After scoring a pair of Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s at the beginning of the 2020s, via her appearances on the remix to Doja Cat’s “Say So” and alongside 6ix9ine on his “Trollz,” Nicki Minaj finally has a Hot 100-topper all to herself, with new single “Super Freaky Girl.”
The song — which, of course, prominently samples Rick James’ well-traveled 1981 funk classic “Super Freak” — debuts at No. 1 this week, as both the most-streamed and highest-selling song in the country this week. Not only does it mark Minaj’s first totally solo No. 1, it’s the first song to debut at No. 1 by any unaccompanied female rapper since Lauryn Hill’s “Doo-Wop (That Thing!)” back in 1998.
How important is the achievement to Nicki Minaj’s legacy? And what female rapper could be next to notch a solo No. 1 debut? Billboard writers discuss these questions and more below.
1. “Super Freaky Girl” is Nicki Minaj’s third Hot 100 No. 1, but her first as an unaccompanied artist. On a scale from 1-10, how big a deal do you think this is to her pop legacy? (Please include an actual number with your answer.)
Katie Atkinson: 10. For a decade-plus, Nicki Minaj was the poster child for “surprising artists who never had a Hot 100 No. hit.” Then she scored two in one year – but they were essentially other artists’ projects that she joined, not her own. Now she finally has a Hot 100 chart-topper on which she stands alone, and she even doubled down on the solitude with the song’s “Roman Remix” – meaning the only feature she needed to get to the top was herself. Her pop legacy was already pretty bullet-proof, but this puts her in a new tier.
Kyle Denis: 7.5. Nicki Minaj has ascended to the rare space where a No. 1 single isn’t paramount for her legacy. Even when “Say So” and “TROLLZ” hit the top spot in 2020, those moments felt a bit muted when you look at the sheer number of her songs that have garnered more overall commercial success and cultural impact than songs that have hit No. 1. When you have a “Super Bass” or “Moment 4 Life,” the label of a No. 1 single is just an added bonus.
However, “Super Freaky Girl” has Dr. Luke’s name in the credits, making Nicki the first non-Kemosabe artist to lift the producer to the top of the Hot 100 since Kesha sued him for sexual assault and civil harassment in 2014. (The case was ultimately dismissed in New York in 2016 and denied on appeal in 2018 — Dr. Luke subsequently countersued for defamation, in a case that is still ongoing, with Kesha pursuing a counterclaim.) Whether or not he was actually involved in the creation of this song, this is Nicki’s third No. 1 hit to be attached to a figure with sexual assault allegations against them — Dr. Luke also has writing and production credits on “Say So,” and 6ix9ine (“TROLLZ”) pleaded guilty to the use of a child in a sexual performance in 2015. Nicki willingly aligning herself with this kind of distasteful company dampens any celebratory feelings about her No. 1 achievements.
Carl Lamarre: 3, only because Nicki’s resume has already been solifided. She was the most decorated female rapper of the 2010s because she was an exemplary hitmaker and music video savant. Her hybrid abilities allowed her to hopscotch between rap and pop, and the results were always golden (think “Starships, “Super Bass,” and “Anaconda”). If anything, this feat gets that proverbial monkey off her back about never securing a solo No. 1 and finally closes that “what if” chapter of her career.
Jason Lipshutz: An 8. Nicki Minaj’s legacy wouldn’t have faltered if “Super Freaky Girl” had debuted at No. 2, or No. 11, or off the Hot 100 entirely — she’s one of the most significant hip-hop artists of the 21st century. Yet this No. 1 debut is not only significant as her first solo chart-topper, but also as one that seems like it will be a more enduring hit than her previous two No. 1s, the “Say So” remix and “Trollz,” ever were. It’s also a blaring reminder of her longevity in a pop landscape that’s constantly changing and a mainstream hip-hop ecosystem that’s more crowded than ever. Some No. 1s mean more than others, and for a singular talent like Minaj, “Super Freaky Girl” is a commercial triumph.
Andrew Unterberger: Like a 6. It’s meaningful to her and to her fans, for sure, but I think her first two No. 1s coming with “Say So” and “Trollz” — neither of which will be among the first 20 songs anyone associates with Nicki Minaj 10 years from now — shows that judging an artist’s pop legacy through the lens of “Do they have a No. 1 or not?” is always going to be a little silly. It will ultimately mean more for Minaj’s legacy if “Super Freaky Girl” endures as one of the year’s defining hits and one of her own signature pop songs — which it very well may, as early signs are encouraging, but it’s still a little too early to say for sure there. (And the presence of Dr. Luke in the credits does indeed make it a bit harder to root for than it might have been otherwise.)
2. Minaj has come very close to the No. 1 spot before with her singles as a lead artist — including “Anaconda” in 2014 and “Do We Have a Problem” earlier this year, both of which reached No. 2. What do you consider the primary factor in “Super Freaky Girl” being the song to get her over the top?
Katie Atkinson: I was surprised when she announced this one so early, first teasing the song on July 13 and proclaiming its Aug. 12 release date on July 22. That is a LIFETIME of a heads-up in modern music. But looking back, I think she was mobilizing her Barbz and alerting them that this one was special and needed weeks of hype and fanfare before unleashing it on the world, so the anticipation would be at a fever pitch when she dropped it with her first Queen Radio episode in months. Clearly, the hype machine did its job.
Kyle Denis: Nicki has cultivated an incredibly fervent, savvy, and organized fanbase over the course of her career. Her relationship with her fans is intensely personal, and their level of dedication is comparable to that of the BTS Army. The Barbz bought every available version of “Super Freaky Girl” from the a cappella version to the Roman Remix to the clean and explicit versions of the original track. The song’s robust pure sales figure isn’t surprising at all. In addition, the TikTok snippet-to-hit-single pipeline continues to be a winning strategy. “Super Freaky Girl” arrived in a nature similar to Jack Harlow’s “First Class,” snippets of the hook were already trending on TikTok pre-release, and the anticipation for the song stretched outside of Minaj’s core fanbase. Thanks to one key dance challenge and consistent virality, “Super Freaky Girl” was expertly primed for a big launch.
Carl Lamarre: The cheat code of 2022 has been the beauty of the sample. You think about some of the year’s biggest hits like Jack Harlow’s “First Class,” Beyonce’s “Break My Soul,” and Latto’s “Big Energy,” they were all boosted by popular samples (or interpolations). Nostalgia remains a driving force in recalibrating records to fit in modern times. For Nicki’s latest anthem, reworking a famous song like Rick James’ “Super Freak” was the ultimate play in sealing her victory.
Jason Lipshutz: Obviously a coordinated effort between the Barbz to invest in digital song sales, stream the heck out of the original and embrace the mid-week remixes helped push “Super Freaky Girl” to No. 1 (as all superstar chart-toppers benefit from now and always, to some degree). Still, “Super Freaky Girl” is the right song at the right time for Minaj, who conjured similar sample-heavy spins eight years ago with “Anaconda” but sounds even more animated over the Rick James sample here. I was a fan of “Do We Have a Problem” with Lil Baby, but “Super Freaky Girl” is more immediate, more in-your-face, and more likely to run at or near the top of the Hot 100 for a while.
Andrew Unterberger: It’s a really key mix of new-school and classic methodologies. Sure, there’s the fan mobilization, the last-minute remixes, the TikTok teases — but it’s also just a really big pop song that borrows heavily from another, more established really big pop song. Mix it all together, and it’ll work out pretty well more times than not.
3. “Super Freaky Girl” debuting at No. 1, immediately following two weeks each on top for Lizzo’s “About Damn Time” and Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul,” makes it three straight solo female artists atop the Hot 100 — and four in the top five this week, also including Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God).” After a first half of the year with the charts mostly dominated by male artists, does it feel meaningful to you to have this run of solo female artists on top?
Katie Atkinson: I hope more of the artists shouted out in Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul (The Queens Remix)” – as both Nicki and Lizzo are – can hit No. 1 next! But in all seriousness, Bey being back at No. 1 after a decade-plus and Nicki earning her first solo No. 1, and joined by Lizzo, who is a clear acolyte of both of those women, is pretty extraordinary. Let’s hope it’s a trend and not an anomaly.
Kyle Denis: It is quite meaningful to me that these songs are solo and that three of them are by Black women. For as much as Black women lead and innovate in music, it is very fulfilling to see them bask in the success of the No. 1 spot unaccompanied. I am also fond of how these four songs exemplify different approaches to reaching No. 1. Lizzo and Beyoncé had more traditional climbs, Kate Bush wielded the power of the perfect sync, and Nicki followed every detail of the 2022 Hot 100 No.1 blueprint.
Carl Lamarre: Absolutely. I think what’s equally impressive about this accomplishment is watching veteran female artists topple the competition and still prove to be respected opponents today. Seeing acts like Beyoncé and Nicki, who were dominant forces during my adolescence, remain atop the mainstream food chain is a sight to see, and should give hope to younger acts aspiring for that kind of longevity.
Jason Lipshutz: Yes — and let’s not overlook the fact that the last three artists to top the Hot 100 are women of color, all of whom have totally different approaches to pop but who let their personalities overflow into their sounds. The timing of the back-to-back-to-back No. 1s is coincidental — after all, “About Damn Time” was released way back in April, and took a few months and more than a few TikTok dance clips to shimmy to the summit — but that shouldn’t dull the effect of three nonwhite women stopping the boys club at the top of the chart and giving us some uninhibited party tunes this summer.
Andrew Unterberger: Absolutely. It’s also interesting to me that of the four songs, two explicitly call back to late 20th-century dance-pop, one very directly samples an ’80s funk classic, and one is quite literally from 1985. I’m not sure what exactly that says about pop music in 2022, but it certainly seems to me like pop artists and listeners are finding refuge in the past while the culture tries to figure out what’s actually next for the future.
4. With this debut, Minaj also becomes the first solo female rapper to debut atop the chart since Lauryn Hill in 1998. Assuming it (hopefully) doesn’t take a 24-year gap before the next one, which current female MC do you see being likely to next achieve the feat?
Katie Atkinson: It’s exciting that there are so many possible answers to this question! I’m going to go with Cardi, just because it feels like her sophomore album is imminent, so we’ll be getting a lot of new solo music from her. Plus, her last solo song, “Up,” debuted at No. 2 last year, so she’s been building up to a No. 1 debut, just like Nicki before her.
Kyle Denis: Cardi B, no question. As long as the song is even mildly catchy, it’ll happen. She’s gotten to No. 1 before, and I have no doubt that she’ll do it again.
Carl Lamarre: The easy bet is Cardi. Despite her last single being a blunder, her catalog remains unblemished. She has a bullseye-level of accuracy when doling out hit records. Megan Thee Stallion would also be in the race for me.
Jason Lipshutz: Let’s go a little bit outside the box and say Latto, who may still be a few hits away from being able to launch a No. 1 debut, but who demonstrated a knack for crossover records with her smash “Big Energy,” which peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100 this year. Latto is too talented and charismatic to have one huge hit over the course of her career, and I think she eventually climbs even higher with the right song.
Andrew Unterberger: Doja Cat! After the impeccable run of Planet Her — which has even spilled into her Elvis soundtrack contribution “Vegas” becoming a decent-sized hit — she’ll for sure be in the mix for a No. 1 debut with the lead single to her next project. (And spare me any “But is she really a rapper?” qualifications — if there’s one thing we should’ve learned from Nicki Minaj a decade ago, it’s that being an excellent pop star does not disqualify you from also being a superlative MC.)
5. You need to get a party started ASAP: What do you reach for first, “Super Freaky Girl,” Gucci Mane’s “Freaky Girl,” MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” or Rick James’ original “Super Freak”?
Katie Atkinson: Wow. It definitely depends on the party — especially because my 5-year-old loves “U Can’t Touch This,” but (hopefully) won’t hear “Super Freaky Girl” for another decade. But assuming this is an adults-only affair, I’m going back to the O.G., Rick James. There’s a reason this is one of the most successfully sampled songs in hip-hop. It’s a stone-cold classic.
Kyle Denis: Gucci every time!
Carl Lamarre: I’d love to take it back to my college days, so I’m going with Gucci’s “Freaky Girl.”
Jason Lipshutz: It’s Gucci Mane’s “Freaky Girl,” for sure. I know that’s not the correct answer, per se, but what can I say — give me a gathering that kicks off with Gucci hollering “THE ICE IN MY EARS SHINE LIKE A CHANDELIER” any day of the week.
Andrew Unterberger: Gotta go original recipe here — a predictably unkillable funk standard, albeit one from an extremely problematic artist. Few moments in pop history more electric than James commanding, “Temptations, sing!” and the legendary Motown group showing up just in time to oblige him.