America went to Hell in a handbasket with the Stock Market Crash of 1929 that signaled a dismal turn of the decade. The market collapsed on October 29 of that year, a date widely referred to as Black Tuesday. The Roaring Twenties had been a time of wealth and excess, with post-WWI optimism running absurdly high thanks to endless partying and a suspicious overlooking of the looming rural financial crisis—meaning that the wish for luxe life had created a fervor for winning the game of capitalism. But the danger of over-speculation reared its head on more than one occasion; from October 27 to October 29, the market lost over $30 billion. Thus, began the greatest financial crisis of the 20th century.
It would take Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a privileged white man from Hyde Park, New York to right the sinking ship. Roosevelt built his campaign for presidency out of a promise to attack the Great Depression head on. In his acceptance speech, he promised a new deal that would bring the country out of its darkest period (not counting the genocide of Native Americans and enslavement of Africans). He was a favored, handsome guy, winning 57% of the country’s popular vote. He was inaugurated on March 4, 1933 and a few months later he embarked on a simultaneous journey of political education and relationship-building in what’s become known as the “fireside chats.”
In a series of 31 evening radio addresses, Roosevelt spoke to millions of Americans eagerly awaiting his input, about a multitude of political topics, to dissuade the belief of rumors. He talked about the Emergency Banking Act, initiatives of the New Deal, and the specifics of World War II. These talks were relaxed confessionals to the public and played a large part in his high public regard throughout his 12 years in office. His voice was firm and his tone was calm, and, as intimate as he discussed politics and new initiatives with listeners, they too felt as if they were in his inner circle, acting as both audience and governing body. He gained the trust of the American people and held it throughout the turbulent times and became one of the most important figures in American history.
Presidents since Roosevelt have delivered periodic addresses to the American people, but they’ve become less important with the advent of video and other mediums to better connect with the people that they govern. There are public figures that still utilize the radio as a means of connecting with their fans; mostly, in music, where interviews and other kinds of personal addresses are conducted to eliminate that bridge. In 2018, it seems like Nicki Minaj has created, as part of her promotion for Queen, what is the best modern-day example of the fireside chat.
Nicki Minaj’s rollout for her fourth studio album Queen has been somewhat of a headache. From attacking writers for thinking out loud, to calling Instagram models “modern-day prostitutes,” to wandering on Twitter to destroy Travis Scott’s gaming of Billboard’s sales algorithm, she’s, more than less, been in her own way. She did her best to use Funk Flex’s radio show as a platform to destroy much of the negative hype surrounding her, but she could only do so much. To this end, her Queen Radio show was her way of cleaning the slate. Speaking to the people to inform them of her ways of thinking and destroying a bunch of the rumors surrounding her was a means of creating her own fireside talks.
Nicki’s Queen Radio found life on Apple Music’s Beats 1. It was created to be in a similar vein of Beats 1 shows conducted by Drake (normally using his to premiere secret music), Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, and Vince Staples. Queen was a little different; it features live question-and-answer segments and prizes (in the form of Queen album merchandise) to entice fans to listen.
It proved to be an instantaneous hit. Being one of rap’s most cartoonish personalities, the way that she posited her voice as the means to cut through the noise, enabled her to keep the internet charged. In the second episode, right after her album dropped, she cleared up any conversation surrounding “Barbie Dreams,” the homage track created to pay tribute to both Lil Kim and Biggie’s variations (Biggie’s “Dreams” was the original). “You guys know ‘Barbie Dreams’ is not a diss, right?” she said, sounding annoyed. “I said things about people who I know can take jokes and won’t be emotional about it.” Her words were in direct conflict with the narrative being painted that the songs were direct attacks, thus showcasing her ability to keep the public informed in the face of rumors.
Her most recent fourth episode of Queen Radio came after a charged MTV VMA’s speech where she revealed her plans to speak her truth, teasing that she would name a “Cocksucker of the Week” award. The award came under a different name—”Hoe N-gga of the Week”—and came as an attack on Travis Scott’s album sales. While her words were harsh, what she spoke was grounded in fact. Artists are gaming the system. The system isn’t perfect, by a longshot. But here she was, peeling back the layer that fans were getting the gist of, but maybe not understanding because of all of the noise surrounding it.
Queen Radio has been one of the biggest potential game changers for hip-hop, definitely for Nicki’s career. It’s been proven that her fanbase of Barbies is perhaps one of the most poignant groups that exists in hip-hop. Being that they spend so much time wallowing in news that may or not be true about Minaj herself, having a radio show that not only speaks to them, but the rest of hip-hop itself, has been immensely important to help control her narrative. This union of artist and fan has taken the connection to new levels.
FDR’s popularity with the people lasted for a little over three terms. But his influence rang throughout the world. His tenure was largely because of the fireside chats that allowed him to create an impenetrable bond with the weary public contending with so many problems. His promise of a new deal was well-received by the populace that was exposed to it through the public. The fireside chats that introduced that deal helped to cultivate the Presidency as a means of being the country’s caretaker and fatherly figure, with the responsibility bestowed upon him to keep the public in the know. His comforting intent came with a conversational tone that helped to make his influence last for decades.
Nicki Minaj, of course, isn’t a president, but through her radio show (whose sole goal is to keep the public, her fanbase, connected with her activities), she’s been able to create a similar interest and fascination with her character as FDR did in the 1930s. Whereas his goal was to translate policy and dispel rumor, Nicki’s has been to expand upon her choices and information surrounding her album. I guess you could say that there are more similarities than appear at first glance. But where they differ is in the relatability: Nicki’s more of an acquired taste; Roosevelt was endlessly charismatic.
While radio shows are no new means of connecting with fans, the way that Nicki’s been able to generate conversation with hers could be extremely important in helping to redefine rap culture. By speaking directly to fans, she’s attempting to control the conversation, even if she speaks emotionally and places her dominance in constant danger. She could take a more restrained approach and use her conversational tone all of the time. It would help to make what she says not instantly considered dismissible, seemingly ramblings of a senile woman.
I bet that Nicki Minaj’s intentions with the radio show were to only have it serve as an extension of her new album but, if she’s smart, she’ll continue to utilize it to explain her moves. Bigger artists revel in the mystique that goes into creating a mysterious character. This radio shows that Minaj is against that, so she should go full grain and keep the public in the know. She’ll control the narrative but, more importantly, she’ll continue to build a bond with her barbies and casual listeners. She’d be channeling the idea that FDR created as he sat behind his desk at the Oval Office with a microphone in front of him, spilling about not only the political things being set into motion, but the processes behind them. FDR saved a country and kept it connected through war; Nicki will be able to save her career and help to control the narrative for her and women in rap. If she can keep it calm and refrain from angry speaking, which tends to distract us from her point, she may be able to enchant the public on a much better level than she is now.
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