Nicki Minaj is one of few artists who can sustain a loyal fanbase while going more than two years—it's nearly been four—without dropping an album. While the past year (and change) of her career has been framed around imagined fights with Cardi B and her relationship with Meek Mill, Minaj is back to remind everyone that she really, really raps.
The decision to release "Barbie Tingz" and "Chun-Li" simultaneously was a great idea. The move allows Minaj to test the market and increases her chances of having at least one of the two singles pop off across streaming services, all while reasserting herself as totally nasty on the mic.
That said, do these singles live up to the hype? Do they warrant the wait?
Below is a transcript of our staff Slack chat discussion about "Barbie Tingz" and "Chun Li," wherein one single was labeled Tron and the other "Twerk City."
Matt: I’m exponentially more intrigued by "Chun-Li" so far.
Dylan: Uh... Nicki... Chun-Li's not the bad guy in Street Fighter...
Donna: In Russian, we have a word for this plastic thing you blow into and it makes this damp duck sound, a "dootka." That is the only instrument on "Chun-Li."
Yoh: I'm not very interested in Nicki rapping about these "bitches" in 2018.
Donna: Her delivery on "Chun-Li," the range of her voice, is doing it for me.
Dylan: The drums are CRAZYYYYY. This will ring off in the club.
Matt: I think the "Chun-Li" beat is great.
Donna: You're telling me that damp slide whistle on the 4th is doing it for you?
Yoh: "Barbie Tingz" does knock tho.
Matt: I actually very much dig it. It’s weird and not bland like "Barbie Tingz."
Dylan: "Barbie Tingz" is my favorite of the two.
Matt: I’m having opposite reactions to these songs I see lol.
Donna: Nicki is my favorite when she's playing with her vocal range so "Chun-Li" wins there, but "Barbie Tingz" is a tighter track overall. Also, she said "I need a Mai Thai, so fucking sci-fi" on "Chun-Li."
Matt: "Barbie Tingz" sounds too much like other Nicki songs. I can at least admire where "Chun-Li" was headed for. And those drums knock.
Yoh: "Chun-Li" is more interesting.
Brendan: The "Barbie Tingz" beat kinda reminds me of Busta Rhymes' "Touch It."
Yoh: She did rah like a dungeon dragon that one time...
Hershal: The chorus on "Barbie Tingz" reminds me of Lil Mama's "Lip Gloss." Lol. Her Scarface impersonation on "Chun-Li" leaves much to be desired.
Yoh: "Chun-Li" might be the one that goes. I can see this hook ringing off in clubs.
Dylan: "Chun-Li is Twerk City"
Yoh: But that ending bridge is a hard pass.
Dylan: That...was rough.
Yoh: Did she just ask for the WiFi password?
Donna: Yes she did. Not that sci-fi, are ya Nicki?
Yoh: Why would she need that? Lmao
Sermon: I think she said she freestyled a part of this song in her interview.
Hershal: Does it seem like she's pivoting back to rap after a string of pop-leaning releases that failed to attract the attention she wanted them to?
Yoh: Yes. Yes, it does. Both records lean back on the classic mixtape Nicki.
Dylan: "Barbie Tingz" sounds like a Run-D.M.C. B-side trapped in Tron world and I'm LIVING every time the beat comes on.
Yoh: What Nicki doesn't realize, in my humble opinion, is she's just not making compelling brag rap.
Dylan: Waiting for the "Say hoooooooo!" I also agree.
Sermon: I think people want more out of Nicki.
Donna: I think she's in a purgatory of sorts, right? The writing stays pop, but the raps are gritty. That dissonance makes fans uneasy naturally.
Matt: I think we need to discuss the fact that Nicki dropped two very similar songs while fully aware that only one of them needed to hit. Seems calculated and I respect it. These both have the exact same theme. The beats are different but capture the same mood. So all she needed to do was drop two tracks, and I feel like it doubles her chances that one of them catches on.
Dylan: It looks like the popular vote is "Barbie Tingz" for now.
Matt: Well, we’ve seen how well the popular vote does in the past...
Hershal: Between this Scarface accent on "Chun-Li" and the British accent on Dark Fantasy, I think it's safe to say that Nicki is not going to experience a late-career turn as an impressionist. The only person who does a worse impression of Al Pacino than her is Al Pacino in literally every movie he's in now.
Sermon: Do you think that social media shapes the perception of how Nicki creates music?
Z: Look at Sermon getting all philosophical LOL
Yoh: I think competition as well. She wants to please the crowd and hold on to her dominant position.
Sermon: Ha. I'm just listening to her talk about being the bad guy on "Chun-Li." It seems like a social media-inspired idea.
Yoh: She's boxed in by the very approval she seeks.