Nicki Minaj at No. 1: How she got there, why it's important and what it all means
Does the female MC deserve to be at the top of the rap chart?
For the first time in eight years, a female MC has topped Billboard’s Rap Songs chart. Nicki Minaj’s “Your Love” picks up where Missy Elliott’s “Work It” left off back in 2002.
It’s curious how the track even made its way there, and how the 25-year-old rapper and singer has navigated her way to becoming an in-demand featured vocalist and, come Nov. 23, full-fledged solo artist with her debut studio set.
“Your Love” wasn’t even supposed to be a single, but was picked up by fans and, ultimately, radio after its demo version was included on her “Barbie World” mixtape earlier this year. It was re-recorded and came on the heels of her first single “Massive Attack.”
The strength of the reaction to “Your Love” may have been sparked by nostalgia, from the sample of Annie Lennox’s own crazy-eyed hit “No More I Love You’s” which leaves plenty of space for Minaj’s one-liners and that sliding, auto-tune-enhanced hook. Her high-register rapping rings relative to the nickname the black Miley Cyrus, Minaj’s own self-description.
It’s night and day compared to “Massive Attack,” which fell flat on the charts and left early fans cocking their heads; it was a non-beat meeting a non-structure for a non-song, even with the strength of guest Sean Garrett and Minaj’s wit (and ear-popping accents). It had an accompanying Hype Williams clip that wrecked with the ever-reliable desert music video genre and further defined Minaj’s pretty-ugly/ugly-pretty visual allure -- but it still didn’t feel like a proper solo introduction.
[More thoughts on Nicki Minaj after the jump]
The real intro, if we’re keeping score, is when she stepped into the Young Money crew and Weezy lifted her flag – suddenly you can’t say Minaj’s name without putting the term “Lil Wayne protégé” in front of it. Even her cadences sometimes resemble Wayne’s slack-jawed, choppy flow. Suddenly, last year, she was the girl in the boys’ club – a tethered position that launched the careers of so many other female MCs.
But she’s done so much outside (and even before) that particular circle – and with other girls in the game. She did her best with what she had on Usher's "Lil Freak" and she let her Harajuku Barbie freak flag fly in Mariah Carey’s remix of “Up Out My Face.” She brought the (literal) claws out for one of my personal favorite jams this year, Ludacris’ “My Chick Bad.” (It makes sense, furthermore that Luda brought in some other beloved ladies of rap Eve, Trina and former Crime Mob member Diamond for a redux.) Even this week, Minaj contributed to a barely-remixed version of M.I.A.’s bonkers track “Teqkilla.”
Minaj dotted in bits to Christina Aguilera’s oral sex ode “Woohoo” from “Bionic” – a song which, to this writer’s ears, has a cousin in Lil Kim’s “How Many Licks.” And, if you’ll remember, Kim recorded with Aguilera on mega-hit “Lady Marmalade.” Can we connect her to Kevin Bacon?
Over the past month, Kim has been claiming the connection between her and Minaj is even more direct -- too direct. Queen B thinks Minaj has been ripping off her “Barbie” act, an act she says she’s been at far longer, from the colored wigs to the chameleon style. It’s a beef I’m not terribly interested in, considering Minaj still needs to release a proper record and Lil Kim ought to get back to making another No. 1 for herself.
But it does get interesting when other girls – and one very famous guy – chime in.
In a fantastic report from MTV, Trina, Rah Digga and Elliott had a few words to say about the “Barbie beef.” The former had this tidbit: “[We're] all ladies. Can't we just make music and get our paper and keep it moving?! We all respect Kim. She opened the doors for us females. It's all good — everybody's eating, what's the issue?"
Ain’t that the truth. It’s exciting to see any woman make her way to the top of the charts in a business that’s run and has always been run by men. This might be the place to get into a rant on Sex, Sex Sells and Sex Has Always Been a Part of Popular Music Duh, but the core of this “rivalry,” more so, has one disturbing sentiment: there’s isn’t enough room for two of us. Which simply cannot be true
In my opinon, that thought was further reinforced when Young Money cohort Drake decided to jump in the fray. "I know you be calling women bitches and sh*t, but I can't say you the baddest bitch," Minaj’s labelmate said at a concert last month. "I can't do that because I respect you, I love you too much and you look too beautiful. So I just wanna say you the baddest woman to do this rap sh*t. I don't give a f*ck what Lil' Kim or nobody else is talking about. You're the baddest chick to ever do this sh*t."
For more than one reason, I'm glad Minaj's manager Diddy (a friend and now foe of Kim) hasn't chimed in.
It’d be a relief to see any newcomers stand on their own two legs when their albums drop, without the over-hype, without the tentpole of successful male rappers or loss of artistic vision. That’s why I’m keeping my eyes on Minaj, whose efforts up until now indicate she has a distinct spot in the larger landscape in hip-hop, even if her start came from the traditional machinery of it. She's got that mix of crazy couture and low brow, she's funny, an entertainer, her rhymes play well with others and she's got a certified No. 1. Is she going to help other women to the top, too?