And in the end, Nicki Minaj is still No. 2.
The results of this week’s chart battle are in. And Nicki Minaj’s Queen sits firmly at No. 2 behind Travis Scott’s Astroworld, which spends a second week on top of the Billboard 200 (for the chart dated August 25).
Normally a No. 2 début is nothing to sneeze at, but in the dog-eat-dog world of hip-hop, where bragging rights are just as important as streaming numbers – maybe even more so, the news of a second-place bow on the Billboard charts is about as welcome as learning you fell a credit shy of earning that degree you’ve been working four years to obtain, or that you came a microsecond short of winning in a photo-finish 100-yard dash.
Except, in this case, it wasn’t a photo finish.
Minaj fell short by a sizable number (185,000 units for Queen vs. 205K for Astroworld). That difference is magnified by the fact that Astroworld was a second-week figure as the album debuted last week (with over 500K album-equivalent units, the second-highest figure of 2018).
This means that, even with all the anticipation of Queen’s arrival – and despite the album’s positive reviews and the hype for its most-streamed track “Barbie Dreams” – it couldn’t topple an album that had already been on the market a full week. What’s more, Queen failed to achieve the numbers that fellow femcee and rival Cardi B’s Invasion Of Privacy did (over 200K units back in April), or give Minaj that No. 1 that Cardi’s album gave her.
This outcome is especially surprising when considering that some pretty desperate measures were taken by Minaj and the people at Young Money/Cash Money/Republic Records to ensure a high début.
When reports initially surfaced of Minaj’s Queen getting lower-than-expected streaming and sales numbers last Monday – three days into the album’s release – Minaj and co. took matters into their own hands and did the unprecedented.
On Tuesday, they took a top-10 song on which Minaj was featured (6ix9ine’s “FEFE”) and added it as a bonus track to Queen, to boost the numbers on the latter.
Of course, adding a bonus track to an album is nothing new, even in hip-hop. But three things set this one apart from other similar moves: 1) “FEFE” is 6ix9ine’s single, not Minaj’s; 2) “FEFE” was originally released on a totally different label (Ten Thousand Projects); and 3) this addition occurred midway through the first week of Queen’s availability, clearly a move to boost the album’s dismal streaming numbers for its début chart week.
In other words, who knows how much lower the album’s numbers would have been had “FEFE” not been factored in during the last three days of the Billboard tracking period.
It was already a given that Minaj’s new project was a personal statement record in a year where she was seeing her first real competition in the female rap game since she first hit the scene nearly a decade ago. That fate was sealed when fellow New York rapper Cardi B – who a year ago hadn’t even hit the charts yet – went from reality TV star to rap’s latest fem fatale by scoring a number one début album and two number one singles in the span of eight months.
This Minaj album was being watched by fans – both Nicki’s and Cardi’s – and industry people alike to see not only whether the more veteran rapper could recover from a series of setbacks this year (including poorer-than-normal numbers on various pre-album single releases), but also whether two rap women could coexist at the top of the rap food chain.
The jury is still out on the latter question, as being in the top two on the charts is still a big deal and certainly does not signal the end of a career. Minaj could easily recover and score a No. 1 album with a future release.
But these results have to be disappointing for the people in Minaj’s camp and Minaj herself. Because in the end, rap and hip-hop is about more than just chart numbers and sales figures, it’s about braggadocio and ego.
And rap’s self-appointed Queen just took a major hit to hers.
Side fact: With Minaj’s No. 2 début (and presumed peak), the year 1999 remains the only one that two different femcees have topped the Billboard 200 during the same year. That’s when both Foxy Brown and Eve had number one sets. Ironically, Foxy, who shares a Trinidadian background with Nicki, is featured on “Coco Chanel,” a much talked about song from Minaj’s new album.