harsh critics to the average listener, everyone seemed to have something to say about the Head Barb. But, the answer to the question still seemed to escape most who took the time to scroll and add their two cents.
As I continued to analyze the valid points on both ends of the spectrum, the question still persisted to bother me. What exactly is everyone’s beef with Nicki? And why now?
Let me start by saying that I am a Nicki Minaj fan by no means. I can barely list a handful of her records outside of early mixtape cuts and her growing Rolodex of guest features. I haven’t purchased any of her albums except for her 2014 effort, The Pinkprint. And I certainly don’t care to identify myself as a “Black Barbie,” one of her “sons” or anything else in between. But what I am is a lover of music, particularly rap, and I must give credit where it’s due.
When I first stumbled across the dizzying wordplay of the Queens-born lyricist, I was enthralled. At the tender age of 16, Nicki’s interpolation of Trina’s “Baddest B***h” was more or less the code me and my clique of teenage friends swore by. Hearing her precision and ferocity over the Timbaland production was fresh and exciting. While she was 10 years or so removed from her successors, such as Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown, Nicki had all the makings of a noteworthy emcee. She not only packed punches with her bars but her cadence was memorable as she switched from first gear to third with barely any sweat on her brow.
Over the course of my senior year in high school, Nicki’s notoriety would continue to blossom as she dropped several more bangers, including “I Gets Crazy” and fan favorite “Itty Bitty Piggy,” staples off of the coveted Beam Me Up Scotty tape. My love for the raw emotion she laced her rhymes with only steadily continued to grow. But that would be sorely short lived.
Upon her induction into Young Money and the mainstream success which followed, the Nicki of Southside Jamaica, Queens, began to dissipate right before my eyes. She traded her lace fronts and Timbs for neon-bright wigs and an eccentric wardrobe. While she may have continued to top the charts with pop-laced tracks like “Super Bass” and “Starships,” Onika had clearly gone commercial. And, for what it’s worth, who can blame her?
Her ascension on the pop charts certainly led to more face-time on music platforms, lofty endorsement deals with the likes of MAC and Kmart and the respect of her peers. Or so it may have seemed. In the midst of her “Roman Reloaded” era, Nicki put her detractors to rest after pulling her weight on the star-studded posse cut “Monster.” Fixed between hip-hop titans Jay-Z and Kanye West, Nicki’s verse is often noted as being the most memorable for her sporadic flow and cheeky one-liners. And while, yes (of course), a rapper shouldn’t stand on the arches of a feat that is nearly ten years old at this point, it seems as though we’ve forgotten exactly what makes her so special since that moment.
In the seven years since the debut of her first studio album, Pink Friday, Nicki has successfully managed to fill the great disparity in female voices in hip-hop. While the common counterpoint to her accomplishments is that she didn’t necessarily have any competition, which is true, let’s consider how large the gap of having a plethora of women in rap during the latter end of the '90s to now having only one truly is.
Prior to Nicki’s arrival, the last spawn of lyrical giants like Kim, Foxy, Remy Ma and a handful of others had either hung up the mic or weren’t necessarily in a position to produce new music for fans. So, to say Nicki’s success was simply happenstance or proper timing is to undermine how aggressively sexist and unequal the music industry is as a whole. In this particular arena women should be more inclined to support one another. Instead, women have become extremely critical of Nicki whether in regards to her lyricism or sexuality.
Currently, as it stands, the number of female rappers signed to major labels has dropped from 40 to just three. Just three. Just THREE. Not to mention the blatantly obvious that if not all but most major labels are founded and spearheaded by men with none of their rosters being more than 36 percent female or having no women signed to their imprint at all. This is just a small fraction about the sad truths that expose the rap industry’s inability to provide women with a safe platform to thrive and share their art.
To add insult to injury, the harshest critics of the validity of Nicki’s bars or her social media antics are almost always men. Case in point: Joe Budden. While Joe is a top-tier lyricist himself, his excessive criticism of Nicki is disturbing. During his last few weeks on the popular web-series Everyday Struggle, the outspoken host not only insinuated that Nicki was feuding with collaborator Cardi B but also said the source of their alleged beef was the creation behind the Migos-fronted track “Motorsport.” This led many fans to assume that Nicki wasn’t aware of Cardi’s guest verse and swiftly altered her own to mock the rising star.
After catching wind of the swirling rumors, Nicki took to Twitter to set the record straight – to which Joe responded in the most Joe Budden way possible: by telling her to “shut the f**k up.” But, what if, for a moment, Nicki wasn’t a woman and had male genitalia between her limbs? Would someone like Joe or even the scores of other men who criticize her be so bold? I think not.
Nicki has paved her own lane in this industry and has the accolades to show for it, in the same vein that Drake or even Lebron James can constantly remind their detractors of their brilliance. So why is it that when a woman is great she must minimize herself and tread the line? Why must Nicki dampen her larger-than-life personality because it’s “annoying” but Kanye can be heralded as a genius for his psychotic breaks? Ultimately, what it comes down to is our discomfort with seeing women win. Not just in the sense of crossing the finish line, but continuing to walk away with gold each year.
If you still can’t seem to acknowledge the blatant sexism at play here, in the words of Nicki, what’s really good?