Self-reference and intertextuality are common lyrical tools in rap. After all, hip-hop is as much an art form and a tool of expression for minoritized voices, as it can function as an archive of stories of a time, a place, a person, or a group of people. That is why some hip-hop records sound even better years after they’re released. Such is the case of Nicki Minaj’s reissue of Beam Me Up Scotty (2021).
The rapper’s third mixtape comes to streaming platforms and official digital stores after 12 years, featuring songs from the original setlist plus three new tracks: “Seeing Green” (with Drake and Lil Wayne), “Fractions”, and “Crocodile Teeth (Remix)” (with Skillinberg). Additionally, two tracks that Minaj released in the past years, “Chi-Raq” (with G Herbo) and “Boss Ass Bitch” (with PTAF), are being released as part of a record for the first time.
As highlighted by music writer Clover Hope in The Motherlode — 100+ Women Who Made Hip Hop (2021) while opening the chapter dedicated to Nicki Minaj, this is a rapper that references herself an awful lot. She coins her own titles and makes sure everyone’s reminded of them time after time.
In the opening track of 2021 Beam Me Up Scotty, “Seeing Green”, she does it too by bringing one of her trademark lyrics: “These bitches is my sons” (the metaphor would appear again in the record, in “Boss Ass Bitch”, where she says: “I’ma son all these n***as”).
Ever since Minaj spit “All these bitches is my sons” on “Did It on ‘Em” (2011), she used the metaphor at least 51 times since Genius counted it in 2018. It’s one of her catchphrases and became a statement that speaks on the precedents Minaj opened on the rap music industry, especially for women.
After all, Nicki Minaj might not have been a pioneer of women in rap. Neither does it make sense anymore to describe her as a “female rapper” when she’s one of the best alive and a serious candidate to best of all time, as Nick Soulsby wrote for PopMatters (2020), regardless of gender identity. However, Minaj was indeed the first to fully show and prove that hip-hop could have a woman mogul of the likes of P. Diddy and Jay-Z. Minaj was able to stay relevant for years in a roll, surviving trends as well as shaping them, charting songs, ranking high in hip hop millionaires’ lists, and crossing over to a variety of genres and audiences. That she was the first — and only, so far — woman rapper to do it all says a lot about gender bias in the music industry, but also says a lot about her will and skills.
Many of Minaj’s traits in visuals, fashion, promotion strategies, writing, and vocal techniques (from the alternating of accents to funny to scary voice sounds and laughs in her songs), or merely her presence in hip-hop and her stand on the music industry, inspired many artists that came after her. In “Seeing Green”, Minaj makes a point by saying, “These bitches still my sons” — it’s a reassertion of her lasting influence and her legacy that is still unmatched. The collaboration with Lil Wayne and Drake in the track is symbolic: under the Young Money Entertainment label (founded by Wayne), the trio is one of the most popular and successful rap cliques of all time. Wayne and Drake’s presence in “Seeing Green” serves as a testimony of everything Minaj says in her verse, in which she calls herself “the standout” and “the queen”.
In Beam Me Up Scotty, there are early signs of the relevance and empire Minaj would build in the upcoming years. She is prophetizing it all over the record, displaying her determination in tracks like “Gotta Go Hard”, but also disclosing her vulnerable side in “Can Anybody Hear Me?” and “Still I Rise”. These two tracks, in particular, are fundamental for the understanding of what Minaj would go through to prove that she belongs in the rap industry and that she can thrive on her own terms.
In “Can Anybody Hear Me?”, Minaj resents being put in a box and being denied the chance to release her work as she envisioned. Hearing the verses “Def Jam said I’m no Lauryn Hill / Can’t rap and sing on the same CD”, in 2021, is worth a laugh, or at least a reflection.
Not only Nicki proved that, yes, she could rap and sing on the same album and have such a record go multi-platinum (case of 2010’s Pink Friday) — but also, the lyrics sound somewhat funny once you look at the state of hip-hop in 2021. Never had the lines between rapping and singing been blurrier, and never had melodic vocals been more important for hip-hop. “Songwriting, plus the ability to sing or carry melodies, are now vital” for a rapper to stand their ground in the current landscape, as said in an article by Carl Chery for hip-hop magazine Complex (2020). Interestingly enough, the paradigm shift can be credited to Drake, who is Minaj’s peer and frequent collaborator. Even if rappers like Nelly and Ja Rule have been mixing singing and rapping for years, it was Drake who kicked the trend for the trap era of hip-hop.
Drake influenced a whole new generation of rappers, to the point that rap songwriting and the conventional songwriting layout for pop music are closer than ever. Minaj has been challenging the idea of a separation of pop and rap and singing and rapping, for just as long as him, with songs like “Superbass” (2010).
Hip-hop fans will argue that a Nicki Minaj song like “Starships” (2012) can hardly be considered hip-hop, and they have a point. It’s an EDM track with a rapper on it — just like David Guetta’s “Hey Mama” (2014), which featured Minaj. (Although it’s worth noting that dance music is in the roots of hip-hop, in records such as Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force’s Planet Rock).
But, regardless of whether it’s a bad or a good thing, if the discussion is about rappers that brought the rap and the pop “worlds” to collide even more, not only in sound but also in performance and visuals, then Nicki Minaj deserves credit too. Especially for women, with all the performance elements that are, for the most part, conventionally associated with, and expected of, female-gendered pop artists (like color, outfit change, theatrical stage, and choreography, for example).
It’s hard to imagine stages of today’s rappers like Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion before Nicki Minaj’s 2012 Grammy Awards performance of “Roman Holiday”, or her 2014 Video Music Awards performance of “Anaconda”. But, of course, there were precedents — Lil Kim, with her colorful wigs, creative outfits, and participation in “Lady Marmalade” (2001) along with pop stars like Christina Aguilera, is one of them.
Not only the songwriting and the mix of rapping and singing, but also the vulnerability in “Can Anybody Hear Me?” and “Still I Rise” are preliminary samples of what Minaj would cement in works like The Pinkprint (2014), unapologetically embracing the sides of her that could be perceived as weaknesses.
For all these reasons, the reissue of Beam Me Up Scotty is a timely opportunity to look back on all these moments that would add substance to the lyrics of the 2009 mixtape. There’s a different ring to hear her younger self saying, “I’m still the one to beat” (in “Gotta Go Hard”) when you think that her current self is, yet and indeed, the one to beat.
Even more enjoyable is the chance to get to hear Nicki Minaj’s sharp flow and witty lyrics in tracks like “Itty Bitty Piggy”, the highlight of the record. There’s a lot in the lyrics of Beam Me Up Scotty that would be harder to justify if released for the first time in 2021. But if you can get behind problematic things such as the approach of comparing weak men to women, what’s left in lyrics like “Pussy like girls, damn, is my pussy gay?” (from “Boss Ass Bitch”) is some hilarious, clever wordplay. Few rappers can write and deliver like Nicki Minaj, and Beam Me Up Scotty shows she was a beast from the very early days.
She sounds great in the new tracks too. There’s a bit of the flow she used in “Motorsport” (2017) for “Fractions”, and a bit of the “Ganja Burns” (2018) vibes for “Crocodile Teeth”. In the context of this reissue, it feels like Nicki Minaj is reaffirming her brand rather than recycling it.
Many Nicki fans and hip-hop fans are celebrating the reissue of Beam Me Up Scotty as a reminder of how Nicki sounds like when she’s at her best. But the truth is, ever since the mixtape was out until now, the quality of Nicki Minaj’s rapping has never decayed. The revisit of her old works, and a reissue of one of them, as a successor of the album in which she crowns herself Queen (2018) — even if she’s been calling herself that for a long time — feels appropriate. To hear rookie Minaj and seasoned Minaj in the same record, and to hear her old tracks where she speaks her queendom into existence, feels different now that we testified her dreams and predictions coming true.