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When A Queen Won’t Abdicate: A Changing of the Guard in Female Rap, by Emma Rudkin

Nicki Minaj has been referred to as the “Queen of Rap” for over a decade now, and for good reason. She was one of many Black women who pioneered female rap, growing it into the successful industry that it is today. To be such a trailblazer and find mainstream success despite the adversity that comes with being a Black woman, let alone a sexually liberated Black woman, Nicki Minaj deserves praise and credit. While Nicki’s talent and her trailblazing in the industry made her a worthy heir of the title “Queen of Rap.”

However, with the entrance of talented new players into the rap game, I find myself returning to one question: is Nicki inherently going to be the “Queen of Rap” until she retires, or is this a title she has to defend? Whether or not Megan Thee Stallion had intended to challenge her, Nicki is certainly getting a run for her money, and she knows it. She also fears it — she didn’t hesitate to display her intimidation through a thin veil of cockiness and spite after Megan Thee Stallion released HISS on January 26, 2024.

Megan Thee Stallion has achieved a lot over the past five years of her career. While she had a loyal fanbase prior to 2020, her popularity skyrocketed into the mainstream during quarantine with her song Savage,” which accelerated her to new heights. In 2021, she won three Grammys and has gone on to collaborate with some of the greats: Beyoncé on the Savage Remix as well as performing at Beyonce’s Renaissance tour, Cardi B on the internet-breaking WAP,” and Nicki Minaj, the aforementioned “Queen of Rap,” on many songs, most notably Hot Girl Summer.

The trajectory of Megan Thee Stallion’s career hasn’t been a straight shot to the top, though. Megan has experienced her fair share of hardship these past five years and has used her music to express herself and be vulnerable regarding these difficult topics. The most notable of these hardships is the passing of her mother in 2019, with whom she was particularly close. She had already lost her father in high school, meaning she’d lost both her parents by age 24. Not to mention, just two weeks after her mom’s passing, her great-grandmother, who was also very present during Megan’s adolescence, also passed away. Just over a year later, in July 2020, Megan was shot in the foot by former friend/partner Tory Lanez.

As if the physical and emotional pain wasn’t bad enough, there was a lot of doubt circulating the internet about the validity of her claim of being shot. People were invalidating Megan’s trauma by saying she was lying about being shot, saying that if she had indeed been shot, she would’ve immediately told the police instead of trying to write it off as glass in her foot. Megan’s story is just one example of how society neglects the physical and mental well-being of black women.

Despite all the undermined trauma she’s endured, Megan Thee Stallion has been a beacon of unapologetic strength, self-love and positivity for young women everywhere. Her coining of the term “Hot Girl Summer” encapsulates her approach in inspiring confidence, galvanizing women to make their presence known in a male-dominated world. Being a “hot girl” or “hottie,” as she calls her fans, Megan’s beauty goes beyond her external appearance. Her beauty also lies within her character. She’s a proud anime nerd, college graduate and disciplined gym rat. She carries herself with an air of elegance and dignity that’s captivating. She raps about these other facets of her personality beyond her (drop-dead gorgeous) looks because being a hottie isn’t just about appearance but also about who you are.

Megan has also taken to music to vent her frustrations with how people have treated her over the years and how it’s taken a toll on her mental health. Her album Traumazine is centered around this topic, and her focus on her mental health and trauma within her music has only continued, just like the unrelenting invalidation of her trauma has. Megan released a single titled Cobra on November 3, 2023, introducing a new snake allegory central to this new era in her career. The track addressed Megan’s darker thoughts, including her struggles with depression, self-harm and trust issues.

Megan’s Cobra ushered in a new era of music and attitude from Megan, and this is also where the snake metaphor was introduced. At the beginning of the music video, Megan quotes Buddha, saying, “Just as a snake sheds its skin, we must shed our past over and over again.” For Megan, “shedding her past” could mean letting go of the unfortunate things that have happened to her — the betrayal she faced from former friend or lover Tory Lanez and her ex-boyfriend she referenced cheating on her in the song. To complement the quote, in the music video, she literally starts shedding her skin while inside a box, surrounded by onlookers taking photos — she acknowledges that her celebrity status makes her a spectacle. Everything she does is closely monitored and analyzed under the public’s eye. This is her way of owning it and taking back autonomy and control over her narrative/story even though she has people watching and invalidating her every step.

A still from Megan Thee Stallion’s “Cobra” Music Video

Megan Thee Stallion was in full creative control over “Cobra” and “HISS.” The visuals provided in these music videos speak not only to her talent regarding lyrics and flow but also to her artistry. The snake as a symbol is significant; it’s not just some gimmick. Megan is the snake, and the snake is Megan.

Traditionally, snakes have been seen as distrustful and evil, and referring to someone as a snake is understood to be an insult. But just like with the trauma Megan has experienced, she is choosing to own being called a snake by making it a part of her identity. She proudly claims the term “snake” and uses it to symbolize rebirth and personal growth through adversity. This level of deliberation in her work makes Megan stand out to me among other female rappers — maybe this is why Nicki Minaj might feel threatened by her.

The conflict with Nicki Minaj didn’t truly come to a head until Megan released “HISS” in late January of this year. They had been subtly beefing for a while, but things got very ugly as soon as one of the lines in “HISS” was “These hoes don’t be mad at Megan/These hoes mad at Megan’s Law,” referencing the law that requires the sex offender registry to be publicly available — a jab at Nicki Minaj’s husband and brother, who are both registered sex offenders.

Those thirteen words sent Nicki Minaj on a tirade on her X (formerly known as Twitter) account for roughly three days. Nicki also went on live streams and live broadcasts to complement the steady rollout of posts/reposts she did every hour. Nicki Minaj went for cheap jabs, weaponizing Megan Thee Stallion’s trauma against her, saying things such as that Megan never really got shot, she was “lying on her dead mama” about being shot, calling Megan “Bigfoot,” and making fun of her “bullet fragment foot”...even though I thought Megan was lying about getting shot? Clearly, these posts were nonsensical, but that doesn’t mean Nicki didn’t rally her supporters against Megan and anyone supporting Megan.

Nicki Minaj’s fanbase, dubbed the Barbs, would dox or leak the personal information of online users who spoke out against Nicki Minaj’s behavior. Nicki would like the tweets doxing those who disagreed with her, only fueling the fire and further amplifying the leaked information. Some Barbs went so far as to leak the grave site of Megan’s deceased mother, threatening to desecrate it. Authorities were called to guard the grave to prevent this from happening. It didn’t just get ugly; it got hideous.

So, how did Megan respond? 

By not responding, she posted stills from the “HISS” music video, telling the Hotties to stream the song. Unbothered. Classy. Mature. Three words that I would not use to describe the so-called “Queen of Rap” Nicki Minaj.

As rappers generally do when they get into feuds, Nicki Minaj clapped back with a track of her own, ever-so-creatively titled Bigfoot,” a track so bad even the Barbs didn’t claim it. The fanbase argued that “it wasn’t the real song” and that she’d release the “real one” soon…something we’re still waiting for nearly two months later. “Bigfoot” was full of the same things she had been posting for days on X, relating to Megan getting shot and her dead mother, as well as sex-shaming Megan, which is preposterous to me when it’s coming from a woman who faced so much scrutiny in the 2010s for being sexually liberated. 

Between Megan’s artistry and Nicki’s embarrassing tantrum when she was called out for the truth, I think it’s about time we recognize that the crown for the “Queen of Rap” is sitting on a different head now. It may not be a peaceful transition of power, but the old queen has done nothing to prove her ability to continue upholding her position, while the new queen has proven herself more than capable. The true queen is the one who takes the high road and inspires others instead of tearing them down.

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