Nicki Minaj is retiring and while some of the reactions have been more dramatic than others, you might say they’re warranted. After all, Nicki has been one of hip-hop’s most iconic forces for over a decade, leaving behind a legacy that shows just how much of an impact she had over that time.
And while Nicki did clarify that she has more to say on the subject of retirement, it still makes this an opportune time to examine what makes her such a towering figure in hip-hop and take stock of the legacy she leaves behind.
There’s no question that Nicki Minaj is one of the best-selling, all-around successful artists of all time, let alone rappers or female rappers. She holds the record for most entries on the Billboard Hot 100, she’s been nominated for 10 Grammy Awards, has sold 20 million singles as a lead artist and five million albums worldwide, and is one of the most recognizable brands around, as the face of a beverage company she partly owns and countless partnerships in the worlds of beauty, electronics, and fashion.
She’s even made some passably successful forays into acting and voice acting, appearing in two feature films and voicing characters in animated films Ice Age: Continental Drift and The Angry Birds Movie 2, as well as a character on the immensely popular television show, Steven Universe. And while Nicki’s most recent world tour drew criticism for its canceled shows, it still rivaled her prior successful tours for profit. Of her four albums, three debuted at No. 2, while Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded debuted at No. 1. There’s no fighting it; Nicki Minaj is one of the most successful hip-hop artists of all time. Factor in her dominance in a genre that has skewed heavily male for the decade she took over, and she is going out as close to the top as any other rapper who formally “retired” rather than simply falling off.
When all is said and done, the most lasting of Nicki’s legacies may be her part in the rise of stan culture on the internet. Where the term was once a derisive insult for obsessed fans — as coined by Nicki’s frequent collaboration partner Eminem — she was one of the first artists of the social media era to coin a term specifically for her super fans. The Barbz joined Beyonce’s Beyhive and Rihanna’s Navy as the trilogy of terror on Twitter, swooping in to spark both trending topics and harassment campaigns on behalf of their respective lieges. Now, seemingly every artist from country chanteuses to K-Pop boy bands has a dedicated corner of the social internet reminding random reply threads and hashtags to stream their favorites’ latest.
The truly impressive aspect of all this is how wide-ranging and all-encompassing stan culture has become. Lil Nas X, the 20-year-old viral sensation whose country mashup “Old Town Road” went on a record-breaking run earlier this year, was the former owner of stan account @NasMaraj before resetting his account ahead of his inexorable climb to stardom. When the #LilNasXIsOverParty hashtag popped up earlier this year, I took a deep dive into its origins, finding it was less about celebrating his cancelation over prior offense remarks and more about breaking ranks with the Barbz, who felt he failed to pay proper homage to Nicki for his rise, committing a cardinal sin by collaborating with her sworn enemy Cardi B on his 7 EP. The fact that the hashtag trended for a full day is proof of the power of stan culture at large, but especially of the Barbz, who will go to any length to “defend” their queen.
While Nicki’s departure from the game leaves a proportionate vacuum — one which rising stars like Cardi B, Megan The Stallion, and Saweetie are all prepared to step into — it has to be said that rap has become a much more hospitable genre for women since Nicki arrived on the scene, with more female rappers charting on the Hot 100 than at any other point in history. There are dozens of potential female stars and when asked about their influences, more often than not, Nicki Minaj’s name is somewhere in the mix.
Although Cardi was able to surpass Nicki in some ways, it could arguably have never happened without Nicki’s begrudging co-sign on Migos’ “Motorsport,” although that turned into its own disaster down the line. Although none of Nicki’s singles ever went to No. 1, they probably could have under the more lenient rules that helped propel Cardi’s “Bodak Yellow” and “I Like It” to the top of the chart. Meanwhile, Megan Thee Stallion was quick to shout out Nicki as an inspiration, collaborating with Nicki on “Hot Girl Summer” — one of Nicki’s first such appearances on another female rapper’s projects in nearly a decade.
Taking a look at the roster of up-and-coming female rappers, nearly all of them have some aspect of Nicki, whether its visual presentation — rainbow wigs and eye-popping, futuristic costumes — or her fondness for snarky wordplay. Nicki is clearly the blueprint for a lot of the women throwing their hats in the ring, for better or worse.