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.