Less than a week after Cardi B released her deft debut Invasion of Privacy, Nicki Minaj stoked the rumors of beef between the two rappers by releasing two new tracks that could conceivable be aimed at Cardi. After Nicki’s tense, and seemingly confessional, interview on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 show, Claire Lobenfeld trims the fat off this possible beef and examines what both artists bring to the table at this moment.
When Cardi B released Invasion of Privacy last week, there was a lot of chatter on Twitter, at least in my own timeline, about whether or not both Cardi and Nicki Minaj can shine without stealing each other’s light. I saw haughty tweets condemning the idea of competition between them and hopeful tweets nearing on fanfic about how powerful they could be together. And they are strong together: just listen to ‘MotorSport’, a 2017 Migos single that both Nicki and Cardi are featured on. Without them, it’s a slog. But since that track didn’t result in the two of them in an affectionate alliance, it felt fairly clear to me that they’re probably just not each other’s cup of tea.
And that’s OK! It’s not anti-feminist to not want to be friends with or be a fan of another woman. (In fact, it’s actually more belittling to women to expect that they like each other simply because they share a gender.) Plus, this is hip-hop! It’s about competition! We would have just let LL Cool J keep “G.O.A.T.” as a goofy album title instead of adopting it as an esteemed measurement if striving to be the best wasn’t part of the game.
The Thursday after Cardi released her impressive debut album Invasion of Privacy, Apple Music declared it #NickiDay. Minaj debuted two singles on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 show and hinted at a brand new album coming later this year, and told a story about how she had her feelings hurt by some press Cardi B did after ‘MotorSport’ was released.
“Well, when I heard the track, her verse wasn’t finished,” Cardi B said about the track. “Or, it’s not the verse that’s [on there] right now. And Quavo told me that to get on the song, and I just felt like it’s a perfect opportunity for me to be on a track that’s big like them. Those are two big people, and I just started in the game. And I just know if I get on this record, it’s gonna be crazy. Like, who doesn’t want it?”
What Nicki claims hurt her feelings was both the idea that she changed her verse after Cardi jumped on the track and that she wasn’t more grateful, as an up-and-comer, to be on the same song with someone of Minaj’s stature.
“Up until [a] recent interview that she did, I had never seen her show me genuine love,” Minaj told Lowe. “I could just imagine how many girls wish they could have been on a song with Nicki Minaj. I’m not saying in it a cocky way … It’s because of the Nicki hate train that she felt like she could speak about me in that manner.”
I would guess that Cardi has almost never kissed anyone’s ass in her life, so it’s hardly surprising that not only is she not a Minaj sycophant, she’s bored by the idea that she should be. Cardi, really, doesn’t fit neatly into any box. She gained social media popularity by being her authentic self instead of scheming an aspirational brand or a performance of cool. She turned a reality TV casting into a music career, ‘Don’t Be Tardy For the Party’ conventions be damned. Her stripper-to-superstar trajectory is continuously called a Cinderella story, as if most rappers this side of Jay-Z’s old stash house haven’t built something out of nothing. Of course Nicki Minaj, who is perennially concerned with being no. 1 – the first track on her debut album is literally called ‘I’m the Best’ – feels slighted here, whether or not Quavo could have nipped the whole thing in the bud.
How can you say someone changed their verse & forget to say Quavo TOLD me to remove my singing part (which I loved) & Atlantic told me to remove your name from my verse per your request? So how were those changes gonna happen if I didn’t “change” my verse? 😩🤣 #NickiDay #ChunLi
— NICKI MINAJ (@NICKIMINAJ) April 12, 2018
All of it reminds me of witnessing a similar drama unfold between LL Cool J and the rapper Canibus over 20 years ago. LL’s 1997 track ‘4, 3, 2, 1’ was a classic posse cut featuring Redman, Method Man, and DMX, as well as Canibus. This was the ’90s, so a song with such a stacked roster of features wasn’t completed over email, but in an actual studio. I remember Canibus and LL both explaining their sides to rap radio icon Angie Martinez during her post at Hot 97: Canibus had referenced the mic tattoo on LL’s bicep; LL suggested the budding rapper do his own thing and made Canibus change his verse, only to come out swinging at him at the end of the track. “Now let’s get back to this mic on my arm / If it ever left my side it’d transform into a time bomb,” he rapped. “You don’t wanna borrow that, you wanna idolize.”
Or perhaps my ’90s New York rap spidey senses are tingling because how much of Invasion of Privacy harkens back to it: there’s her ‘Da Dip’ reference on ‘Bodak Yellow’, the relationship comparison to Tommy and Keisha on ‘Be Careful’, that she spells out her references, like “It’s Sweet Pussy Saturday, that’s just what Plies say” instead of punctuating the line like, “It’s Sweet Pussy Saturday: Plies” like, well, someone signed to Young Money would do. (Grocery bag.)
Outside of this kind of silly, super niche observation, there is quite a bit to admire about the album. We’ve known Cardi’s an extremely flexible rapper since Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1, but what Invasion of Privacy proves is that she is a deft lyricist, telegraphing relationship woes on tracks like ‘Thru Your Phone’ and the Kehlani-featuring ‘Ring’; she is just as comfortable with YG over a Mustard beat (‘She Bad’) as she is doing trap-boogaloo with Bad Bunny and J Balvin (‘I Like It’); she is confessional and confrontational on ‘Money Bag’, ‘Bickenhead’ and ‘Dreams and Nightmares (Intro)’-like opener ‘Get Up 10’. When she raps, “They said by now that I’ll be finished, hard to tell / My little 15 minutes lasting long as hell, huh?” it gives you goosebumps. She’s going to be here for a long time. (And hopefully in that time, they give her stronger producers to work with. Imagine Cardi on a Just Blaze track.)
What happens next is almost of no consequence. In an interview on Shade 45 with DJ Whoo Kid following the Beats 1 fracas, Cardi makes the most salient point: “Ever since I came up, [there have been] comparisons. I am my own person… I see all these guys coming out at the same time and most of them actually do sound alike. Why you don’t [compare] them? Every [female] rapper that’s out right now, Nicki, Remy, me, some girls on the come-up, nobody sounds like each other.” Cardi, CupcakKe, Princess Nokia and Remy Ma have already put out projects this year, Junglepussy and Nicki both have records coming soon and Young M.A just made her directorial debut on PornHub. It’s another quiet but deadly year for women in rap. The real problem here is that not all of them are topping the charts.
Claire Lobenfeld is the Managing Editor of FACT. She remembers a time when they played more than two female rappers on the radio.