And Finally Artist News Beef Of The Week

Beef Of The Week #418: Nicki Minaj v Travis Scott (and his baby)

By | Published on Friday 24 August 2018

Nicki Minaj

At one point this week, while discussing which of the day’s music news stories we should cover, it was suggested that this was a non-story. Well, welcome to its fourth CMU Daily appearance. If this is a non-story, how come I just read 6000 articles about it? Nicki Minaj’s anger at not having a number one album is officially a non-non-story. Aka a story.

Nicki Minaj did not get the number one album in the US last week. That’s the story. She released an album and then, when the chart was published, sitting there at number one was some other album. Almost like her album wasn’t the most popular of that week.

The thing is though, Minaj was expecting to see her name at the top of that chart. As far as she was concerned, it was a foregone conclusion. She probably wasn’t even going to look, but then she thought that it would be nice to see her name right up there at the top of a list. Everyone likes to be at the top of a list, don’t they? I bet, even if you were on a list of people who deserve to have worms stuffed up their nose until they come out of their mouth, you wouldn’t mind if you were at number one.

Anyway, as I think I mentioned, Minaj wasn’t at number one on that list. The best selling albums in America list. Not the worms list. I don’t know about the worms list. But on the best selling albums in America list she was at number two. And that’s clearly as bad as not being on the list at all. She might as well not have bothered even making an album. And you know whose fault it is? Travis Scott. And Spotify. And most of all, an actual baby.

It’s Scott’s fault because he was the artist who is in Minaj’s rightful number one spot this week. Generally you would think that this was because his album was more popular, but it turns out it’s because he completely cheated. He wasn’t more popular, he just managed to get more of his fans to part with their money than Minaj did.

According to Minaj, Scott cheated because he was just giving copies of his album away willy-nilly to anyone willing to buy any old rubbish he put up for sale on his website. Tickets to his next tour mainly, she reckons. Which is where that bloody baby comes in. Because Scott’s girlfriend Kylie Jenner – the seventh most-followed person on all of Instagram – posted about Scott’s tour on the social network, saying that she and their baby Stormi were “ready” for it.

This, believes Minaj, caused more than 50,000 Stormi fans to go and buy tickets for the tour from Scott’s website. The free albums this gave them pushed Scott up into the number one position. What’s more, says Minaj, purchasers of those tickets had “no requirement of redeeming the album”, so they were double fake sales. “Billboard says they’ll change the rules cuz of this”, she wrote, although any future rule changing will all be too late to give her the number one that was rightfully hers.

“I put my blood, sweat and tears in writing a dope album only for Travis Scott to have Kylie Jenner post a tour pass telling people to come see her and Stormi”, she wrote.

It is true that bundling may have had some effect on Scott’s chart position. This week at least, sales on his store were giving fans access to a pre-sale for his tour tickets. It was not explicitly stated that any items came with a download of the album – even physical copies of the album themselves. However, according to The Fader, each item sold did give the buyer access to an album download, which they may or may not choose to redeem.

Billboard rules state that only redeemed downloads sold in such a way will count towards the chart, and there’s no evidence that things have been any different in this case, despite what Minaj says. But she is right that Scott was pushing a regularly expanding line-up of merch for sale in the first week of his new album release, and then again in the following week ahead of the launch of the tour pre-sale last night. Now that the pre-sale is live, all of that merch is gone, and only the album is for sale.

Scott may well have played the system to his advantage, but bundling items together on an artists’ direct-to-fan store isn’t unusual. In fact it’s fairly standard practice these days. If you look at, for example, Minaj’s online store, you’ll see that every item comes with a free download of her latest album. I’m sure that’s not relevant though.

Anyway, if you look at the actual numbers, Scott and Minaj both shifted around 78,000 actual copies of their albums. Where Minaj slipped behind was on streaming numbers. She racked up 107,000 equivalent sales on the streaming services in the US, but Scott managed 127,000. Don’t worry though, she’s got a theory about that too.

“Spotify put Drake’s face on every playlist but told me they’d have to teach me a lesson for playing my music ten minutes early on [her show on Apple Music’s Beats 1]”, she tweeted. “Even though they’ve been giving away my music for free for years and I am one of the top Spotify artists of all time”.

Later claiming that Spotify had held back putting her album live by twelve hours, she went on: “My music went up on Apple so I played it. I assumed it was on Spotify and Tidal at the same time. Spotify said that Apple tweeted fans advising ‘Queen’ was up and therefore they had to teach me a lesson”.

Spotify denied this, a spokesperson telling Variety: “Spotify supported Nicki Minaj with a Times Square billboard, a host of the largest playlists, New Music Friday and the new music release shelf. Her song ‘Bed’ actually saw an increase based on the promotions put behind the campaign. The company continues to be big fans of Nicki”.

So basically, that’s doubt thrown on all of Minaj’s theories. But that doesn’t matter, because she was only joking about all this anyway.

“People are calling me thinking I’m huffing and puffing”, she tweeted a couple of hours after her initial rant on Twitter. “OMG y’all, this is sarcasm/dry humour. Yikes. I’m having the most iconNIC time. Come let me kiss you … When people call me and hear me crackin up laughing they seem so puzzled. Loosen up”.

So that’s all fine then. Although this was just the first of several times this week that Minaj insisted that she wasn’t actually angry after a prolonged period of appearing to be very, very angry. The next occasion came on the next edition of her previously mentioned Beats 1 radio show.

Returning to the theme of Scott cheating his way to number one, she said: “What we’re not gonna do is have that Auto-Tune man selling fucking sweaters telling you he sold half a million albums, because he fucking didn’t. You stupid fuck. You got your fucking homeboy talking for you and you got your girlfriend selling tour passes. Stop it. Knock it the fuck off”.

“When [Scott] comes along and sells a tour pass that has nothing to do with his fucking music and says he’s sold more than Kanye West and Nas – no you fucking didn’t, keep it the fuck real”, she continued. “I know I’m that bitch, I know I’m number one”.

She then added: “Having said that, none of this is some serious anger shit. No, we are in a time right now where black music is prospering. I’m so excited to see where rap has come from and where we are. But right is right and wrong is wrong”.

So, see? She’s not angry about it. Not even a bit. Sure, she keeps talking about it angrily, but that doesn’t mean she’s angry. Because she’s not. You shouldn’t be taking any of this seriously, you know that, right? Well, I hope we shouldn’t be taking any of this seriously, because another thing she said during this particular rant was: “I know that you guys are saying me and baby Stormi have beef. Yes we do”.

A feud with another rapper is one thing. Even a feud with that rapper’s girlfriend. But a feud with a baby? I don’t know if you’ve ever met a baby, but their ability to engage in any kind of nuanced argument is often extremely lacking. Although, thinking about it, they may stand half a chance against Minaj.

Anyway, Christ, this isn’t even over yet. Because the other thing that happened this week was that Minaj cancelled her co-headline tour with Future. That’s right, cancelled. C-A-N-C-E-L-L-E-D. It was announced by promoter Live Nation that the tour was being pulled in order to “re-evaluate elements of production”.

In a video for fans on Twitter, Minaj explained: “This is all happening because I pushed my album back two months, and I just finished writing and recording literally hours before the album came out. So now I just simply don’t have the time to rehearse and be on the road in time to give you guys the level of a show I need to give. [We] are working tirelessly to give you the best show of my life. I really apologise, but it’ll be worth it”.

Shortly prior to this, rumours had been circulating that the tour was about to be cancelled due to poor ticket sales. The New York Post quoted an unnamed source as saying that ticket sales were extremely low. Billboard, however, disputed this, siding instead with Minaj and her version of events.

Even with low ticket sales, said the US industry trade mag, the cost of pulling the dates would be too significant. There will be shows in May next year instead, but Future will not be part of the tour, meaning a significant portion of ticketholders will likely now demand refunds. Moving to May also puts her into festival season. Plus, conflicts with sporting events may mean the venues are no longer available. No one would choose to go through all that cost and hassle simply because ticket sales had been slow.

While many were jumping up and down and pointing to the tour cancellation as proof that Minaj in 2018 is a flop – her album, remember, only went to number two in the US album chart, like anyone could do – Billboard actually came to her defence with a pretty convincing argument. About the tour, anyway. That’s nice, huh?

So, the next thing to then happen in this saga was that Minaj posted a screengrab of a Billboard tweet to Instagram. Was it thanking Billboard for its countering of the “poor tickets sales caused tour cancellation” gossiping? No, it was not. It was about a different article in the trade mag entirely. “Nicki Minaj details NickiHndrxx Tour cancellation: ‘I don’t have time to rehearse'”, read the headline.

“You are now in the running for #CockSuckaOfTheDay award on #QueenRadio this Thursday”, she wrote in the caption. Then she added a message to her fans: “Barbz get me the name of this writer then hit them and tell them this is one black woman they will not bully into a corner by FRAUDULENT SHAMING TACTICS”.

The reason for her anger was the use of the word “cancellation”, which misrepresents what’s happened, she reckoned. Billboard was not the only publication to use this word. Many had. If not most. Partly because with Future – the Hndrxx in NickiHndrxx – out of the tour, it would seem that the shows next May will be something different to what was originally put on sale. Not so, said Minaj.

“To clarify – because I realise common sense is far from common – I haven’t CANCELLED anything”, she wrote. “I reversed the order of the US and European legs of my tour. This is for obvious reasons to anyone with a brain”.

She went on: “My album was originally going to drop in June which would’ve given me three months of tour rehearsal. However, I was still writing and recording up to last week. We are all grown right? We can all do math right? Or will they just pretend to not have basic sense so that they can board the Nicki hate train and get some clicks? I can’t rehearse four weeks for a tour I originally planned on rehearsing three months for. I give my fans QUALITY”.

As for her demands that fans work out who had used the “cancellation” word at Billboard, had Minaj clicked on the link in the tweet she grabbed, she would have found the name of said Billboard writer right up at the top of the article. She might also have found that other Billboard piece arguing that it was, indeed, more likely that she’d pulled the dates in order to ensure the quality of the show than because of terrible ticket sales.

Maybe she did become aware of all that later, because when she returned to Beats 1 again last night she had a different Cock Sucka Of The Day entirely. Apparently some new information had come to light.

“The cocksucker of the day is Irving Azoff”, she told listeners. “And I’m gonna tell you why. Allegedly, he tried to put out a smear campaign against my tour, and contacted people in the media to spread negative things about my tour … May God be with you, Irving. It’s disgusting what these people have been systematically trying to do”.

Music industry veteran Azoff, of course, is a former boss of Live Nation and Ticketmaster – something Minaj noted on the show – and, perhaps more importantly, is also Travis Scott’s co-manager. If you’re a fan of joining dots, you can put those ones together pretty easily to create a decent conspiracy theory. Dots are fun, huh?

And this all also plays into one of Minaj’s two personas.

On record she is a dominant force who destroys all others. But on Twitter she regularly portrays herself as the underdog of the music business, constantly fighting against an industry that is out to get her. Some of the things she says in this regard probably do have some truth to them. After all, she arguably has had to work much harder as a female rapper to achieve a level of success on a par with her male counterparts.

Reaching number two in the US album chart may contradict her underdog status in a normal week – clearly she’s doing very well thank you very much – but within her own narrative, you can see why losing out to Scott – who has nothing like her lyrical or performing talent – stings.

Still, her claims of being bullied are often then surrounded by bullying language, and unnecessary and inappropriate calls on her fans to attack her music industry foes – as shown in the post about Billboard’s article: “Get me the name of this writer then hit them”.

In recent months there has been much discussion about the barrage of abuse that music writer and Minaj fan Wanna Thompson faced after she expressed an opinion regarding the direction she’d like the rapper’s music to take. “You know how dope it would be if Nicki put out mature content?” she tweeted. “No silly shit. Just reflecting on past relationships, being a boss, hardships, etc. She’s touching 40 soon, a new direction is needed”.

It’s a valid opinion, and one that must have crossed the minds of many. Minaj is probably the greatest rapper of her generation in terms of skill, but I still feel her best work is ahead of her. And to date, her scattergun approach to constructing albums, shifting wildly in genre and tone, has opened her up to being dismissed.

‘Queen’ is probably the closest she’s got to nailing the album format to date, but she could still do so much more. She’s actually delivered more great work than many artists ever manage – just listen to this 2012 mix of her best verses – but it gets jumbled up with her less satisfying material.

That’s not the point though. Like anyone deemed to have slighted Minaj, Thompson was attacked viciously by the Barbz. More shockingly, Minaj herself piled in too.

Thompson posted a screengrab of a Twitter DM she said she’d received from the rapper, tearing into her, calling her “ugly” and “jealous”. None of which felt like a reasonable response to Thompson’s remarks. But, as this New Yorker article posits, as Minaj falls deeper into her underdog storyline, she is acting more like a member of the Barbz, rather than their figurehead. “I hear the criticism loud and clear”, she rapped on her debut album. That’s seeming less like the case these days.

While Minaj would probably argue that she’s simply defending herself against ‘haters’ with all the social media and radio show ranting and remarks, the amount of coverage of how she and her fans act online has arguably drawn attention away from the music. It’s also likely that it’s put a percentage of more casual listeners off listening to her latest releases.

In addition to that, there have been other controversies surrounding the new album. Her decision to work with controversial rapper 6ix9ine for one. “This is what happens when you release a great body of work after they spent millions to ruin you”, she tweeted in response to criticism of this. “They writing about 69 cuz ‘Queen’ is flawless”. Then there are the lyrics on the album that have been deemed to be homophobic, which seems like a particular misstep for someone with a large LGBT fanbase.

While the cancellation of a tour is always going to draw speculation that a performer’s star in on the wane, the coverage of Minaj this week could still have been so much more positive. Among the ranting on Twitter and Beats 1, she has repeatedly pointed out that ‘Queen’ went to number one in 86 countries. The global success of the album is much greater than that of Scott’s ‘Astroworld’, and she only just missed out on the US number one too.

There is no way that ‘Queen’ should be described as a flop, but I have repeatedly seen that word ascribed to it this week. And for what it’s worth, I do believe that she most likely pulled her US tour over concerns about the quality of the show. Ticket sales may also have been a concern as well, but she’s probably right that there just wasn’t time to rehearse such a major production to the necessary level.

Another thread of discussion this week, and in recent months, has been whether attention is moving away from Minaj to other female rappers – particularly Cardi B. Minaj’s anger (or not) at Cardi B’s success has been a hot topic, thanks to the continuing tendency in the media to put forth that there can only be one successful woman in any genre at any one time.

It probably is true that Cardi B would not be where she is without Minaj laying down a path before her, but that’s another thing that should be talked about in more positive terms. Minaj’s achievements should be more celebrated, and probably will be at some point. But while she spends all her time complaining about being stiffed on her chart position – in an age where the chart already seems less relevant, especially to the sorts of people consuming her music – she makes it much easier for others to present her in a less positive light.

Going back to where we started, my colleagues probably were right about this being a non-story. “Artist goes to number two in a chart no one really cares about anymore”, is not much of a headline. “Artist postpones tour” is certainly more of a story, but one that could have come and gone. As it is, I’ve somehow now managed to add 3000 words to the tens of thousands already written about all this over the last few days.