Nicki Minaj is finally back — and she’s here with a vengeance. After taking a few months off from social media, the rapper unleashed two new songs Thursday: “Barbie Tingz” and “Chun-Li.” The tunes may set the tone for what’s to come on her highly anticipated fourth album, which is a raw sound that day-one fans have been craving for.
Aside from 2017’s “MotorSport” alongside Migos and Cardi B, as well as “Rake It Up” with Yo Gotti (which peaked at Nos. 6 and 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, respectively), Minaj’s recent collaborations failed to stick both on the charts and in people’s minds. There was Major Lazer’s island-tinged “Run Up” with PartyNextDoor that fizzled before the summer began, David Guetta’s “Light My Body Up” that didn’t have the same sparkle as her previous EDM experiments and her “Swish Swish” collaboration with Katy Perry that received mixed reviews from critics. Even the unveiling of three singles that were meant to capitalize on her Remy Ma feud — “Regret in Your Tears,” “Changed It” with Lil Wayne and “No Frauds” with Drake and Lil Wayne — didn’t fully get off the ground in the way we were used to seeing Nicki Minaj songs do. With the exception of “No Frauds” (it peaked at No. 14), the singles were static on the charts and weren’t essential for non-obsessives.
The combination of underwhelming collaborative releases along with music industry drama raised the question if Minaj would ever properly return to her true form. And if she were to do so, when would it even happen?
The unveiling of “Barbie Tingz” and “Chun-Li” are now here to shut naysayers up. Both songs find Minaj sinking deep into her mixtape roots, and she sounds as confident as ever. Her creativity always flourished when she dug into gritty, explicit, “live from the gutter” rap — which was most prominent on her early records. But as she continued to spew out collaborations like a factory last year, that energy was getting lost. Luckily, she seems to regain her spirit with this new music. Minaj may not be exploring different sounds or lyrical topics, but the songs sit comfortably next to some of her beloved trash-talking tunes (“Itty Bitty Piggy,” “Did It On ‘Em,” “Roman Reloaded,” “Want Some More,” etc.) in her discography.
First up is “Barbie Tingz,” which is a juicy braggadocious anthem laid atop a throwback production by Chevy Music that is pure New York City. It’s reminiscent of the popular “Litefeet” dance era that dominated Harlem in the early 2000s, thanks to the clap-heavy 808s and synths that snap like rubber bands. The bars are filled with Minaj’s signature themes: boasting about her vagina, calling out jealous women and aiming shots at her rap enemies. “It’s time to make hits and it’s time to diss/ How you still dissin’, still can’t find some hits?/ Was it worth it, dummy? I ain’t mind a bit,” Minaj ponders. The track almost reads as a sonic sequel to 2009’s Beam Me Up Scotty highlight “I Get Crazy,” with Lil Wayne, which sparked a dozen Harlem shakes.
As for “Chun-Li,” Minaj sounds cocky in the best way. Co-produced by Minaj and J. Reid, she resurrects her Nicki the Ninja alter-ego by assassinating the horn-driven beat with her lyrical wordplay, switching accents with ease. Minaj even addresses the hate she received throughout 2017, putting on her best Tony Montana impersonation as she spits: “Oh, I get it, they paintin’ me out to be the bad guy/ Well, when’s the last time you see a bad guy do the rap game like me?”
For a long time, Minaj was perceived as the bad guy. Drama followed her every move, including her pissed-off exchange with PartyNextDoor after he insinuated that he was a ghostwriter on “Regret in Your Tears.” “Party Next Door had NOTHING to do w/ #RegretInYourTears – ni**a aint never heard that song a day in his life. Bless y’all heart,” she tweeted at the time. “Not sure why he was ‘liking’ tweets. Maybe it was just ‘funny’ to him. Maybe he was…’hacked’. Lol. Either way. #DisTewMuch FOH.” Minaj also received backlash for a now-deleted Instagram post where she called out the lack of diversity on the charts. “It’s a great time to be a white rapper in America, huh?” she said. “These are the top 10 rap songs on U.S. iTunes. Shout out to Em and Post, two of my faves. Congrats to Em on his new album. Motorsport put that thing in sport.”
She also became a target for disses when media personalities Charlamagne Tha God and Joe Budden named her one of 2017’s trash artists. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a superstar of Nicki’s caliber put out three records at the same time, and by the way, the ‘No Frauds’ record had the iHeartRadio stimulus package, meaning you’re going to play it every hour on the hour on every urban station throughout the country,” Charlamagne Tha God said. “She might’ve even been on some of the pop stations. She had Wayne and Drake on the record and that record didn’t go, bruh.”
And, of course, there was the beef with Remy Ma, as well as the scandal surrounding her relationship with Cardi B. The alleged bad blood has been a hot topic since Cardi’s rise to fame and many believed the “MotorSport” super-collab was just another way for the two rappers to throw shots at each other. In her recent interview with Beats 1 Radio’s Zane Lowe, where she debuted her two comeback singles, Minaj cleared up the rumors stating that her verse wasn’t aimed at Cardi B. But she tearfully admitted the way Cardi chose to publicly address the drama was hurtful: “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. Up until this recent interview she did, I had never seen her show me genuine love in an interview. And I can just imagine how many girls wished they could be on a song with Nicki Minaj.”
2017 was the year Minaj just could not win, culminating with her Twitter and Instagram hiatus in December. Her unexplained absence caused fans to launch a campaign on social media to track her down, but the wait proved to be worth it. As seen with “Barbie Tingz” and “Chun-Li,” Minaj no longer appears to be dropping bars for the sake of relevancy like she was for the most part of last year. Rather, the rapper has regained that fiery hunger that earned her respect from both peers and fans in the first place.
Minaj is currently prepping her fourth studio album. It will be her first since 2014’s The Pinkprint, which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart and included the “Anaconda” smash that hit No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. If these new songs are any indication, this album may be just what she needs to officially shake off the haters.