A Nicki Minaj analysis.
This opinion piece is painfully overdue.
“Let me get this straight, wait, I’m the rookie?
But my features and my shows ten times your pay?
50K for a verse, no album out
Yeah, my money’s so tall that my Barbiez got to climb it
Hotter than a Middle Eastern climate, violent
Tony Matterhorn, dutty wine it, wylin’
Nicki on them titties when I sign it
That’s how these niggas so one-track-minded
But really really I don’t give a F-U-C-K
Forget Barbie, fuck Nicki cause she’s fake
She’s on a diet but her pockets eating cheesecake
And I’ll say bride of Chucky is child’s play
Just killed another career, it’s a mild day”
– Nicki Minaj’s Monster verse
When I first started listening to Nicki Minaj, I was immersed in a battle that saw me defending the rapstress at all costs in hopes of upholding her worth as a respectable MC. In early 2010, dispute erupted, and Nicki’s lack of originality and rap prowess were the main areas of contention. There I was, quotables at the ready prepared for someone to dare to tell me she was washed or that her verses lacked substance. Being in her fandom had me unprincipled, and though fun, the fight – defending something that I knew deep down didn’t deserve defending – was intensely tiring.
Seven years later, after countless pop-saturated, bubblegum-rap radio bangers, I’m nicely perched up on the fence, observing both sides of the warzone, listening to the conversations all around me, and occasionally adding my own commentary. The view is bizarre. I’ve taken notice of and begun paying serious attention to a side that I had previously chosen to ignore. While I notice that many of my former allies are still within the tussle, blindly breaking necks as Nicki now caters to a completely different audience, I also take heed of the many that have joined me on this cold, hard fence of ambivalence.
So what does someone do when their favourite rapper becomes wack?!
“The first step to recovery is to admit that there’s a problem”, we’re told. But how do you admit and accept that someone you once saw potential in and held to such a high esteem has gradually become someone you avoid when scrolling through music channels? How do you admit and accept that someone you spent days effortlessly defending has now become exactly what you said they would never dare to become?
I won’t lie and say that I didn’t get giddy when I heard the news of Nicki Minaj coming to Johannesburg this month. An inexplicable plethora of emotions rushed to me as a naive Kamo reminisced on the 11-year-old Kamo rapping to every word on ‘Itty Bity Piggy’ and ‘Higher than a Kite’, patiently waiting to see the Harajuku Barbie live. Walking into my high school that morning, my group of friends had heard the news too and excitedly spoke of wanting to see ‘High School’ and ‘Grand Piano’. What? Rephrase: huh? Despite Lil Kim’s first kick at it, it was Nicki Minaj’s fierce rendition of the Biggie classic ‘Just Playing (Dreams)’ that caught my attention in a way that no other song had. To hear that seeing songs of that caliber being performed was of zero interest was too much to bear. Will I live out my dream of being submerged in weed clouds as the self-proclaimed Female Weezy pours her heart out spitting verses from some of her most golden moments on ‘Suckafree’, ‘Playtime Is Over’, ‘Beam Me Up Scotty’ or even the few genuine gems on her more recent work? Or will I be a sour fan, mentally stuck in the past but, in reality, amidst twerking girls and terrible music? I hope not the latter.
Telling people that one of my first rap obsessions was a big-bootyed, pink-wigged artist is something I’ve steered clear of in recent times – not because I’ve been ashamed, but because the reactions I’ve gotten have ranged from excitement to disgust; a cycle I’m not keen on continually going through. It’s easy to disregard an artist when some of their best music is shoved into the back of their discography and rarely ever brought up in discussions on their artistry, and to me it seems that that’s been the case with Nicki. From grimey beats infested with the dirtiest wordplay, witty subject matter, word-bending delivery and captivating flows to pop/dance beats loosely decorated with an interesting subject matter, a repetitive flow and occasionally, the rare moment worth actually speaking about. Just as there’s been a huge shift in Nicki Minaj’s audience, there’s been a huge shift in what this artist delivers to her audience.
I love Nicki, but the past five years of her career have been torturous to watch. They not only degraded her worth and level of artistry in my eyes, but they showcased one of the scariest truths in the new decade: you really can make a living off of making bad music – a frightening reality, equally undermining if we’re being honest. While most deviate from letting their fans know how important commercial success is to them but rather subtly tweak their sound and image to fit the industry’s standards, Nicki’s approach to the game has always been clear and outlined in her raps from as early as she’s been doing it: “Can’t rap and sing on the same CD / The public won’t get it, they got A.D.D.”, she rapped on her 2009 track ‘Can Anybody Hear Me’. “The money came, yeah I tripled and quadrupled it / But I still miss us when we was just on some stupid shit” she again later rapped on her 2010 ode to her old self, ‘Dear Old Nicki’, and in the simplest form, she rapped “I dumb my raps down so I don’t lose these bitches” on her 2007 classic ‘Baddest Bitch.’ And dumb down, she did.
So, with a journey so clearly foreshadowed, why is it a surprise that the changes actually actually happened?