When you keep up with pop culture long enough, there are headlines you just get tired of reading. In this case, you don’t have to have been keeping up long at all to be exasperated by one particular and, as it turns out, myopic, sexist, and racist trope: “Nicki Minaj vs. [Insert Celebrity Here].”
Rounding up Nicki Minaj’s “feuds” and “beefs” has become its own cottage industry in entertainment writing, constantly updating lists of all the women in music she’s apparently been at odds with. There’s a running theme of these aggregations and narratives: Nicki Minaj is the villain.
It’s getting old.
The trope surfaced again this week when, on the occasion of the release of her two new songs, Minaj finally addressed the most recent so-called feud, in this case with fellow rapper Cardi B. It’s one that many had begun to suspect might not be rooted in bad blood between the artists, but was manufactured by a media that is, by this point, conditioned to pit Minaj against any up-and-coming music star, particularly a female rapper.
As it happens, the truth is a little bit of both. What’s revealing, though, is how once again Minaj was painted as the bullish transgressor, at least until she spoke up for herself—a recurring pattern that is unfair and sexist.
The media-portrayed rivalry between Minaj and Cardi B is exasperating in its predictability. Minaj has been a best-selling female rapper for most of this decade, carrying what has become the industry’s sole baton: At any given time, there is apparently only room for one female rapper.
So when Cardi B gained traction, social media theories caught fire that it was at the expense of Minaj, who would surely find her career’s success diminish at the expense of Cardi’s rise, a hypothetical reality that would also piss the rapper off. And so each time one of the women released a new track, lyrics were parsed for evidence of shots fired. Both had already dismissed rumors of a feud, and even shared billing on Migos’ “MotorSport.”
While that should have silenced the rumors, it only fanned the flames.
“MotorSport” was planned as a collaboration between Quavo and Minaj, until Quavo texted Minaj to tell her the rest of Migos, including Cardi’s fiancé Offset, would be on it. He also asked if Cardi could be on the track, which Minaj approved. But the narrative after that quickly shifted, especially after Minaj and Cardi didn’t share any scenes in the music video. You can imagine the gossip: Nicki’s at it again.
In an interview with Zane Lowe, Minaj said she was hurt that Cardi and Migos—which includes Quavo and Offset—allowed that narrative to persist.
“When I first came in the game, if a female of [my] stature had done a feature with me on it, I would only be singing their praises and saying thank you,” Minaj said. “The first interview [Cardi] did after ‘MotorSport’ came out, it just really hurt me, because she looked so aggravated and angry, and the only thing she kept saying was, ‘I didn’t hear that, she changed her verse.’
“The only thing with Cardi that really, really, really hurt my feelings was the first interview she did after ‘MotorSport’ came out. With ‘MotorSport,’ I kinda felt ambushed,” she says. “The first thing that came out of her mouth about a Nicki Minaj feature was ‘she changed the verse’… When it was time to clear the air about that, no one did that. All of them allowed me to look like I lied.”
As for why the two didn’t appear together in the video, Minaj explained it was because of a scheduling conflict owing to the fact that she and Cardi share a hairstylist. But she knew, because she’s been through it before, how she was going to be painted in the media. And she felt like she had been thrown under the bus by Migos for not clearing the air about it.
“I said to him, ‘You know if I don’t show up, they’re gonna think it’s because I’m doing it to be mean’” she said. “They [Migos and Cardi] all knew that and still did interviews and jumped around it just to paint Nicki as the bad person so you could play the victim. That really, really, really hurt me because I really supported her.”
There’s nuance here. You can be hurt by a collaborator, or have a complicated relationship with a friend, be it professional or otherwise. That doesn’t mean there’s a feud. Not only did Minaj make that very clear in the interview—that she and Cardi are not feuding, that she was merely disappointed in how things went down—but Cardi herself said as much in an interview on Friday with Apple Music’s Beats 1.
“I just really feel like it’s internet made-up. I really feel like fans and people really want to see that happen because it’s really entertaining,” Cardi said. “I remember when Nicki and Remy [Ma] was beefing and everybody was tuning in like, ‘Ooh, what’s next?’”
In response to Cardi’s quote from Friday, Minaj said, “Up until this recent interview that she did, I had never seen her show me genuine love. 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.”
Minaj’s remarks exhibit maturity and self-awareness. It’s in stark contrast to the reactionary way she is depicted on social media and in the press: petulant, wanton, angry. She’s a person who has weathered an unforgiving business, and knows how to navigate it—but who also knows the obstacles that will be consistently thrown in her way as she does it.
Those obstacles were there when she was pitted against Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus. In each case Minaj was portrayed as “coming for them” when she was invoking them in serious conversations about womanhood and blackness in the industry. They were there when she sparred with Mariah Carey, as the rapper became increasingly exasperated with snide comments Carey would make about her—all of which the media eventually exploited into a tired catfight. And the obstacles, of course, were there throughout her history with other female rappers, including Remy Ma, Lil’ Kim, and Azealia Banks.
“In any field, women must work TWICE as hard to even get HALF the respect her male counterparts get. When does this stop?” Minaj tweeted last fall, hinting at a press tour for her new music that would include a frank and reasoned reckoning on the subject matter, which is exactly what her interview Thursday about Cardi B was.
Later that same day, she retweeted a tweet that Kendrick Lamar sent out seven years ago, proving just how long she’s had to deal with misogyny in her career.
We’re not obtuse enough to ignore the “angry black woman” stereotype that is very real in its unjust application to Minaj, who exhibits strength of character and conviction in her truth, only for it to be interpreted as picking a fight. But using that stereotype as an entertainment news content generator is, at this point, tired and irresponsible. Are we done yet with painting Nicki Minaj as the villain?