Nicki Minaj uses social media as a promotional tool like no one else in hip-hop. Is it too much exposure or simply part of the job?
Nicki Minaj’s latest album Queen was, if nothing else, the 35-year-old rapper’s attempt to re-establish some of her genre credibility by going back to basics. Leaning on the rapid-fire flow and innuendo-soaked rhyming that originally made her famous, Minaj’s full-length release has been given a continual boost by her social media presence, one that uses near-constant self-promotion to keep her name and, by association, her work on the lips of casual and hardcore hip-hop fans alike.
It's a move that hasn’t necessarily endeared her to the masses either. From suggesting that Billboard’s chart album ranking system was somehow rigged when Travis ScottAstroworld bested her LP during its first week of availability to her claim that Eminem’s verse on the track “Majesty” would go down as one of the best in rap history, Minaj’s vocal public persona often feels as divisive as her music.
Attention-seeking? Perhaps. There’s definitely a faction of Nicki fans out there who believe that she should just let the music speak for itself. After all, why insert yourself into or create more drama than absolutely necessary. While there’s a certain amount of logic to that argument, it ignores one important factor: if an artist isn’t continually making themselves part of the pop culture conversation online, they’re likely to be supplanted by someone who will.
Nicki Minaj - "Ganja Burn"
Her My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy collaborator Kanye West knows this better than anyone else. Yes, Yeezy was an incredibly productive creative force during the summer of 2018, yet it raises the question of whether he'll be remembered for his music or his much-maligned public remarks, the most egregious of which he’s since apologized for. At the end of the day, were Kanye’s outlandish public comments merely a conduit to keep his name in the public eye long enough for supporters and haters alike to check out this new album? Or, is his recent resurgence online, especially on Twitter, simply a product of Ye being Ye?
With social media making rap stars out of the unlikeliest of personalities these days (we’re looking at you, Bhad Bhabie), one has to wonder if letting the music speak for itself, even with a solid reputation in tow, is enough anymore. Does Nicki Minaj’s new album get as many streams or radio spins if she weren’t blowing up in everyone’s social feeds? Cryptic Instagram posts and Twitter teases have been not only been normalized as an effective form of artistic promotion but, in the hip-hop world more than any other music genre, sought after and even galvanized by supporters around the world.
In fact, with over 91 million followers on Insta alone, Minaj is fully aware of how much love she’s received from her fan base. She even penned a heartfelt online post thanking those who have stuck by her throughout her musical journey. In a consumer client era where clicks, shares, and reposts matter more than ever before, rap’s self-appointed empress is clearly doing her best to make sure her social media bankability doesn’t fade into the background like so many before her.
Nicki Minaj - "Chun Li"
Self-promotion through leading the online conversation is simply another part of the game now. The blueprint for success used to involve a hit mainstream radio single, TV talk show appearances and becoming a regular contributor to the mainstream. Now, with audience fragmentation creating a seemingly infinite amount of niche opportunities, artists must cater to specific demographics, which means cutting out the middlemen in traditional media and bringing online content directly to consumers.
Frankly, even the sensation of becoming viral isn’t as easy as it used to be. One popular online video or interview clip doesn’t necessarily make you a star anymore; instead, reaching that level of fame, particularly when it comes to social media, is a full-time gig, requiring constant attention to detail and maintenance. Nothing on Nicki Minaj’s Instagram account, for example, is accidental. Short video updates, additions to Story threads and so on have been carefully planned to get maximum exposure and, more importantly, a strong reaction from her audience.
Her path to accomplishing those goals on the regular is where we currently find Nicki, navigating the digital waters post-Queen with impressive dexterity. Eminem drops a surprise album? She’s got an opinion on it. Rumors about her love life still the straw that stirs the gossip tabloid drink? She’s ready with a comment or two. Social media radio silence, even when you’ve theoretically got nothing “new” to say to your fans, is often more hurtful to one’s music career than any perceived oversaturation.
Nicki Minaj - "Barbie Dreams"
If bangers like “Chun Li” and “Coco Chanel” didn’t exist, you can bet that music fans would still give Queen a listen and that’s due to her social media promotion skills. To that end, I don’t think much of the criticism she gets in that regard is all that valid because, in reality, if it wasn’t one of her biggest priorities, she’d be negatively impacting her work as a rapper. It’s the same argument have used to bemoan the popularity of the Kardashian clan, now widely considered to be the most powerful family on the pop culture spectrum. It usually sounds something like, “How can they be so famous? They don’t even have any talent.” As subjective a statement as that is the truth in saying that also depends on how you define talent.
Is the accrual of a strong social media following not a talent? Is getting tens of millions of people to follow your every move and soak up every little crumb of digital content their way the work of totally talentless hacks who merely get lucky over and over again? The answer to both of those questions would be no, with Nicki Minaj being the perfect example. As talented an emcee as she is, her most useful skill in the music business is arguably her ability to drive discussion online, all while getting her fans to engage with her on a daily basis. Through that, she’s able to keep her name in the public eye and, as with Kanye West and dozens of others before her, stay relevant in a music genre that isn’t kind to those who can’t play the social media game well.