Nicki Minaj and All Her Sons
6 Life Lessons from the Generous Queen of Rap
Onika Tanya Maraj was born in Saint James, Trinidad and Tobago, on December 8, 1982. The rest is history.
I'm drafting this post because it has become apparent, at least to me, that the more female rap continues to evolve, it's becoming less and less acceptable to spotlight Nicki Minaj. Lately, speaking on her music is often met with irritation, shade and attempts to downplay her various music industry accomplishments. Admittedly, I'm not a barb (fan name for Nicki's fans), but I am an avid music consumer who values talent, longevity and impact. At least 20% of my love for Nicki Minaj can also be attributed to the fact that she is Trinidadian, and as a fellow Trini, my heart swells with pride thinking about all that she has achieved. The genre of rap, scratch that, the music industry as a whole, has been transformed by her artistry, advocacy and pen game. She is the queen of rap. This statement may draw controversy, but, in my opinion, there are multiple queens of rap. A plethora of queendoms. Different hypothetical countries ruled over by mistresses of their own craft, experts in distinct styles of rap. This particular story is just focused on the generous queen, Nicki Minaj.
Everyone can recite at least one of Nicki's verses, even if they don't actively listen to her music. Nicki Minaj was the soundtrack of my teenage years. What I loved most about her music was the underlying messages and positive undertones that they promote. From the outside looking in, people tend to have this specific vision of female rap, imagining it to only center conversations about sex, money and the wetness or dryness of the female genitalia. While Nicki raps about all these things and more, her music also forwards motifs of empowerment, confidence and hard work that are indescribably important for her audience. Today, I thought I'd outline the five life lessons we can draw from Nicki Minaj's prolific career and discography.
1) Try Everything
"I'm still the highest sellin' female rapper, for the record.
Man, this a 65 million single sold
I ain't gotta compete with a single soul
I'm good with the ballpoint game, finger roll"
- Nicki Minaj, "Truffle Butter"
Nicki Minaj is a rapper, but her expansive discography has never been limited to just Hip-Hop. Instead, across the entirety of her career, she has engaged in multi-genre musical collaborations, teaming up with a variety of artists in pop, EDM, R&B, K-Pop, reggae and even, gospel (yes, you read that right). Her style has proven to be adaptable, versatile and attractive to a whole sphere of different audiences. Featuring Nicki Minaj could be a genre of its own as Nicki proves that occasionally, it's necessary to step outside of your comfort zone and operate in a realm that's far away from the expected.
Sometimes, to learn and grow as a person, we must attempt things we've never experienced before, no matter how foreign and scary they may seem. Life is unpredictable and unknowable, and circumstances may pop up that necessitate spontaneity and adaptability. This is an essential skill, and the more we practice trying things we never in a million years would have tried, the better we become at thinking on our feet and being versatile. Like Nicki Minaj, try everything!
2) Forget the Haters. They Don't Matter
"See, a b*tch got more coins than a gameroom
So we ain't ever hatin' in TheShadeRoom
See, I keep my sons in the playroom
So me and you ain't ever in the same room
- Nicki Minaj, "Good Form"
Nicki Minaj often refers to her haters as "my sons" in her music. This is a double whammy insult. She simultaneously claims that her detractors are a carbon copy of her and minimizes their insults' impact by imagining them as children who don't know better. I'm definitely not suggesting that you infantilize your enemies. Still, I do think there is merit in recognizing that your accomplishments and your efforts are separate and independent from any vitriol launched at you. Negative opinions should not diminish your self-love and regard for who you are. Not everyone is going to like you. Hell, some people may hate your guts. That's just part and parcel of the journey called life, and you should endeavour to approach these people with the same level of self-assurance and dismissiveness as forwarded by Nicki Minaj in her music. Ignore all the haters; their opinions matter very little in the trajectory of your lives.
3) Confidence is King (Or Queen)
"You can hate me but why knock my hustle?
Imma be the queen no matter how they shuffle"
- Nicki Minaj, "Go Hard"
People are always triggered when Nicki refers to herself as the Queen of Rap. It's disrespectful. No, she's not. Well, what about this person and that person? Queen of what? I personally think it's hilarious how offended the general public is by any woman expressing unmovable faith in their own merit even though men in Hip-Hop speak this way all the time. It doesn't matter what you believe personally because it is her own opinion, and she is allowed to hold herself in high regard. That type of confidence is inspiring, and in a world that privileges self-deprecation over self-compassion, it should be celebrated.
Confidence is sexy. It is attractive. And it is necessary. Pay yourself compliments often because you deserve it and because the alternative is succumbing to notions of self-doubt and pessimism. By declaring herself the Queen of Rap, Nicki acknowledges that it is okay to scream "I'm the best" from the rooftops if you believe that you are, in fact, the best. Maybe another person also imagines themselves to be the best, in which case they should also scream it from the rooftops. Then, we'll have a chorus of humans everywhere on rooftops who are confident in their abilities, skills and talents. That's always a good thing.
4) Shatter the Glass Ceiling
"Cuz we the big three, don't need a big speech
We made the biggest impact; check the spreadsheets."
- Nicki Minaj, "Barbie Tingz"
Nicki Minaj exploded onto the rap scene when there was a dearth of Black female rappers. Unlike the 90s and early 2000s, when there was a plethora of female rappers (Missy Elliot, Lil' Kim, Queen Latifah, Tracy Chapman, Lauryn Hill, Eve, to name a few), in 2010, there was radio silence. The rap game had become a sausage party and lacked that je ne sais quoi that the female pen brings to the table. Enter Nicki Minaj, and the Hip-Hop scene was forever changed. In 2019, Nicki became the first female artist (not "black female" but FEMALE!) to achieve 100 entries on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. She joined the ranks of Lil Wayne, Drake, Elvis Presley and The Glee Cast (randomly). She has also won the Best Female Rapper Award at the BET Music Awards for 7 years consecutively, making her the female rapper with the most wins.
Nicki Minaj is a case study of entering into spaces where you are not the majority and knocking it out of the park anyway. I would hazard to say that her talent outshines that of many male rappers today. I guess the lesson here is to believe in yourself, work hard to achieve your dreams and laugh in the face of the arbitrary limits placed on you by society and yourself. You can do anything you put your mind to...within reason. You can't fly, so maybe don't jump off a 40-story building.
5) Be True to Yourself
"I never worry, life is a journey
I just wanna enjoy the ride
What is the hurry? It's pretty early
It's okay, we'll take our time"
- Nicki Minaj, "The Night Is Still Young"
Does anyone remember early Nicki Minaj? Over-the-top wigs, insane visuals, different alter egos. She was loud, vibrant, colourful and crazy. Early Nicki Minaj was to Hip-Hop what Lady Gaga was to the pop girlies. She was unapologetically herself and still very much is. It's really refreshing. If I'm honest, I'm timid in person, and I often find difficulty expressing 100% of myself to people at any given time. My anxiety takes the reins, and suddenly I'm examining my every move under a microscope. What if they don't like me? Do I sound crazy? Deep breath. It's okay to be exactly who you are.
6) Command The Respect That You Deserve
"Yo, people'll love you and support you when it's beneficial
I'ma forgive, I won't forget, but I'ma dead the issue."
- Nicki Minaj, "Pills N Potions"
Many don't know this, but Onika Tanya Maraj is actually responsible for the fact that digital streams on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and other music streaming platforms are counted as album sales for the Billboard Charts. Before 2015, the music industry lagged behind the new age of streaming, and Billboard factored in only physical album sales. Nicki Minaj believed that digital streams were just as important, went to court and fought for it. It was a landmark decision and a game-changer that has revolutionized the way we consume music today. This case has dramatically changed the course of the music industry. It has allowed applications such as TikTok to have actual weight in artists' popularity and chart performance.
Many criticized her fight initially (even Billboard!), but all have benefitted from the results in the end. Let this be a lesson: fight for and honour your beliefs even if others disagree with you. Demand the respect, accolades and flowers you deserve. Don't let anyone or anything deter you from defending yourself, especially when your values are well-founded. Period!
It never occurred to me how much of a Nicki stan I am until I sat down to write this story and realized how many of her verses I knew offhand. In conducting research for this article, I found myself vibing to all of her music, and I created a playlist of some of my favourite Nicki songs, which can be found below. There exists a double standard in rap when regarding the work of men and women. For some reason, highlighting one woman's achievements seems to necessarily entail the denigration of others' work. I personally don't subscribe to that nonsense. We can have 1000 male rappers that sound the same, but god-forbid, two or three female rappers exist in the same space. Intolerable! I think Nicki Minaj was necessary for the rap game, and her impact will be felt for generations to come.