Nicki Minaj spent a portion of her Sunday on Twitter, venting to the world about the fact that her new album, the rather unexciting Queen, is going to debut at No. 2 on the upcoming Billboard album chart. At No. 1 will be Travis Scott, who scored the second highest debut of the year with his recent Astroworld, with a reception that let him ride into a second straight week at No. 1.
Well, sort of. The crux of Nicki’s, um, argument was that Scott was using nefarious means to goose his album sales, such as packaging a sale of the album with tour tickets or merch. With music at its lowest level of monetary value in our lifetimes, schemes like this have become a popular method for artists to try and have their album “sales” reflect what they believe their popularity to be. Said Nicki:
Minaj also alleged that Spotify had retaliated against her by pulling planned promotion for Queen because she had played the album on her Apple Music radio show before it was officially available to stream. Spotify denied that accusation today, but regardless the point is clear: Nicki is suggesting she rightfully had the No. 1 album in the country if only it hadn’t been taken from her by forces beyond her control—Scott’s ticket bundling, Spotify’s conniving, etc. She essentially said as much in the first tweet above.
Whether she’s right is unknowable. Maybe Travis Scott, who at the moment is very popular, would’ve had enough streams to push himself over the top anyway. It’s also immaterial to everyone except a small number of people— Minaj, her management, and her diehard fans—who really care about No. 1 albums. If anything, Minaj tacitly acknowledges the waning legitimacy of having a “No. 1 Album,” a landmark that is becoming increasingly meaningless as the music industry’s math gets harder to calculate and easier to game.
Inadvertently, Minaj’s tweets represent the perfect cap to an album cycle that was defined by the tension between Minaj’s desire to assert her relevance and dominance in rap and the reality that the genre and culture is passing her by. This is through no fault of her own, by the way. It’s simply the way culture works: Nicki has been around for nearly a decade now, and there are newer rappers who have the juice she and others once had. Future, her forthcoming tourmate, for instance, had his recent album Beast Mode 2 debut at No. 3. He still is, and will continue to be, a popular artist, but his days as a gravitational force at the very center of the genre are almost certainly behind us.
This dynamic is evident most visibly in Nicki’s decision to collaborate with Tekashi 6ix9ine. Their song “Fefe” has been hanging strong inside the Hot 100’s Top 10 since its debut, something Minaj hasn’t accomplished on her own in several years. The song opened her up to obvious criticism, since she asserts herself as rap’s champion for women and he pled guilty to “use of a child in a sexual performance.” Minaj retroactively added “Fefe” to Queen in order, one presumes, to boost her album’s streaming numbers, and 6ix9ine will be joining Minaj and Future on tour. The relationship may be unseemly, but for Minaj it is serving its purpose: she is catching the momentum of someone who is powering the zeitgeist in the way she used to, but no longer quite does.
In a subsequent tweet, Minaj said that her statements about her album not going No. 1 were “sarcasm/dry humor,” though it doesn’t seem like anyone really believes that. Maybe Minaj, an extraordinarily popular and rich artist, will soon stop caring about what the music industry’s increasingly arbitrary numbers seem to tell her about herself. The next album cycle, at the very least, will probably be easier.