Last month, there was a claim to the title of Queen of Rap by East Coast battle-rapper Remy Ma, who released a horribly violent and offense diss-track aimed at Nicki Minaj called “ShETHER.” The diss-track was, to put it bluntly, barely listenable, but it did raise one very good question: Is Nicki Minaj the Queen of Rap?
Back in 2010, the answer was undeniably yes. She had just been featured on Kanye West’s “Monster” off of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, one of the greatest rap records of all time. In addition, her verse on “Monster” is possibly one of the greatest rap verses in history let alone her best, and she followed it up with her massive hit “Super Bass,” a pop-rap anthem.
Her debut-record Pink Friday included features from Kanye himself, will.i.am, Rihanna, label-mate Drake, Natasha Bedingfield (of all people), and even Eminem. The intro track was titled “I’m the Best,” and it was a definitive declaration. Taking the time-period into consideration, what female rapper since the likes of Lil Kim, Lauryn Hill, and Missy Elliot had made waves as large as Nicki Minaj? Iggy Azalea? No, there was no reason not to call Nicki Minaj the Queen of Rap in 2010-2011.
You could be the King but watch the Queen conquer
For the past three or so years however, ever since the release of her third album The Pinkprint, it has seemed that Nicki, as the contentious title-holder, stands on a wobbly pedestal. As successful as The Pinkprint was, it was more pop than rap, and “Anaconda,” a sacrilegious re-work of “Baby Got Back” by Sir-Mix-A-Lot, seemed so beneath one who would call herself Queen.
On her feature for Ariana Grande’s “Side to Side,” she presented one of her more decent verses as of late, and even asserts “I’m the queen of rap, young Ariana run pop,” but after Remy Ma’s brutal diss-track last month, I can’t help but wonder… have the past three years of Nicki material been suitable for the title of Queen of Rap? Until Remy no one else had even challenged Minaj, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any contenders.
Over the past two years, female emcees such as Rapsody, Kamaiyah (pictured left), Young M.A, and Gangsta Boo have been including images of royalty in their lyrics and artwork. Rapsody’s latest EP was titled “Crown,” with the title track stating “they tell me I’m a queen!” Gangsta Boo calls herself “The Memphis Queen,” and Young M.A’s “Kween (freestyle)” declares “I got the crown too / I’m a queen, I’m who they bow to / If they wanna bring the beef, I bring the cow too / It’s Brooklyn, I run the town too.” Even artists like Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Janelle Monáe have adopted rapping into their music.
While Nicki might still own the official title in the minds of the masses such as Jay Z’s “king status ” (despite Jay sitting nowhere near the title of greatest rapper alive), these women have started their assent to the throne, and artists such as Rapsody, Kamaiyah, and Young M.A are truly racking up all the attention, even during Nicki Minaj’s latest string of three singles this past March. However, I don’t believe any of these female emcees have what it takes to be queen just yet.
The real Queen of Rap could be 3D Na’Tee, from New Orleans, if only she had the same amount of press and attention as everyone else. I first heard 3D Na’Tee rap in a cypher for the 2016 BET Awards along side artists like Consequence and Jidenna, and after including her in my round-up of The Best of 2016’s BET Cyphers, I gave her album The Regime a good listen. It’s a decent debut, with tracks like “The Return” and “John From Tennessee” that show off her battle-rap style of lyrical assault.
Her follow-up mixtape that just came out recently was titled Songs that Didn’t Make the Tape Vol. 1, and it was less aggressive and more pop-chorus focused. The first track, “I’m Back,” is maybe her best song yet, and in my opinion, sounds like the kind of music that we would have expected Nicki Minaj to return with instead of the Drake and Lil Wayne assisted “No Frauds,” which heavily leaned on her stardom instead of her rap ability—something that appears to be diminishing for Minaj.
3D on the other hand, sounds like she could go on for bars, and “John from Tennessee,” as well as most of The Regime, prove so easily. That’s not to say that there aren’t more polish-able moments in 3D’s discography thus far, but her newest mixtape of b-sides, especially the pop-leaning “Glow’d Up,” show that she’s willing to experiment with her sound. Nonetheless, I could explain how great I think 3D Na’Tee could be or already is all I want, the problem is that until you hear her rap, or until she’s talked about as much as the other rappers, then no one will really know who she is. It’s just another drop in the water until you color it.
It’s similar to a problem that I discussed in my review of Oddisee’s latest record, The Iceberg:
Even for a fan of Oddisee like me, I’m not always super entertained by his verses, especially since there aren’t really any other voices or breaks from his relentless truths, which makes Oddisee seem like a one man army. He’s one of the best rappers using hip-hop for social change in the game right now however, and until people start lining up behind him it’s going to feel like it’s Oddisee vs. the rap industry.
While 3D Na’Tee doesn’t have any problem holding my attention with her lyrics or catchy hooks, the same truth exists that a lack of features on her record, or especially the lack of her featuring on other big artist’s records, seems to keep her out of the spotlight. Kamaiyah got known for her YG feature, Young M.A’s debut single “Ooouuu” got remixed by Jadakiss, Remy Ma, A$AP Ferg, Tink, and The Game, and Rapsody got heard from working with 9th Wonder, Kendrick Lamar, and Anderson .Paak.
Whether The Regime or Songs That Didn’t Make the Tape can help 3D Na’Tee gain some fans in the industry who want to help her succeed will show what could follow next, but right now it’s a shame that Remy Ma was the closest to becoming Nicki’s contender, especially since artists like 3D Na’Tee and Rapsody greatly excel both Remy and Nicki’s ability in 2017. There also exists a place for Noname, of Chance the Rapper’s Chicago circle. She had a truly amazing record with Telefone, but her artistic style isn’t one to claim for Queendom.
Nonetheless, if you asked me right now who the Queen of Rap was, I’d probably still say Nicki Minaj. It’s still hard not to call Jay Z the King of Rap, even though I believe that Kendrick Lamar is currently the greatest rapper alive. I do wish, however, that I could say either Rapsody or 3D Na’Tee were actually Queen. While I believe that Rapsody is closer to the title when it comes to musical innovation, 3D Na’Tee can truly rap circles around most emcees today. Only the future knows whether 3D or Rapsody have it in them to secure the title of Queen of Rap, but one thing is definitely for certain: if Nicki Minaj can’t shake this run of lackluster performances, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the crown stolen.