why adele's nicki minaj karaoke is a major feminist moment
After Adele knocked Nicki’s career-making verse out of the park, we revisit the impact “Monster” has made on modern music.
In a "Carpool Karaoke" segment that's already been viewed 20 million times in the two days since its release, Adele and Late Late Show host James Corden cruise around London, drown cups of tea at alarming speeds, and belt Spice Girls tunes. But an unexpected moment interrupts their textbook displays of Britishness: Adele positively murders Nicki Minaj's "Monster" verse. She doesn't fall off after three bars. She doesn't whisper the rapper's triumphant line, "pink wig, thick ass, give em whiplash." She goes the fuck in. And Nicki took notice.
"Pull thru QUEEN!!!!!" the Queens-born rapper captioned on Instagram of Adele's passenger seat performance. "The attitude & fingers to match. #Oh #Ok #IcoNIC. I cried when she waved bye to the careers." Yes, a 27-year-old mom spitting Minaj's finest rhymes in a thick Tottenham accent will live in the internet Hall of Fame, but "Monster" means so much more than that. Clearly, Yung Adele could have picked any one of Minaj's verses -- from "Beez in the Trap" to "Bedrock" -- but she chose a critical moment in the rapper's career, when the then 28-year-old was on the brink of superstardom.
After being discovered by Lil Wayne, Minaj signed with the New Orleans' rapper's imprint Young Money Entertainment in 2009. Though she'd been steadily generating buzz and critical acclaim for guest verses and early mixtapes like Beam Me Up Scotty, she was still fighting for the mainstream chart success she now enjoys with standout early efforts including "Massive Attack" and the Annie Lennox-sampling "Your Love." Just one month before releasing her explosive first full length Pink Friday, Minaj appeared on "Monster," a cut from Kanye West's 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. A taste of what was shortly to come on Nicki's debut double platinum drop, the track was also an early indicator of the binary breaking impact Minaj would make on modern music.
Arriving after three verses from hip hop heavyweights Rick Ross, Kanye West, and Jay-Z, Minaj's closing 32 bars showcased her vibrant creativity, artful construction, and acerbic lyrical punchlines. She positioned herself as not merely a rapper, but a postmodern icon -- rapidly shape shifting between a bubble gum Barbie alter ego before snapping back with the fucking facts. "So lemme get this straight, wait, I'm the rookie? But my features and my shows 10 times your pay? 50K for a verse, no album out?" Nicki spat, her voice escalating with confident aggression. "You could be the king but watch the queen conquer," she challenged her storied colleagues.
Minaj's "Monster" verse wasn't just career-making, it's widely considered one of the best in the game -- by any rapper. It ranked number 1 in Complex's "25 Best Verses of the Past 5 Years." Upon the time of the track's release, Ross called Minaj's contribution "a moment in history." "I knew then she was one of the greatest," he told MTV. Three years later, West told radio host Sway he had considered cutting Minaj's "Monster" verse because he "knew people would say that was the best verse on the best hip hop album of all time." Explaining how he battled with the thought of spending eight months of work on an album only for people to tell him Minaj's verse was their favorite part, he reasoned: "If I let my ego get the best of me instead of letting that girl get the shot to get that platform to be all she could be, I would take it off or marginalize her, try to stop her from having that shining moment."
Of course, Nicki doesn't need any co-sign or validation from Adele to know what an impact she's made on music, but that's not what Adele's "Monster" cover was meant to say. It's pure positivity: here's one record-smashing female powerhouse -- a singer who chose to do things her own way -- revelling in the very moment another iconic woman made her own lane. It's no wonder Adele knows all the words to "Monster" -- it's practically a roadmap to ruling the game.
It's worthy to note that Nicki gave Adele social media props on multiple platforms (she tweeted a true seal of approval "Adele is mad rachet") almost immediately. It seems small, but seeing two women in music support each other on social media actually is exceptional when you consider how many virtual spats played out over the last year. Perhaps the most notable is one Nicki was dragged into, when Taylor Swift (and later Miley Cyrus) inserted herself into larger points about race and representation the rapper was making when her "Anaconda" video was snubbed for the highest VMA nomination.
What makes Adele's karaoke session all the more poignant is the fact that Nicki held her head high through a particularly challenging 2015 -- pointless pop princess comments aside. It was a year in which Minaj's boyfriend and longtime label mate dragged her name through an ugly, public beef ("Is that a world tour or your girl's tour?" Drake jabbed on diss track "Back to Back," a shady reference to Meek Mill's opening slot on Minaj's Pinkprint tour). When Vanessa Grigoriadis asked Minaj "Is there a part of you that thrives on drama?" in reference to the feud Minaj had gracefully risen above, the rapper rightfully pulled the plug on her New York Times Magazine cover profile interview.
And so it felt triumphant when Minaj appeared in a shimmery Balmain gown to deliver Maya Angelou's poem "Still, I Rise" at the Shining a Light concert special in November. Just like it felt awesome to watch Adele -- a woman who's broken every possible record by not playing pop's game -- pay hilarious homage to the moment in which Minaj made one of the biggest gender breakthroughs in rap. "Now look at what you just saw, this is what you live for," Nicki affirms in her penultimate "Monster" line, before she -- and Adele -- let out a primal scream: "I'm a motherfucking monster!"
Text Emily Manning