Underrated/Overrated is a new hip-hop column where we examine the legacy of a rapper and try to determine once and for all: Are they overrated or underrated? Today’s concerns Nicki Minaj.
Nicki Minaj Is Overrated
We hold certain truths to be self-evident; for almost a full decade, rap fans have held up Nicki Minaj’s guest verse on Kanye West’s “Monster” as her pièce de résistance. Her performance on that record opened the gates to the halls of “Yeah, she can even body the men.” It’s an animated, James Harden-esque herky-jerk down the lane in which Minaj critics are left flustered and flummoxed. By sheer personality, vocal theatrics, and unbridled energy, she delivered the song’s most memorable verse — but we’ve gotten memorable verses on big posse records from other artists we don’t necessarily consider amazing as well. The concession one must make in believing in Nicki Minaj is that she’s accomplished plenty of this, all the while ignoring every other capable female rap artists nearby, like Trina, Angel Haze, and yes Remy Ma.
This is not to say that Minaj’s talents aren’t there, she rightfully earned her accolades in an era where the powers that be created new rules for artists like her. For every Billboard moment of honor and merit, there is a bit of goal post moving. We’ve long decoded that Minaj and the Barbz tend to cook the books and manipulate the chart system for higher recognition. No great artist needs to do this unless their product was mediocre and they still wanted “prestige” attached to their names. Minaj is like Coke, like Pepsi; a known brand who attempts to make grand statements such as, “it’s not often an artist who came from rapping on a stoop wins an award,” as she did in her recent 2017 Billboard Awards Promotional commercial. To be considered great just for existing in a space with few artistic merits to prove such a thing doesn’t really make you great. It’s the world giving you a trophy with a large, “yeah but” ribbon attached to it.
For every track that “hits,” there’s a dud waiting around the corner, a verse or two marred by bad lyric placement or worse, a terrible sports metaphor that lacks proper execution or clarity, for instance: “But let’s face it, I’m Curry, with rings like LeBron / Added my rings up, that’s Mike Jordan,” from DJ Mustard’s “Don’t Hurt Me.” The only reason fans got pushed “Your Love” or “Super Bass” or anything pop-related during the rollout for the first Pink Friday is because “Massive Attack” failed as a single. It’s cheerleader/pom-pom rap, minus the energy and fun of pep rally destroyers such as Missy Elliot, or even Minaj’s erstwhile rival Lil’ Kim. As an artist who knows how to navigate both the streets and the couch of Ellen DeGeneres, Nicki is excellent, but we’ve anointed her to both of these positions with mediocre results attached to them.
Even worse, there’s the high possibility that even when pressed and pushed into a mode where she has to be on the attack and chest-thump like she did on Beam Me Up Scotty or the Come Up DVD, she falters. We know the results of her beef with Remy Ma earlier this year that led to a trio of singles that came and went. As a singles-driven artist, Minaj wanted to serve all of her fan demos, mainly the pop and hip-hop crowds. The effort was there but it didn’t match the finished product. Similar to an R&B act that has dipped their toes in the pools of EDM, pop, raunchy hip-hop and flat-out balladry, the work becomes less about fulfilling what an artist wants to challenge themselves on, and more about what they decide to feed a base.
We’re too far advanced in the Nicki Minaj Pop Machine to even consider a full-on fan service project. The best we’ll get is The Pinkprint and even there the balladry is more high school musical and theatrics than full-on heartbreak.
Nicki a global force because she is able to appeal to all parties, and even her detractors surely acknowledge that. Her ability to transition between her rap personas while also straddling the idea of being a good MC is commendable. Yet the majority of it is by force; a gravitational push of living in a microwaved culture. There isn’t a double standard in regards to female rappers baring their souls and being commended for it less than their male counterparts. We lauded Lauryn Hill for creating an entire album rooted in marginalization, not only of her peers but mostly herself.
And much like Minaj and the “Monster” verse, loving Miseducation feels like a passé chore — just you’re supposed to You’re supposed to acknowledge its greatness because other people have heaped praise upon it for so long. But no rapper who is “great” has one all-time verse amongst a vast collection of, “this is cool, I guess” verses, definitely not one that would dare refer to themselves as “queen”. Do we applaud risks taken in order to create music? Yes, hence the critical response to The Pinkprint following her decade-long relationship with Safaree Samuels ending and more. But unless you were a diehard Barb, you couldn’t name a song that grabbed your attention and held it beyond “Truffle Butter” and “Feeling Myself,” neither of which would be full Minaj-led moments.
Popularity drives the narrative at times when questioning one’s “rate” in music. Statistically, there’s no one that can match Nicki in regards to accomplishment. Are any of these numbers hollow? Probably. Many of these accolades are thrust upon her solely because she’s the lone person you recognize in the field. Six consecutive BET Award wins for Best Female Rapper, even in years without an album or a single is proof of this. Or winning Top Rap Artist from the Billboard Music Awards, a sales driven award where all of the factors into awarding musicians can be easily manipulated
Awarding Nicki Minaj status as a great will forever feel hollow, mainly due to the fact that her ascent occurred during a dry spell of female rappers that record labels were willing to push. Once upon a time, every name of the moment had a female artist nearby. In the 2000s alone we saw albums from Amil (Jay Z), Lady Sovereign (Jay Z), Ms. Jade (Timbaland), Remy Ma (Fat Joe), Eve (DMX), and Jacki-O (Trick Daddy) and, yes even Iggy Azalea (T.I.) Now? You have to combat the execs searching for the next big thing with a heap of names that exist and are thriving right underneath their noses. It took almost ten years before Minaj jumped on another female rapper’s record, Young M.A’s catchy “OOOUUU” single from 2016 — and that was just a Soundcloud remix.
The majority of Minaj’s needle-moving records such as “Anaconda” need the visual to match in order to fully sell the concept, or they employ her Young Money cohorts Lil Wayne & Drake. Stand-alone, good-to-great Nicki singles arrive as often as memorable Summer Jam performances — which actually don’t come by all that often. There is something inside of Nicki that is capable of pulling things off that will truly shake up the world, but after giving people a suite of each of her three respective “sides” and having most of it fall by the wayside to the general consumer, I doubt that “something” wants to try it again. Much like Drake, she’s become too big to fail; unassailable only because a fan base refuses to ignore her warts and imperfections, to put it mildly. She will be considered a champion and a trailblazer in some respects. But most of those pieces of praise come with the feeling that you’re only heaping them upon her solely for existing, not for creating anything particularly great. Source (uproxx)