Hip-hop ain’t dead. It’s been 40 years since its birth, and music’s most dominant genre looks as alive as ever. J. Cole just broke streaming records on both Apple and Spotify with the surprise release of his fifth studio album, KOD. The first samples of what Drake’s been cooking up for his forthcoming Scorpion have had historic debuts. Since the release of last year’s DAMN., rap’s reigning MVP Kendrick Lamar has conquered with double-platinum plaques, lit soundtracks, Grammy Awards and even a Pulitzer Prize. And it’s looking like this exciting stretch of rap music may extend throughout, at the very least, summer ‘18. A recently reactivated Kanye West is promising new projects from himself, Kid Cudi, Pusha T and Nas. It also wouldn’t be much of a surprise if a long-rumored joint album from JAY-Z and his wife, King Beyoncé, accompanied the upcoming On The Run II arena tour.
Anticipation has also begun to build for the return of Nicki Minaj. This week she locks in her 16th appearance in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 with her new joint, “Chun-Li.” Her as-of-yet untitled fourth album has to be met with sky-high expectations. It could be what cements her legacy as not only the undisputed queen of hip-hop, but also one of the G.O.A.T.s of her era.
Once the People’s Champ, Nicki’s pole position has been tested a bit lately. Last year’s easy-to-forget trio of tracks “Regret in Your Tears,” “Changed It” and the Remy Ma-diss “No Frauds,” along with the rise of Cardi B, has left some fans pondering things like how Minaj will stack up against the Bronx-bred newcomer and if she’s fallen off. The poorly-timed release of Nicki’s interviews and current comeback singles, as well as lyrics that can easily be interpreted as a disses, haven’t helped either. As rumors of tension existing among the “MotorSport” collaborators, some have wondered if Nicki herself has had glass or two of the haterade she references in her latest hit.
However, even though spats with Lil Kim and Remy Ma were entertaining and much appreciated, those beefs weren’t what solidified her top spot in the game. Coming up under the tutelage of Gucci Mane and Lil Wayne, Nicki instead proved she was a fierce competitor in the hip-hop boys club by consistently outshining some of her legendary male counterparts. Her look and swagger of course played a huge role in her ascension, but it was her ability to go toe-to-toe with whomever may have stepped up to the plate that earned her respect.
“Coming off the court fully drenched,” raps Nicki on the charged-up "Chun-Li.” Creeping up on a decade of dominance, the Queens native has continuously put numbers on the board. The best selling female MC of all-time, she also has appeared on the Hot 100 more times than any other female artist, in any genre. More recently, a slew of all-star-worthy performances has had her low-key showing out on the mic. She breathed new life into A$AP Ferg’s “Plain Jane,” helped Yo Gotti land his first top 10 appearance on the Hot 100, and assisted Migos with their aforementioned slam dunk “MotorSport.”
Synonymous with championship plays and G.O.A.T. talks, Michael Jordan’s first return to the hardwood is often overlooked. The L his Chicago Bulls took in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 1995 playoffs to the Shaq and Penny Hardaway-led Orlando Magic normally takes a backseat to those six championship rings. Clearly aware of her position in the game, Nicki, who repeats “I been on!” in the chorus to “Chun-Li,” needs to focus more on who’s carrying the crown now, and less on who got next.