Nicki Minaj opened her fourth studio album, Queen, in dramatic fashion: “Who you gettin’ at Nicki?” she asks, before responding, “Watch them c__ts learn.” From the jump, it’s clear that Minaj is not only coming for her rival female MCs, but also the men who have forsaken her legacy and self-worth. The album’s title speaks for itself, as Minaj sought to assert herself as the reigning Queen Of Rap nearly a decade after her triumphant debut, Pink Friday.
In the years following her 2014 release, The Pinkprint, the pop, and hip-hop climates had both dramatically changed – as had Minaj. The legendary MC had become tabloid fodder for her public beefs and subsequent relationship splits, and Queen documents the highs and lows of that journey in a majestic world that only Minaj could create.
‘All you bi__hes wanna look like me’
To kick off her Queen era, Nicki Minaj released two singles, “Barbie Tingz” and “Chun-Li,” proving that the pop-crossover artist still had bars. “Barbie Tingz” demanded homage from hip-hop’s newcomers with the line “Let’s be real, all you bi__hes wanna look like me”. Reminiscent of Minaj’s early mixtape days, the boom-bap-centric single became an instant favorite for its more street-oriented vibes.
To cap that off, “Chun-Li” became Queen’s official first single, introducing a new persona that references an ass-kicking character from the Street Fighter video-game franchise. Over a bumping saxophone and sporadic gongs, Minaj reminds her detractors, “Ayo, I been on, bi__ch,” and embraces the notion that “They paintin’ me out to be the bad guy”. Her new visuals matched the provocative attitude of her music, with Minaj looking like the spitting image of Lil’ Kim on the single’s cover art. ‘Chun-Li’ peaked at No.10 on the Billboard Hot 100, an impressive comeback for an artist whose last proper release had been four years ago.
Leading up to Queen’s release, Minaj teased out three singles, including “Rich Sex,” featuring her longtime collaborator and mentor, Lil Wayne; the pop-reggae collab track “Bed,” with frequent partner Ariana Grande; and the controversial Tekashi 6ix9ine smash “Fefe”. The latter garnered much attention due to Tekashi 6ix9ine’s legal troubles, but also for the undeniable show-stealing verse from Minaj, which saw her in rare lyrical form.
Queen, however, wasn’t the only outlet for Minaj to speak her mind. The singer/rapper also launched her own radio show on Beats 1, appropriately titled Queen Radio. Finding a new lane for her celebrity, Minaj used the platform to debut her album, on 10 August 2018, as well as dispel rumors surrounding her while airing her own grievances and talking shop with friends and collaborators.
Making its debut at No.2 on the Billboard 200, Queen had to break through the near-impenetrable hold that male rappers had on the charts. To do so, the album saw Minaj venture into new sonic directions while bringing along the colorful alter egos that she introduced throughout her three Pink albums.
Following the hypnotic tribal rhythms of “Ganja Burn,” “Majesty” plays into the demonic rhyme schemes of her frequent partner in crime, Eminem. One of Queen’s finest moments is “Barbie Dreams,” which sees Minaj pay tribute to Biggie’s iconic 1994 track, “Just Playing (Dreams).” Instead of lusting after the R&B divas of the day, however, Minaj flips the script and skewers her male competitors and former romantic flames, questioning the sexual prowess of Meek Mill, 50 Cent, Quavo, and Young Thug in hypothetical sexual situations. The song kicked up a stir upon release, but Minaj made it clear that “Barbie Dreams” wasn’t a diss track, but meant all in good fun. After all, nothing’s off-limits in hip-hop.
“Hard White” sees Minaj calling out her suspected imitators once again, claiming she has to “work hard just to get half back” and “I ain’t ever have to strip to get the pole position” – a not-so-subtle shot at fellow rapper Cardi B. On the clap-back track “LLC,” Minaj stakes more claims that she invented the blueprint for other female rappers in the game.
Showing a vulnerable side
A stretch of Queen sees Minaj applying R&B vocal stylings to pop melodies, a skill she’s never shied away from since her Pink Friday debut. She mourns being duped by a lover on “Thought I Knew You,” featuring The Weeknd, and assures “A true bad b__ch ain’t weak or bitter” on “Nip Tuck.” Though most of Queen brims over with bravado, Minaj lets her guard down and displays her vocal chops on the piano-tinged ballad ‘Come See About Me’, which deals with the toll that fame takes on her personal relationships.
It’s in these moments when Minaj isn’t single-mindedly focused on reasserting her relevance, that we see her authentic self. On “Run And Hide” she sings about her trust issues and how she maintains her self-preservation over a boom-bap beat. On “Chun Swae” she joins forces with Swae Lee to create cloud-rap magic, while the Future-assisted “Sir” advances Queen’s hazy, dream-like production.
A Nicki to rule them all
No Nicki Minaj record is complete without some floor-filling cuts and musical spontaneity. After tearing up dancefloors on her previous albums, critics noted how Queen struck a more serious, darker tone. That said, Minaj still delivers a twerk anthem with “Good Form.”
To close the album, she pays homage to Foxy Brown’s 2001 opus, Broken Silence, on “Coco Chanel.” Just as Broken Silence merged dancehall and West Indies music with hip-hop, Brown jumps on the track with a patois verse, a nod to both her and Minaj’s Trinidadian roots. (Minaj, alongside Drake and Rihanna, have been leaders in bringing West Indian culture to mainstream pop since the 2010s.) The riddim of “Coco Chanel” continues into Queen’s closing track, ‘Inspirations Outro’, on which Minaj shouts out to other Caribbean musicians who have inspired her.
Queen is not only a declarative statement from one of the last great crossover hip-hop stars, but proves that Minaj is well equipped to stay top of the rap game. From R&B stylings to dance-pop and hard-hitting hip-hop, there’s a Nicki to rule them all.