Last Friday’s re-release of Nicki Minaj’s breakout 2009 mixtape Beam Me Up Scotty comes as a growing number of popular artists open up their back-catalogs to streaming platforms. For artists whose profile grew at the height of the blog era, many of these early releases offer a look at important moments of experimentation. The Weeknd’s House of Balloons and Jhené Aiko’s Sailing Soul(s) mixtapes hit streaming in March; Lil Wayne’s iconic 2009 mixtape No Ceilings last August; a smattering of Drake loosies were collected into his Care Package compilation in 2019. The re-release of Beam Me Up Scotty comes with three new songs, plus much of the original tape, creating fertile ground for discovery and re-discovery across the Nicki Minaj fandom.
It’s also a reminder of a different time. Minaj’s ascent came as rap made by women seemed to be on the decline. The number of women signed to major labels reportedly went from more than 40 to just three between the late eighties and 2010; after her arrival, Minaj became a singular figure in music for almost a decade. Pink Friday, Minaj’s debut studio album released in 2010, became the first solo album by a woman rapper to go platinum in seven years.
Beam Me Up Scotty paved the way for that accomplishment. While it was the mixtape’s Lil Wayne feature, “I Get Crazy,” that made it to the rap charts, “Itty Bitty Piggy” stands out as the classic record. On the re-release, it replaced “I Get Crazy” as the first track of the mixtape cuts. On her remix of Soulja Boy’s “Donk,” Nicki masterfully raps over the pummeling, hyperactive production. Across both tracks she establishes her wit and vocal dynamism as indelible instruments. There’s her theatrical delivery, like when she raps: “So I’m up in Mandalay, eating mang-ohhs/Keep a couple pink toes in my sand-olhhs/Got some bangles all over my ank-olhhs/Such a star, they singing the “Star Spang-olhd Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-banner!” on “I Get Crazy,” with prissy elongation. And her playful charm, like on “Itty Bitty Piggy,” when she sings nursery rhymes to her haters. “These bitches so cranky/Get ’em a hanky/M-mommy, I’m cold/Gimme my blankie.”
At the same time, Minaj brought a more down to earth humanity to her persona with revealing spoken interludes. “In the end, it’s not going to be about my talent, you know?” she says gently on “Intro,” a poignant moment on the tape. “It’s gonna be about who wants it the most…and I want it the most.”
Beam Me Up Scotty also takes listeners to a time before any of Minaj’s varied transgressions, proven and alleged, had come to the surface. The most sinister accusation, as reported by the Daily Beast, is that associates of hers and her husband spent months in 2020 harassing the woman he was convicted in 1995 of sexually assaulting. Minaj claimed that her husband, Kenneth Petty, was wrongfully accused. The survivor is adamant that Petty attempted to rape her, and that she never tried to recant her report, as Minaj claimed on a 2019 episode of her Apple Music show Queen Radio. The survivor also says that a barrage of harassment and intimidation led her to move three times last year, eventually out of state. On “Fractions,” a new song bundled in the Beam Me Up Scotty re-release, Minaj seems to take account of these claims: “I’m the one who run the city where they armed and vicious/Accusations on them blogs and they all fictitious,” are her first bars on the track.
Minaj also oversees a brazen fan army, the Barbz, who will cyberbully her critics with or without her provocation. In the summer of 2018, while Nicki promoted her last studio album, Queen, Minaj sent an insult laden DM to a freelance writer who mildly critiqued her output on Twitter. After the writer publicly condemned the messages, she said she received distressing comments across her social media, email, and cellphone, targeting not only her, but her four-year-old daughter. And while Nicki made critics the opposition, she cozied up with rap-villian Tekashi69, even after he pled guilty to a sex crime against a child, and again after he testified against the gang affiliates that aided his ascent.
Twelve years after Beam Me Up Scotty, there are many more women making popular rap music and there’s no doubt that Nicki Minaj’s success has inspired the variety and competition that exists now. From harsh critic Azealia Banks to Latto (f.k.a. Mulatto), a self-proclaimed Barb, there has been a parade of women rappers that have been molded by Nicki Minaj since she’s broken out. Rising artists like Yung Baby Tate and Iamdoechii and new stars like Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion are her lineage. Women across rap explore the contours of their voices, building on a framework established by Nicki. They complement their raps with delicate singing. They have tapped into her over-the-top wardrobe and wigs. Many came up remaking Nicki’s songs and at their most fortunate, they’ve been able to collaborate with her. Now, the current landscape of women in rap outshines Nicki Minaj’s seminal mixtape.
Today, there’s a more seamless integration of disparate genres and moods across rap by women; there are more modern and intricate production choices; there’s a wider array of flows and cadences; there are rappers with stronger singing chops. The re-release of Nicki Minaj’s breakout mixtape is a ploy of nostalgia, and for many a welcome one, but it’s most valuable as a reminder of how far rap music has come – and that it could be headed to a place where Nicki Minaj may become obsolete.