Nicki Minaj is the conductor of her own downfall. And it’s sad to watch. — Andscape
There’s a figure in American life who’s compulsively divisive. They govern by their own rules. They speak solely to the segment of society — albeit millions of followers — who lap up their Jim Jones-flavored Kool-Aid because, in this alternate reality, they’re the agents of truth and salvation. Any opposition is just an enemy of the state. Perhaps most importantly, too, misinformation is the highest form of currency.
No, not former President Donald Trump (though it applies to him, too). But given the last week in Black pop culture, that figure is Nicki Minaj.
What should be one of hip-hop’s sterling legacies has long been sullied by her support-at-all-costs dictatorship. Her alleged off-putting demeanor has circumvented anything she’s done for at least the past half-decade. Her closest affiliations and decisions have threatened to make her a pariah. And her catalog — despite its chart success — has produced bloated numbers and empty statistics primarily driven by a cult following who’ll support her regardless of her morals, targets or intentions. Nicki Minaj has become a cancer to an art form she once almost single-handedly carried on her back.
On Wednesday, she joined Joe Budden’s Spaces on X, formerly known as Twitter, to discuss the fallout from Megan Thee Stallion’s new single “HISS,” — which could become the No. 1 song in the country next week. The aggressive invitation-for-smoke is presumably aimed at a cast of characters — most notably Nicki Minaj. In her rant, she blamed parties like YouTube and the “machine” for Megan Thee Stallion’s notoriety and the song’s success. She doubled down on making fun of the Houston rapper, saying she wanted her “Rihanna moment” — referring to the singer’s 2009 domestic violence incident with then-boyfriend Chris Brown — as a means to dilute her trauma stemming from the July 2020 shooting that landed singer/rapper Tory Lanez in prison. Nicki even went as far as to insinuate that Roc Nation is Megan’s puppeteer while avoiding mentioning the company’s founder, Jay-Z, or his wife, Beyoncé.
But a big part of the problem is that Nicki Minaj can’t lyrically squabble, not on wax and certainly not when she’s under pressure. Many of her direct shots at opponents have come on award show stages, at pop stars such as Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus or her former fellow American Idol judge Mariah Carey. Her past beefs with rappers such as Remy Ma or Cardi B have been one-sided and not necessarily in her favor. With her response to Megan Thee Stallion, “Big Foot” — a pieced-together arts and crafts project, at best — Nicki brought a knife to a gunfight. A pen to a test, as another New York MC once said while engaged in battle. And it’s a battle she herself, more than anyone else except Megan Thee Stallion, knew was bubbling for quite some time.
Nicki’s Spaces tirade came after the Queens, New York, rapper spent days spiraling on social media about Megan Thee Stallion. The last four years of Megan’s life have been filled with controversy, suicidal thoughts and anxiety. Suspected targets in “HISS” included rapper Drake, Lanez, her former best friend Kelsey Harris, former boyfriend Paridson “Pardi” Fontaine and more. The most poignant of the bars was seemingly directed at Nicki — an artist Megan herself once said she had been her fan since 2008 and she was one of her biggest inspirations.
“These h— don’t be mad at Megan, these h— mad at Megan’s Law/I don’t really know what the problem is, but I guarantee y’all don’t want me to start/B—-, you a p—-, never finna check me/Every chance you get, bet your weak a– won’t address me.”
Megan’s Law was signed into law in February 1996. It required registered sex offenders to publicly disclose their place of employment and residence to local law enforcement. Nicki Minaj’s husband, Kenneth Petty, served 4½ years in prison after pleading guilty to attempted rape in 1994 when he was 16. Nicki Minaj and Petty were sued for witness tampering in 2021. Jennifer Hough, the survivor of the attempted rape, claimed the couple pressured her to recant her story after Petty was arrested shortly after moving to California for essentially failing to comply with Megan’s Law. Jelani Maraj, Nicki Minaj’s brother, was sentenced to 25 years to life for the sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl in 2017. Fair or not, her proximity to these heinous offenses has irreparably harmed her career.
“Nobody is saying that Nicki isn’t happy, [or] that Nicki’s man doesn’t love her, [or] that they don’t have a supportive relationship,” media personality and attorney Rachel Lindsay said on her Higher Learning podcast with co-host Van Lathan. “But I just feel like aren’t you always tired of having to go off on somebody bringing up what actually happened? … She just gets so outraged anytime it’s brought up, but it’s true! At least as far as the record is concerned. I just wish she would just stop.”
Following the release of “HISS,” Nicki Minaj immediately took to social media to respond in a bizarre Instagram Live video where she soft-launched “Big Foot.” The song was filled with erratic thoughts of her lamenting the shooting that landed Lanez in prison, invoking Megan Thee Stallion’s mother, Holly Thomas, who died of brain cancer in 2019, and blasting Megan’s alleged sexual history. How the record came to be is a microcosm of where Nicki Minaj, an undisputed hip-hop icon in her own right, currently stands.
Nicki’s most recent album, Pink Friday 2, showcased moments of glory like “Barbie Dangerous” and introspective odes like “Are You Gone Already?” and “Just the Memories.” The album hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 200 chart for one week and is currently a top 100 album in the country. Her dominance, however, lives mainly on the internet. Online is where she’s most influential and her security most shielded.
America is no stranger to celebrity worship. Beyoncé has the Beyhive, Rihanna has her Navy, Justin Bieber has the Beliebers and Taylor Swift has the Swifties (which now includes the NFL). In a world where celebrity worship, or “stanning,” sits further on the maniacal side than charming, Nicki Minaj’s “Barbz” resemble a cult more than an online fan club. The local cemetery where Thomas is buried has reportedly alerted local authorities about increasing security due to alleged calls from Barbz to desecrate Thomas’ grave. Sadly, Nicki rarely does much to control those who hang on to her every word.
Despite last week’s drama, it’s nearly impossible to envision a world where she didn’t see a response coming. The two initially linked up in 2019. They soon collaborated on Megan Thee Stallion’s hit “Hot Girl Summer.” In August 2020, a month after Megan was shot, Nicki Minaj again praised her following the release of her Cardi B collaboration “WAP,” saying that she “was the perfect example that we can be fun and smart at the same time.”
Everything changed in 2021 when both artists unfollowed each other on social media. Subliminal disses from Nicki Minaj followed, like 2021’s “Seeing Green” and last year’s “Ruby Red Da Sleeze,” which contained bars referring to her alleged alcoholism and her Doritos Super Bowl commercial. In the fall of 2022, Nicki Minaj alleged that she once tried to get her to consume alcohol while she was attempting to get pregnant, a claim Megan Thee Stallion vehemently denied.
Nicki Minaj claims to have several more songs in the tuck should this beef continue. It begs two questions. One, does she herself consider “Big Foot” better than “HISS”? And two, why lead with this one, an objective dud if there are other options?
Megan Thee Stallion has not responded since dropping “HISS,” opting to use the attention to promote the song, her upcoming album and tour. Nicki, who prided herself for years on how she commands a media cycle, essentially got TKO’d at her own game. The same thing happened to her after Remy Ma dropped her colossal diss record “shETHER.” It happened again when Cardi B attempted to fight her at New York Fashion Week in 2018, which promptly revived conversations about respectability politics.
Nicki Minaj’s impact over the last 15 years is undeniable, and her role in the evolution of women in rap is objectively unimpeachable. She’s done it in many ways, from underground mixtapes to outrapping established stars through fashion, album sales and awards. She is a star, with no disclaimer on gender. Nicki Minaj should be celebrated as a rap legend. She can rap and is amazing at it when she decides to be. All of which makes her response — with years of tensions marinating below the surface — even more head-scratching. The only approval came from the same fans who would support her regardless of what she does.
It’s impossible to predict if Nicki can fix her public image — but it’s clear at this point she doesn’t care to or even have to. She hasn’t been the superstar she once was in her mind — or the Barbz’s — in years. And she likely never will be again. But much like the aforementioned former president, rapper Kanye West or even Lanez, there’s value in cultivating one’s own alternate reality because it means there’s never any reason to leave.
How the Head Barbie in Charge is discussed in American hip-hop and pop culture now is primarily based on the person she is, not the feats she accomplished. The pathetic part is it never had to be like this. What’s even more pathetic is that she doesn’t care to acknowledge it at all.