As fans gear up for the release of Nicki Minaj's fifth album, we take a look at how she's maintained her status over a ten year spell at the top of the heap.
“DID I LIE?” Asked Nicki Minaj to the flock of fans that had assembled to witness her CRWN interview with Elliot Wilson, fervently rapping every single syllable to her verse on Gucci Mane’s “Make Love” in unison. Much to the delight of the assembled congregation, Nicki continues her line of questioning and the crowd rapturously cheers in response. This is the reality that Nicki Minaj has grown accustomed to.
Ten years since she first mounted her campaign to storm hip-hop’s gate and appoint herself as its matriarchal ruler, Nicki Minaj holds the unique distinction of remaining almost stationary at the top of the genre. Or at least that appeared to be the case until the release of “Megatron” earlier this summer. At a time where a new track from the self-styled Harijuku Barbie still causes pandemonium among her global fanbase, the disparity between its first week chart position and the sharp downturn that it experienced shortly thereafter, placed Nicki in an unfamiliar position of vulnerability. Still regarded as one of the most valuable commodities in the industry, Nicki’s fanatical Barbz may have been undeterred by this uncharacteristic mishap but those that have longed for the reigning queen to be humbled have been left salivating over this twist of fate.
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Now, as we await the details on NM5, there’s a real sense that this album could be one of the most pivotal in Nicki’s storied career. But if history has taught us anything, Nicki’s acute awareness of how her brand functions and what has kept it brimming with vitality should steer her back to dry land.
Named among TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in 2016, her interview with the heralded magazine shed light on the single-minded path to success that she’s clung to for her whole life.
"Before I could remember wanting to do anything else," she remarked, "I knew that I wanted to be in charge. As a child, my mother didn’t have a job where she was the boss. I always looked at that and wished she was the boss and would make her own rules. So, from very early on, I felt like y’know what? Whatever I do one day, I want to be more in charge of my business."
Driven by her commitment to never be anyone’s subordinate, this goes a long way to explaining the sheer ferocity that she approached every track with during those early periods in the public eye. "Bedrock," "Knockout" and "Monster" were tracks that Nicki graced alongside then-bigger stars, yet attention was easily diverted towards her. Nicki’s show-stealing verse on one of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s standout was a masterclass in lyrical autosuggestion as her claims of commanding “50k for verse, no album out” made you believe that she was a force to be reckoned with. From then on, the reign of Onika began and has led her to becoming an 8x platinum selling artist by virtue of her four solo albums alone.
But like anyone that strives for financial autonomy and success, a wide-ranging portfolio is a pre-requisite. With a reported net worth of $85 million as of January 2019, the woman that became “Queen Of Queens” in June 2017 has made forays into areas that far exceed the artform that brought her worldwide recognition. On top of a showreel’s worth of acting appearances, Nicki also served as a judge on American Idol alongside securing lucrative endorsements with Pepsi, Beats By Dre and a record-breaking deal with MAC Cosmetics, Bolstered by a bespoke perfume line and her MYXFusions alcohol venture, she even allows fans to vicariously chart her journey to rap’s aristocracy through “The Empire,” a mobile game that compels you to “join the Queen of Rap in a dramatic adventure as you rise from humble beginnings to become the next legend of hip-hop!”
Since the dawn of the social media era, few artists have instilled an unshakable loyalty in their listeners quite like Nicki Minaj. After all, this is the woman that paid off 37 of her fan’s tuition fees after taking notice of a fan’s facetious comment. Among the most tight-knit fandoms of any distinction, Nicki has been known to mobilize them against targets that she sees as guilty of Disrespect. Whether it’s Cardi B or BET, the Young Money stalwart will sick a highly persistent army on you if she detects anything slanderous.
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Nicki’s territorial approach to surveying her queendom has inadvertently bred a lot of ill-feeling towards her, though. In a pair of particularly effacing incidents, Minaj used her Beats1 “Queen Radio” show to deride Cardi B and label Travis Scott as “ho n***a of the week” after Astroworld headed off Queen for the number one slot, which ultimately pitted the court of public opinion against her. Undeterred as ever, The Barbz have sprung into action to combat what they describe as “The Nicki Hate Train.” When probed by Rolling Stone about their motivations for defending her, a Barb known as Shaheed depicted the unrivalled sense of kinship that’s spawned between Nicki and her fans.
"She gets real personal with her fans when she can," he insisted. "When she does you don’t see her as this big celebrity anymore. You see her as somebody who you can hit up and just be like, ‘Hey I’m not feeling good today this is what happened,’ and she actually listens and talks to you. It makes you want to fight for somebody that you know would do it for you."
Seen as more of a reciprocal relationship than the traditional one-way transaction between artist and fan, The Barbz may be seen as a militia to outsiders but it’s clear that they’ll keep Nicki at the top of social media feeds for as long as she wants to release music. Speaking of which, another key tool in Nicki’s arsenal that keeps her presence bubbling over is her knowledge of when to place herself in the vicinity of a cresting pop culture phenomenon. When it comes to features, few artists have ever managed to counterbalance the urge to dip into the lucrative world of pop while keeping one ear to the ground of hip-hop’s next big thing quite like Nicki: upcoming collaborations with Pop Smoke, Megan Thee Stallion and Juice WRLD are case-in-point. On the glossier side of the music world, Nicki picked the opportune moments to team up with everyone from Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber and David Guetta to Jason Derulo and even South Korean sensations BTS.
While the harsher critics would be quick to claim that she’s on the ropes for the first time in her career, Nicki Minaj is a permanent fixture in the hip-hop landscape and that won’t be upended anytime soon. Supplemented by the cult like devotion of her fans and her ability to constantly reassert her dominance, Nicki has bet on herself at every fork in the road and her persistent branding as hip-hop’s “Queen” is something that she’s earned.