Status Ain't Hood

Nicki Minaj Is Feeling The Pressure

It should not be this way. There should be more than one woman within rap’s A-list at a time, and the women within rap’s A-list should be able to peacefully coexist. They should be able to record with each other, tour with each other, be friends with each other. But it has never been this way. Roxanne Shanté, the first female rapper to ascend to anything like solo stardom, went hard after many of the women who came up after her. Lil Kim and Foxy Brown, who came to stardom around the same time and alongside some of the same people, feuded with each other for years, ultimately leading to a shootout and a prison term for Kim. Trina and fellow Florida rapper Jackie-O hated each other.

There have been exceptions. Missy Elliott, for instance, recorded songs with other women whenever possible, and I don’t remember her ever having any issues with anyone. But historically, women in rap — often relegated to the sidelines, rarely given the sort of plaudits that their male peers have found — have had to fight each other for their piece of the spotlight. The same used to be true of white rappers, too. Things should’ve never been this way for women in rap, and they should certainly not be that way now. But apparently they are. Which leads to this current situation between Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, the two biggest female rap stars in many years.

Cardi B and Nicki Minaj are not feuding with one another — not openly, anyway. They are not saying each other’s names on record. They are careful to praise one another in interviews. They apparently share a hairdresser. A few months ago, they appeared together on the Migos track “MotorSport,” a song that seemed aimed at squashing any talk of beef between the two. (It didn’t seem designed to do much else. Nicki and Cardi are both good on “MotorSport,” but it is not much of a song.)

Instead, “MotorSport” ultimately made things worse. Cardi and Nicki said different things about who recorded their verse first, and they didn’t appear onscreen together in the video. In an interview with Zane Lowe last week, Nicki, sounding genuinely hurt, talked about how upset she was when Cardi didn’t give her any respect after the release of “MotorSport”: “I remember, when I first came in the game, if a female of that stature had done a feature with me on it, I would only be singing their praises and saying thank you. The first interview she did after ‘MotorSport’ came out, it just really hurt me.”

Nicki is, of course, playing us. She was on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 show to unveil the release of two new singles, “Barbie Tingz” and “Chun-Li.” Both of those songs show Nicki in her warlike prime as a rapper, and both address unnamed foes with a haughty sort of sneer. Nicki released those two tracks less than a week after Cardi’s debut album Invasion Of Privacy came out, in the midst of Cardi’s charm-offensive promotional blitz. This was not an accident. Nicki knows what she’s doing. Even if she and Cardi are utterly cool with one another, Nicki is playing around with emerging internet narratives, building on the idea of some brewing, unspoken feud between her and Cardi. (There are plenty of lines on the Cardi album, as well, that could — theoretically, at least — be aimed at Nicki.) This is what extremely successful rappers (and pop stars) do now. They nod toward their own personas and toward fans’ imaginations. They address rumors without actually addressing those rumors. It’s all part of the grand game.

And Nicki knows this game. In that interview with Zane Lowe, she specifically mentions Trina. Back in 2009, Nicki and Trina both appeared together on Yo Gotti’s “5 Star Bitch” remix, and the two rappers have said nothing but nice things about each other since. But Nicki and Trina were never really in competition. Trina is a great rapper with a long career and a big pile of hits to her name, but she never occupied the alpha role that Nicki was gunning for. Lil Kim is a different story. Nicki never mentions Kim in that interview, but she launched her career, at least in part, by feasting upon Kim’s bones. (Nicki’s landmark verse on Kanye West’s “Monster,” for instance, is generally understood to be all about Kim.)

In the decade-or-so since Nicki’s ascent, she’s never faced a threat like Cardi. Cardi could’ve never existed without Nicki, the same way Nicki could’ve never existed without Kim. Cardi, like Nicki, is a loud and colorful and extremely New York personality with an easy facility for Southern rap sonics. And Cardi’s arrival felt like the arrival of a whole new era. It’s something that Nicki needed to address, implicitly or not.

With that in mind, the new Nicki tracks do what they have to do. Nicki needed a win, and here she got one. The Pinkprint, her last album, came out way back in 2014, and the three singles that she released on the same day last year all landed with a resounding thud. She’s still regularly contributing impressive guest verses to other artists’ songs, but those songs generally don’t take advantage of her enormous personality. (When, for instance, Nicki helped Katy Perry perform “Swish Swish” at the VMAs last year, she looked profoundly bored with the entire rigamarole.) “Barbie Tingz” and “Chun-Li” don’t sound like surefire hits, and they’re not really designed to be surefire hits. They’re designed to let Nicki flex hard, to remind everyone that she is still an absolute monster of a rapper. They do that.

But “Barbie Tingz” and “Chun-Li” also feel spiky and rote and oddly joyless. Historically, the best Nicki tracks have been the ones that combine her otherworldly technical rapping abilities with her explosive, absurdist pop sensibilities — “Super Bass,” for instance, or “Stupid Hoe,” or “Feeling Myself.” “Barbie Tingz” and “Chun-Li” don’t have that playfulness going for them. They sound like what they are, which is songs from an established star who is feeling a new sense of pressure. Nicki’s planning on releasing an album this year. And hopefully, now that she’s reestablished her fire-breathing bona fides, she can rediscover that side of herself. Because Cardi B is making ridiculously fun music right now. And if we’re going to enter a new reality where more than one woman can be a top-level rap star at the same time, Nicki’s going to need to get back to making ridiculously fun music, too. God knows she’s got it in her.

FURIOUS FIVE

1. Freddie Gibbs, G Perico, & Mozzy – “Colors”
Three of the finest voices in ’90s-stye G-rap — three voices who otherwise don’t have a lot in common — join forces over sax tootles that sound like the Lethal Weapon score. Just sublime.

2. PeeWee Longway – “Jumanji”
The new Jumanji movie is loud and dumb and full of toilet humor. It’s also a whole lot of fun. All of the same things are true of this song. Also of note: the video, in which monkeys drink lean through krazy straws.

3. Creek Boyz – “Boss Right Now”
This Baltimore group is what would happen if five different Fetty Waps sang together like they were trying to be Jagged Edge, and I love them.

4. The Alchemist – “Dean Martin Steaks” (Feat. Roc Marciano)
Not quite two minutes of Roc Marciano annihilating a hazy psychedelic bass riff, and it hits like a drug.

5. DDG – “New Money”
We’re all so inundated with the standard trap drum pattern that something like this — with those hard-breaking off-kilter snares that subtly suggest jungle or maybe UK garage — sounds quietly revolutionary.

IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO