Nicki Minaj gets into tussle over No. 1 album spot

US rapper Nicki Minaj arrives at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York, on Aug 20, 2018.
US rapper Nicki Minaj arrives at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York, on Aug 20, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • On Sunday afternoon, Nicki Minaj went on Twitter to go over some matters of accounting.

Moments earlier, Billboard reported that Travis Scott's Astroworld was the No. 1 album in the United States for the second week running, relegating Minaj's Queen, her fourth studio album, to No. 2 in its debut week.

"I spoke to him," she tweeted, referring to Scott. "He knows he doesn't have the #1 album this week. I love my fans for the #1 album in America."

What incensed Minaj was a boost in sales Scott had received by bundling his album with merchandise and tour packages, and also an Instagram post by Scott's paramour, Kylie Jenner, "telling people to come see her and Stormi", Minaj tweeted. Stormi is Scott and Jenner's baby daughter.

But that was not it. For about an hour, Minaj - whose album sales were supported by similar packages - listed her gripes: Billboard chart chicanery, Spotify blackballing, record-label spinelessness.

Her complaints about how those alleged actions affected the rollout (and subsequent chart position) of Queen - which she later brushed off as "sarcasm/dry humour" - were implicitly tied to Minaj's broader belief that, as a female rapper, she has not fully gotten her due.

No one is entitled to a No. 1 album and, in general, record labels and artists try to strategise release dates to maximise their chances.

For the past two months, most people have stayed out of the way of Canadian rapper Drake's Scorpion, which had a five-week run at No. 1. Scott bumped Drake from the top a week ago.

Presumably, Minaj expected to dethrone Scott - and next week, be dethroned herself by labelmate and collaborator Ariana Grande.

But it was not to be. Still, the resulting pyrotechnics obscure a far bleaker truth, which is that this fleeting battle for album-chart supremacy - itself a metric that is becoming increasingly irrelevant - is between two artists preoccupied with the album format who are not especially well-suited to it.

For Minaj, a classically skilled rapper fired in the kiln of New York mixtape rap and one of the last true crossover hip-hop superstars, an album is an opportunity to show off, to wear different guises, to make a grand statement. It is a declaration of pomp and range.

That is what it is for Scott as well, but his approach is almost opposite. He is often less present on his own album than all of the guests he gathers. The sum total is impressive, almost overwhelming, but it says little about Scott on his own.

Queen is Minaj's first album in four years, a stretch of time in which the music business has been upended by streaming, and hip-hop has been upended by the Internet.

But albums are not for everyone. This tussle over Billboard chart dominance - never mind that Minaj is judging her first week against Scott's second - feels especially futile given that it is between artists who could probably continue to thrive without them.

Minaj's celebrity is secure. Scott has figured out how to embody modern hip-hop while bypassing the usual steppingstones. For both, the album is an albatross, not an answer.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2018, with the headline 'Nicki Minaj gets into tussle over No. 1 album spot'. Print Edition | Subscribe