Nicki Minaj wants you to get one thing straight: if you come for the Queen, you best not miss.
Much has been made about the four-year gap between Minaj’s last studio album, 2014’s The Pinkprint, and her new EP, Queen. The hip-hop game has changed dramatically, with new styles and producers becoming prominent, and the sudden rise of Cardi B as the hottest rapper, male or female, on the scene. These concerns are way over-hyped. Through the course of Queen’s gut-punching style, Minaj lets it be known that she sees the threats to her crown and she intends to defeat them all.
Minaj is well-placed to do so. The discussion of hip-hop’s quick evolution seems to be missing a crucial historical reference: rap and hip-hop were born from change. They thrive in it and in fact drive it. In the last decade, hip-hop has taken center stage again and again, propelling new sounds into the forefront and dominating radio.
To that end, Minaj shifts between genres better than any other top rapper. One second it’s rap, the next it’s pop. Shifting between genres is not a gambit or a risk for the top-grossing woman rapper of all time. For her, it’s what she does best. She can still sing melodiously over electronic hooks. This is what she does on “Come See About Me,” which finds Minaj beseeching an ex-lover to give her another shot. The same dynamic is at play on “Nip Tuck,” which deals with an excruciating breakup. Her singing voice floats through the music hypnotically.
The most compelling rivalry in hip-hop may be the one no one saw coming: Nicki Minaj v. Cardi B. The YouTube/Stripper/Rapper’s audacious rise had many wondering what Minaj’s response would be.
Early on Minaj is ready to show she isn’t intimidated by Cardi B. “Took a little break, but I’m back to me,” Minaj raps on “LLC.” That’s the setup for her first body blow at Cardi B. “Trying to make a new Nicki with a factory / They’ll never toe to toe on a track with me.”
Although some have criticized her knocks on Cardi’s stripper history – she raps “I ain’t ever have to strip to get the pole position,” on the heart-pounding “Hard White” – this seems like an overdramatic take on a new beef. Male rappers attack each other constantly with seemingly no shot considered too low (witness Pusha T revealing Drake’s secret love child in a diss track that Drake had to contend with over Memorial Day weekend). Taking potshots at Cardi’s life as an exotic dancer seems almost quaint.
On other tracks, Minaj addresses the youth at large, letting them know that she isn’t impressed by their YouTube theatrics. On “Ganja Burns,” she tells the kids that they’ve got to pay their dues first. “You gotta have real skill, gotta work for that / If it’s really passion, would you give your world for that?” She then lowers the boom: “Unlike a lot of these ho’s, whether wack or lit / At least I can say I wrote every rap I spit.”
Far from being defensive, Minaj’s boasts feel powerful because she can back them up. Note her dancehall single “Coco Chanel,” which sends the album out with style and verve, plus a Foxy Brown appearance.
Minaj also lets the boys know that she is up to the challenge of taking them on for the World’s Best rapper title. She has some profane and clever smack talk for both 50 Cent, Meek Mill, DJ Khaled, Eminem and Drake on “Barbie Dreams.”
This is to say nothing of Minaj’s many, many other fueds, such as her Twitter wars, fight with ex-boyfriend Safaree Samuels, and even with Stormi Jenner, the baby (yes, baby) of Kylie Jenner. But that’s all just background noise. For fans that want a rapper unafraid to take center stage, “Queen” will fit the bill for the foreseeable future.