First published on 30 August 2022.
Minaj’s reputation as queen of rap, and therefore as successor to Lauryn Hill, was solidified by her verse on Kanye West’s ‘Monster’ from arguably the greatest album of all time, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Minaj used Bon Iver’s intro to precede her fully a cappella verse on Monster at the MTV Awards. This was ingenious, and the crowd seemed to know the lyrics almost as well as their writer did.
Minaj proceeded to rap a number of subsequent hip hop/pop fusion hits, such as ‘Beez In The Trap’, with exuberance and skill. But Taylor Swift’s dancing brought the attention of the cameras when ‘Superbass’, which Nicki revealed in her acceptance speech Taylor to have had an instrumental role in promoting, exploded into the VMAs hall. That was a moment, and Nicki’s skills as a singer were also demonstrated.
Using simply the chorus of ‘Anaconda’ while Nicki changed scene was wise, given that the song, while significant, is not the most strikingly skilled of hip hop numbers, however brilliant it is in the musical history of the 2010s. Minaj proceeded to rap steadily and skilfully, if a little exhaustedly. The performance proceeded to grow a little disappointing towards the conclusion of ‘Super Freeky Girl’. From a dancing perspective, nonetheless, there were impressive moments — if a little outshined, perhaps, by the presence of Blackpink on the MTV stage the same night, whose foremost hip hop member Lisa (from Thailand) strikes me as a plausible successor to Nicki Minaj in hip hop as a now-global musical genre.
But Minaj’s reputation is established, across genres of pop, hip hop, dance, R&B, and trap. There is little that Minaj cannot vocally improvise over a beat, and this performance shows her skills as a performer to be almost equally compelling as those she displays in the recording studio on a bewildering number of records. Minaj’s reputation in 2010s hip hop echoes another attendee to and performer at the VMAs: Snoop Dogg, whose reputation is built on his features as much as his own tracks from the 1990s onwards. And Snoop’s performance with Eminem was quite brilliant after the rappers gently stunned the Super Bowl earlier this year. I wonder why Nicki was not there in the NFL Stadium. She would have been terrific. As would Kanye, for that matter …