We all know the follies of taking shortcuts in life, but unfortunately, cutting corners is human nature. Behavioral psychologist Amos Tversky made the textbooks labeling these tendencies as heuristics, which he describes to be the mental dots we connect to save ourselves time and energy. When it comes to female Rap emcee’s, our availability heuristic comes into play, as the names on the All-Time list are few and far between when compared to the men. For that reason, when Cardi B began to command the Billboard Charts over the months recent, our basis for comparison was inherently Nicki Minaj. While Queen Latifah, Lil Kim, and Lauryn Hill have their own Platinum accolades, Minaj and Cardi are silver and gold in terms of Hip Hop’s elite. It’s not fair to compare the two simply based off gender, but Tversky would deem it futile to avoid the conversation. As Cardi continues to take the game by storm, the comparisons will only become more severe, so today I sat down to attempt to segregate the two and highlight the blatant differentiators between Onika Tanya Maraj (NM) and Belcalis Almanzar (CB). Unfortunately, I failed miserably at doing so. Getting clicks amidst the clutter of content is all about being the contrarian, so I fear my conformism will get lost in the ether rather quickly. I wish I could buck my heuristics and tell you that X doesn’t equal Y, but here are the reasons why Nicki and Cardi are one in the same.
Let’s start with what’s most important, the music. When it comes to the hordes of male rappers, often times, their output is vapidly on-brand and replicated song after song. Nicki and Cardi, however, bring a refreshing amount of diversity within their own discography, gallivanting broad ranges of cadence, melody, and even voice. These women are illuminating the pro’s of using different personas in music, and offer a comedic relief to the normally stoic hip hop sound. A girl with a sense of humor is sexy, and both have joked their way into our hearts and pregame playlists. Fellas, take notes.
NM: Minaj has enough range and diversity to assume she’s carry a degree from Julliard with her whenever she hits the studio. With her animated flows and quiver of personas she utilizes, her albums are the trail mix of the genre. The characters are far from subliminal, as she even did us the favor of naming and back-storying them, creating a whole posy out of the single entity. When listening to her Minaj, you’ll find the sweet, flirty character Barbie on Starships and Superbass; that bubblegum pop vibe with the melodramatic lyricism. Keep going and you’ll find Roman on the eponym Romans Revenge, and her mother Martha Zolanski on Moment 4 Life. Of the 18 different personalities she deploys, each brings a new ingredient to her secret rap formula and fans grew to love the breadth Minaj had to offer. Her bravado is her brand, and that has given her substantial staying power in a world of one hit wonders.
CB: If you take to Instagram, you’ll find that Cardi is perhaps even more farcically outspoken than her predecessor. Not everyone can tap a foot to Bodak Black, but even my 50-year-old mother gets a kick out of Cardi’s hilarity on the gram. And “you wanna know something bitch?!”…this type of honesty and rapport with her fans is something I’ve yet to see from any rapper with twig and berries. Her days on the reality TV cycle shine bright in her music, which is why Cardi is as much an entertainer as she is a rapper. True to form, we are bowing down to ladies with, you guessed, a different personality for every day of the week.
Hailing from the Beast Coast
Battle lines are drawn in the rap war pending the coast you hail from. In the Pac vs. Biggie days, these would be the baronesses leading the Notorious troops to battle with their East Coast heritage and sound. NYC is the crucible for the front, and is known for bringing an unmistakable dialect to a rapper’s rhythm and flows. Both vixens follow rank and speak of the NY come up in both its glory and gore.
NM: Minaj pays homage to her birth place aptly and often. “Southside Jamaica, Queens and it’s crazy,” she spits with a New York accent thick enough to make an MTA conductor blush. Her identification with the neighborhood is so strong, she was even awarded the Key to the City (Queens) by borough President Melinda Katz for her Outstanding Achievement in Music. With her substantial pandemic real estate portfolio , her primary residence is still the Big Apple and will remain as such. Eat your heart out Kevin James. Minaj doesn’t need an XY Chromosome to reign as the King of Queens.
CB: New York Cities northern most borough was the spawning point for new-to-market Cardi B. The list of rappers to hail from the Bronx is as deep as the snow left by the Bombcyclone, and Cardi is on her way to becoming as synonymous with the BX as Fat Joe and Swizz Beats. She still shows her hometown pride in spades as she accredits her success to her Timberland-donned commutes between Washington Heights and Highbridge. Her lyrics regulary tote her come up, and her give-no-shit attitude explains that it’s her “Bronx boogie that got all them girls shook.”
Heavyweight Man Candy:
This week, Iceland of all places passed ground breaking legislation 50 years past due, as they are now the first country to eradicate the wage gap between man and woman. Slowly but surely, we are seeing lady “firsts” across disciplines, proving that a girls need for a boy is as vestigial as gill slots. But, there will always be the birds and the bee’s, and our two she-mavericks found their honey in the form of big label bruisers.
NM: While Young Moneys HBIC was long time rumored to be bedding with label peers Drake and/or Wayne, the tabloids proved factual after unearthing her fling with the soon-to-be incarcerated Meek Mill. His courtship of Minaj was anything but subtle, after he channeled his inner Romeo in tweet form: I love Nicki Minaj, I swear ya’ll I admit. I hope one day I can f**k her just to say I f**king hit it. Would you expect anything less from our Philly born heartthrob? The two become Hip Hops Brangelina and had the industry gushing over their Boondock rendition of the Cinderalla Story. I’d like to waive any allegations of sexism here, as I will firmly circle option B in Drizzy’s illustrious questioning of Meeks pedigree. A. is that a world tour? or B. your girls tour?
CB: Maybe Offset was the one who got left off bad and boujee, because he found the time to swoon Cardi B, a score equivalent to the Hope Diamond in terms of color, cut, clarity, and carat. 1/3 of the Migos triad, Offset moved quick and put a ring on Cardi before the rest of the eagers could perform their mating calls on Hip Hops most eligible Bachelorette. She’s come a long way from her Love & Hip Hop days, but she’s still living her Love & Hip Hop life. While neither needed a partner-in-clout to solidify their placement, networking within your industry is never frowned upon.
Bad Bitch Alert:
While it’s not a prerequisite, there is a clear correlation between a tumultuous upbringing and an affinity to the rap game. Hip Hop is always sneered at by those outside the culture of the sound, but that’s also why the community within the sphere is a tighter family found in most other genres. For both our leading ladies, the beginnings were, er, much “humbler.” When the going gets tough, the tough turn freestyling.
NM: Nicki isn’t the rags to riches story you might assume, as her parents were both educated and white collar. Her father however, has a known history of substance abuse and a temper, so their daytime absence was actually the catalyst for her freeform self. AS you can imagine, Nicki was no goody two shoes, where most of her adolescent education came from the city streets. Her father actually burned down their house in a fit of rage one night after one too many, which might be emblematic of her fiery lyricism and stage presence. It took Nicki 15 jobs to find her hip hop voice, and this trial and error period is perhaps the springboard for her tenacity to stick to music.
CB: Many people make feverish attempts to keep the skeletons in their closets, especially when living a life in front of the cameras. Cardi however, embraced her uptown stripper days, and actually says she uses her experiences in the champagne room as her personal mantra. She tells radio hosts that she can’t ever complain about being too busy or too tired, because if it wasn’t hip hop, it’d be 8 hour days in 8 inch heels. She swapped her pole for a mic, and recants her promiscuous past in her promiscuous lyrics. Both girls are known for their vulgar bars and pussy popping behavior, but we can’t scrutinize them in the slightest, as we seldom if ever do that to the men. Big dick, big wallet is the heart of gangster rap. Sans wiener, this is what you get.
To the Victor Go the Spoils
I wouldn’t be writing this, and you wouldn’t be reading this, if Minaj and Cardi weren’t household names. We don’t draw Venn diagrams to analyze things that fall into the minutia and these girls are light years away from that. Not only are they on the rap radar, but they set the bar in the industry, and yes, I am including men. Few, if any, are able to hold a candle to the success and fortune the two in question have been able to muster from the fickle music industry ad they boast the trophies to prove their prowess.
NM: 8 years ago, Young Money was the Lamborghini of rap labels. Under the tutelage of Weezy, Nicki spurred her own name amongst an ensemble of artists that ranked supreme. Her career has since been highlighted by Grammy performances and wins, platinum earning singles and albums, and sales metrics into the 9-figure range. The New York Times dubbed her the most influential female rapper of all time, and she has shown her deservingness with her wit and candor across the talk show circuit. With a 75$ Million Dollar Net Worth, generated by her private liquor label, Adidas endorsements, and cover girl appearances across the pubs, Nicki is a god amongst, yes, MEN.
CB: In her careers infancy, Cardi is guaranteeing her longevity. While I personally was only introduced to her as of Summer 17’, she’s already up for 2 Grammys for the end of January event, as is the fan favorite to take home Best New Artist. She is also the first rapper to send all three of her first singles into the Billboard Top 10, and joins the company of Ashanti and THE BEATLES, to do so simultaneously. Her near 16M followers show the love we have for Cardi B, so it is safe to say this is just the tip of the proverbial ice berg.
Our heuristics work in not so subtle ways, and the human mind is just hard wired to make comparisons. When we see things that stand out from the crowd, like a white boy playing basketball, we are quick to assess the limited company that occupy the niche, and crown a #1. The female rap game is slim only compared to the male populace, and even now in 2018, we are still surprised by the phenomenon. Nicki and Cardi are the behemoths of the market, and are truly more similar than they are different. Perhaps the differences can’t be found, because they are equally as worthy of the crown. I’m letting myself take another shortcut today, and awarding MVP to both….it’s a draw!