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Nicki Minaj sauntered into the MET Gala leaving a path lined by chiffon flames. Her devilish grin insinuated one thing; she came to be the grim reaper in a field of angels.

Up until that moment, the record-breaking rapper had been quiet sans the release of two new singlesChun Li and Barbie Tingzjust days before. Nicki’s auspicious timing set the Internet ablaze and left fans clamoring between two of their favorite artists. Are you a #Barb or #Bardigang?

Whatever side you’re on, there’s something noticeably different about Nicki this go-round. A short-lived (but verbally vicious) beef with Remy Ma shook the castle, but didn’t move the moat. However, the recent success of Cardi B proved triggering to Nicki, whose lyrics have become over-saturated with superficial nods to her queendom. Dear Nicki, no one ever took your crown away.

I was first introduced to Nicki Minaj when she was still on the mixtape circuit. Back then we were all using our wave irons to achieve the Brazilian body wave look. She rapped lyrics like, “Niggas know my p*ssy taste like mango tango/ So they put a couple carats in my ankle bangles” Shortly after, she dropped Itty Bitty Piggy and her star sky-rocketed.

Minaj’s reign over female rap began when she appeared on the 2009 BET Hip Hop Awards cypher and obliterated her competition with her metaphors, confident delivery and theatrics. “She gets no burn, no smoking sign,” she famously rapped.

In 2010, she dropped career-defining verses on Kanye West’s Monster, Trey Songz Bottoms Up, Yo Gotti’s 5 Star and Ludacris’ My Chick Bad.

We can’t overlook another major catalyst in Nicki’s rise to superstardom, her rumble with the Queen Bee that left fans polarized. Despite the division, the TKO resulted in Nicki’s comfortable position on the throne. Fast-forward 10 years and the self-proclaimed Queen is still perched in Givenchy, but sometimes, she’s also the jester.

There’s a lot to love about Nicki Minaj, with equal parts hate. It’s no small feat that a Black woman from Queens rose to the top of the ranks in a male-dominated industry. So why are her praises lined with “buts” and “and?”

In 2017, Remy ma accused Nicki of trying to sabotage her career behind-the-scenes, adding fuel to rumors surrounding Nicki’s mean girl reputation. Aside from these narratives, she continues to do what she does best: Rap. Her flow is undeniable; she is one of the best.

It’s clear though, through her lyrics, that she is in constant struggle between how she views herself and how she is perceived by others. While I bump Chun Li on high volumes at least twice a day, critics slammed the lyrics as mediocre. I disagree.

Still, Barbie Tingz feels dated and the title of her album, Queen, makes her seem BBQ Becky-level parched. Her gift lies in her skill, but her curse lies in her inauthenticity.

But it’d be unfair of me to chastise Nicki over her insecurities. She’s human and we all have our flaws. The Black woman experience doesn’t come with a handbook and it certainly isn’t easy to be a public figure.

But all of this still begs the question, what lies behind Nicki’s facade? A brother facing life in prison for predatory sexual assault against a child. An opponent that used it against her on wax. The comfort that comes with being the “only one” reaching its expiration date. The failed relationships. Her ex, Safaree, thriving. Her ex, Meek Mill, thriving and focused on prison reform. Her reported ex, Nas, exposed as an alleged batterer. A legion of Lil’ Kim fans constantly reminding her who did it first.

Nicki desperately needs to inject her struggles into her music before she goes from Nicki Lewinsky to Regina George, leader of the plastics. There’s a vulnerability missing in her raps that makes every verse seem superficial, especially when she’s referring to herself as King Kong. Similar to her Young Money brethren, Drake, she can’t drop another solid album because she’s still scratching the surface of her existence.

If Nicki wants to follow the blueprint, she’s going to have to go back to the drawing board and take a page from Jay’s book. She’ll need to dig deeper than ever before to get to the next level of her career and drop her own lemony sweet version of 4:44 to restore her crown. Because though it is still clinging to the top of her tresses, it is chipped from battle, and rusted where it once shined. The diamonds don’t gleam the same and there’s stone missing.

Queen drops in August.


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