Nicki Minaj's rap sheet wasn't all bad this year.
Nicki Minaj’s comeback this year came with plenty of controversies. There was that feud with Cardi B. There was the ill-fated Future/Nicki "NICKIHNDRXX" tour, which was eventually cancelled in North America. There were some questionable collab choices. There were even more questionable dating choices. There was flying to China for a festival that didn’t happen. Then there was Queen, an album that had the unlucky fortunes to come out the same week as Travis Scott’s Astroworld, coming in at number two.
The missteps seemed to have clouded the highs for Nicki in 2018. Amidst all this drama, Nicki Minaj returned from her hiatus stronger than ever. It wasn't all bad. We're taking a look at a few things that the self-proclaimed Queen did right this year.
1. Became a Villain
Nicki Minaj at Marc Jacobs runway show - Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images
Heel turns can be magical. Rap thrives on out-of-this-world characters and drama. 50 Cent threatened to rob all of New York and later transformed himself into a superhuman willing to declare war upon anyone. MF Doom wore a mask and sent imposters to shows. Nicki dyed her hair bright colours and crowned herself Queen. It’s not exactly new; she’s played around with titles of royalty since her “Monster” verse. But villains need an origin and have to break away from their past persona to be taken seriously.
Cardi B’s ascent did the trick for Nicki. After years of little challenge to her throne, the idea of another female rapper encroaching upon her kingdom was enough to leave Nicki rattled, who spent 2017 denying any sort of bad blood between her and Cardi. “These are men in our culture who simply refuse to let it go,” Nicki would tweet. “They don’t do this to male M.C.’s.” But as the two rappers went from throwing shots to eventually throwing down during New York Fashion Week, Nicki dug her heels in deep.
She weaponized her fanbase, the Barbz, and sicced them upon those who wronged her, like Wanna Thompson, the journalist who tweeted a critical thought about the rapper, or Travis Scott, whom she alleged rigged the charting system to allow Astroworld to get a number one over Queen. She brokered a truce with Cardi B, only to hire two women currently preparing a lawsuit against Cardi and feature them in her “Good Form” video. She struggled to clear a Tracy Chapman sample for a song and when clearance wasn't granted, released it anyway. When pressed on shaming sex workers in an Elle cover story or collaborating with Tekashi 6ix9ine, her response was to double down. Villains aren’t apologetic and it seems the Nicki Minaj of 2018 isn’t either.
2. Queen Radio
Nicki Minaj at the MTV EMAs - Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images
In recent years, a Beats 1 show has become valuable to artists looking to extend the life of their album rollout. It’s a way for fans to stay connected with the artist and people love tuning in for new music and new moments. With plenty of the latter, Queen Radio became something more.
It turned out Nicki had just enough classic NYC rap radio flair to turn a simple radio gig into something dramatic and engaging. Conducting live Q&As with friends and industry professionals, presenting giveaways to fans and premiering new music, it was meant to show a more relaxed Nicki. What we got was the high stakes of reality TV. Nicki dropped bombs and asked for all the smoke. She gave out awards like “Cocksucker of the Day” and “Dickrider of the Year” to those who dared cross her or speak negatively of the queen. It worked; Queen Radio went viral, with clips frequently hitting social media spawning waves of reactions and dismissals.
It didn’t matter if the information she had was accurate, as long as it kept her name in the conversation. Plenty of casual fans tuned in if only to keep up with Nicki’s rotating case of enemies and haters.
3. Plenty of Music
Nicki Minaj and the all-girl group Little Mix - Ian Gavan/Getty Images for MTV
Drama and antics need quality music to keep them going. Prior to Queen, the last Nicki Minaj album was The Pinkprint which came out four years ago. In that time, Nicki worked on business ventures, all the while recording guest features and one-off releases. A major point she held over Remy Ma during their war of words was that she was an accomplished rapper in the pop realm with the hits to prove it. “Numbers don’t lie,” she said.
But when the singles she released in 2017 (”No Frauds,” “Changed It,” and “Regret In Your Tears”) failed to make a significant impression, the narrative that Nicki Minaj may have lost the Midas touch began to settle in.
“I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a superstar of Nicki’s caliber put out three records at the same time,” said Charlamagne Tha God when discussing hype and trash moments of the year with Joe Budden. “And by the way, the “No Frauds” record had the iHeart radio stimulus package, meaning you’re going to play it every hour on the hour on every urban station throughout the country. She might’ve even been on some of the pop stations. She had Wayne and Drake on the record and that record didn’t go, bruh.”
“Her untrammelled focus on her fan support, and on her position on the charts, seems increasingly like a way of compensating for a lack of substance—a way of grasping for a kind of relevance that she is struggling to tap into organically.” wrote Carrie Battan in the New Yorker. “Her relentless boasts feel less like the prideful expressions of an artist than like those of, say, a historically unpopular President distributing printouts of electoral maps to Oval Office visitors.”
Thankfully “Chun-Li,” her highest charting solo hit in recent years, and the platinum-certified Queen is beginning to rewrite that narrative. “Motorsport” seemed to kick off a reversal of Nicki’s fortunes where she began to release some of her most engaging music in years. “Poke It Out,” found on Playboi Carti’s album Die Lit, showcased a Nicki Minaj that seemed to be having fun. “Barbie Dreams” continued the streak as the Queens rapper made a tongue-in-cheek homage to Biggie’s “Just Playing (Dreams)” and promo single “Barbie Tingz” found its energy in its cold-cocking ‘80s NYC chrome sound.
On top of releasing a 19-track album, Nicki Minaj has been more than generous with the mounting number of guests spots she's done this year, making sure her voice was heard across radio, clubs and playlists alike. Collabs with artists like Tekashi 6ix9ine, UK girl group Little Mix, pop star ZAYN, K-Pop group BTS, on top of the usual suspects like Lil Wayne, Tyga and Mike WiLL Made It ensured she was a formidable force on the airwaves this year.