In the modern era of rappers (those born in the 1970s and 80s, whose careers started anywhere between the late 90s and 2010s) there are two equally great, equally controversial rappers who have helped to raise the standard of creativity and lyrical skill-level in today’s Hip-Hop environment: Eminem and Nicki Minaj. Today, I’m going to point out the similarities and differences between the two in order to prove whether or not Nicki Minaj is the Eminem of the female rap subgenre of Hip-Hop.
Parallels in their Childhood History
It’s no secret that Onika Maraj and Marshall Mathers both had rough upbringings. They both utilize their stories within their lyrics, and have since the beginning of their careers. Mathers was born in St. Joseph, MO in 1972, and had a famously toxic upbringing, which he references in enough detail that his own mother attempted to sue him for defamation and slander. Maraj was born in Saint James, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, in 1982, where she was left with her grandmother until age 5, when her parents were finally able to move Onika and her siblings to the burrough of Queens, New York.
Both rappers grew up in impoverished, drug torn homes, however, Nicki Minaj has a famously solid relationship with her mother, Carol; meanwhile, Eminem has had an infamously strained relationship with his mother, Debbie. Yet, regardless of parental ties, both of the rappers made it a point to make those childhood hardships into the foundation for their career. Both of them saw the cards that they had been dealt, and knew that they could do better.
“First” of Their Kinds
When Eminem was discovered by Dr. Dre back in 1998, the “white rapper” was all but extinct. The likes of Vanilla Ice had magnified the legal issue of the sampling era more than leveling the racial playing field in Hip-Hop. And, though the Beastie Boys were able to carve out their own niche spanning from 1978 until MCA’s death in 2012, somehow the trio never fell into the same lane.
Eminem was the first white rapper to come into the Hip-Hop scene and explain the narrative of being poor, white, and a minority in his neighborhood. Since Hip-Hop connected with his soul, Em was able to take the voice of the black experience and adapt it into the voice of “poor, white America,” opening up the doors for Hip-Hop to be about the universal experience of not feeling seen and wanting to be heard.
Now, fast-forward to 2008, when Houston Press announced that female rap had gone extinct on February 4. This was later reconfirmed by Jonah Weiner at Slate at the end of the year with an article along the same lines published on November 6, 2008. All of the female rappers of the time had stopped touring and releasing music, leaving us in a musical drought and famine. Female rap had officially become a relic; a reminder of a time since past.
And to make matters worse, there were questions about which women writing their own bars, and which women were being handed lyrics by their male counterparts. Somehow women were simultaneously expected to sell their bodies AND got shamed for it. The whole thing was a complete and total toxic mess. Similar to how Eminem (ironically) was told that he would not be accepted into the culture because of the color of his skin, women (regardless of ethnicity) have been told that they can never be as good at the craft as male rappers. The narrative of being the best female rapper, but not the best overall rapper regardless of gender has been seethingly whispered into the ears of the best rappers since 1985.
Nicki Minaj had been building up her music career since 2004, and branched off into her solo career in 2007, dominating the underground scene. Even in the face of being told that she would never make it, and that her genre and subculture literally did not exist anymore, Minaj stood up for the genuine, black, female, and above all, misunderstood and marginalized narrative, and she wouldn’t allow the (white) male dictate her narrative either. Despite the fact that both of these artists had their predecessors, they will forever remain the first of their kind in the Hip-Hop history books because they have both proven that there is room at this table for everyone; setting in stone the fact that Hip-Hop is for genuine self-expression and deserves to be utilized by all who are called to it.
Despite uneducated assumptions, neither of these names would mean anything without their profound lyricism. Eminem came out with a new sound, a new style, faster raps, and more complicated rhyme schemes. Lyrically, Em raised the bar so high that still to this day it remains nearly impossible to accomplish.
Nicki Minaj has always prided herself on her pen game. Since the beginning of her career, she has been firm on this standard of writing her own raps, which she had set for herself at a young age. In her 2018 interview on Flex in the Morning about the Queen album, Minaj listed Eminem as one of her top 5 musical influences because she always wanted to have “sarcasm in (her) raps like Em did.”
These two rappers help to remind the world that good raps are written by smart people. Eminem famously taught the world the power of slant rhymes in a 2010 interview with 60 Minutes where he gives several examples of words that rhyme with “orange”. Meanwhile, Nicki Minaj’s setups and punchlines, as well as her vivid metaphors and sports references, are purely iconic. They are also both willing to use controversial metaphors, which is what inspired me to write this article.
Eminem was famously blamed for the Columbine school shooting because his music was so shocking and violent that it was easy to point the finger at him. It was truly a historic moment in the debate of who is responsible for policing the music that children listen to, and impacted Em so greatly that he later referenced the incident in songs like “Kill You” (2000), “The Way I Am” (2000), “Remember Me” (2000), and “White America” (2002). The most powerful reference being “Rap God” (2013) where Em spits the following bars:
“So I crunch rhymes, but sometimes when you combine
Appeal with the skin color of mine
You get too big and here they come tryin’
To censor you like that one line
I said on “I’m Back” from The Mathers LP 1 when I
Tried to say I’ll take seven kids from Columbine
Put ’em all in a line, add an AK-47, a revolver and a .9
See if I get away with it now that I ain’t as big as I was, but I’m“
Which was a recycled line from the song “I’m Back” from 2000. That had to be censored, even on the uncensored version of the LP, because of the “severity” of the lyrics. The Mathers LP references the school shooting on five different tracks.
Taking her statement to heart, Nicki Minaak pays homage to her source of inspiration by referencing the infamous school shooting in the 2012 track “Roman Reloaded” from the album of the same name. Ironically (and fittingly), this track is also peppered with banging gun sounds to accentuate the point that her “shit bang, bang-bang.” Her clever take on the controversial metaphor being:
Characters and Storytelling
Beyond the sarcasm, I believe that Eminem’s influence extends to Minaj’s characters as well. The two are just about the only two rappers who employ the alter ego mechanic to their work in such a stylistic way. They’re not outfits or mere nicknames, they are completely different characters and personas.
Over the span of his career, Eminem has utilized Slim Shady, Eminem, and Marshall Mathers. For Em, his different characters are employed to tell the various stories and aspects of his life, with Eminem being “the” rapper persona and bigger-than-life caricature of himself, while Marshall Mathers is the realer, more vulnerable side of himself, representing his true identity. And then, there’s Slim Shady, the “evil twin” who does and says, sometimes horrifically, shocking things.
Onika has an entire library of characters and alter egos that she has used throughout her career, including, but not limited to, Nicki Lewinski/Queen Sleeze, her dirty rap persona; Niki the Barbie, who is a pop star; Roman Zolanski, her British, gay male character who spits fast and unapologetically; Onika, the natural haired, vulnerable woman behind the characters; and Chun-Li, the villainized heroine (oh yeah, and Red Ruby Da Sleeze, Chun’s evil twin and seemingly the daughter of Queen Sleeze herself.)
Both rappers also utilize voices and storytelling within their songs, whether it’s Eminem’s chilling tale of warning with the story of “Stan,” or Nicki’s lighthearted love story with “High School,” these two consistently go above and beyond to surprise their listeners and tell a good story.
Nicki Minaj and Eminem are possibly also two of the most controversial rappers in Hip-Hop history, albeit, for very different reasons. Eminem summarizes his controversies with the following line from the song “Rap God”:
The Detroit based rapper was famous for being a bit of a train wreck during the peak of his career (and that’s putting it lightly). However, rather than being consumed by his problems, Em poured his journey into his artwork, with albums like Relapse in 2009, and Recovery in 2010. Despite the fact that the rapper struggled with addiction and publicly toxic relationships with both his mother and on-again-off-again wife Kim, Eminem managed to maintain a prolific and humble career. During moments of extreme success, Em was unafraid to express his self-doubt, a good example is these hard hitting bars is “The Way I Am”:
“I’m so sick and tired of being admired
That I wish that I would just die or get fired
And dropped from my label, let’s stop with the fables
I’m not gonna be able to top on “My Name Is”
And he always presented listeners with a real, raw, unfiltered update of what he was going through at the time, both personally and professionally. Nicki Minaj has always been a classy lady, and so her controversy is centered around being TOO dominant in the industry and thus blackballed from the radio.
Throughout the course of her career, there have been many drug references, however, Nicki never built her life or career on being inebriated. From her mixtape days until now, Nicki has also always been rap and vulnerable. A great example of that is the song “Can Anybody Hear Me” from Beam Me Up Scotty:
“Dear God, I am only what you made me
And I appreciate everything that you gave me
But like, I don’t wanna do it no more
Sort of lost sight of what I’m doin’ it for“
She also shows her fans what she has been going through with the first half of the Pinkprint album, where she pours her emotions into her pen as she chronicles the toxic relationship she just escaped from.
The controversy, however, is how she went from being the pop princess of rap in 2012, to being blackballed from the radio, turned into the “bad guy”, and attempted to be eradicated from the industry in 2018. (Shout out to the fact that Nicki was strong enough to survive the hate train!) The fact that she had become wildly successful before ever signing a contract AND dodged a career suffocating 360-deal made Nicki Minaj wildly powerful and some of the “powers that be” didn’t take kindly to this outspoken woman who was showing other women how to be independent and think for themselves.
The most controversial point of this article being that, for some reason, even though Eminem hasn’t always been the most positive influence (I mean… did we already forget that his lyrics were so violent at one point that his artwork was blamed for a school shooting) this white man with a messy career who could have been “canceled” several times over, has several Grammys.
Meanwhile, the black woman who is:
“fighting for the girls that never thought they could win
‘Cause before they could begin, you told ’em it was the end
But I am here to reverse the curse that they live in
(“I’m the Best” 2010)
Has no Grammys to speak of and has an infamously strained relationship with the Recording Academy.The rapper has even cited her performance of “Roman’s Revenge” on the 54th Grammys as the reason she has been blackballed from that particular award ceremony.
Nicki Minaj was also heavily scrutinized for the cover of the “Anaconda” single in 2014, being touted as a bad influence for squatting and looking over her shoulder. Standing firm in her cosmic power, Nicki spoke out about the backlash, forever leveling the playing field and holding the door open for black women to be sexy and provocative when before, colorism stood boldly in the way. (Even though colorism is still a tragic part of our society, a fair bit of progress was made because of that album cover.)
Despite all the “controversy,” Minaj has managed to sustain a 16 year career, and continues to break records in the industry still to this day.
Let Us Draw It In
Nicki Minaj and Eminem are two unparalleled artists who are only paralleled by each other. These Trail Blazers completely changed Hip-Hop as we know it and inspired multiple generations of artists to do the same. Despite the distinct differences in their careers, it is clear that they are on the same level in terms of lyricism and cultural impact.
These two kings of Hip-Hop shall remain in the musical history books until the end of time. (Yes, kings, since Nicki Minaj has also helped to end the stigma that male and female rappers have to be on different levels, she deserves to be recognized as equal to Eminem.)