Artist // Instagram
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.
The Nicki Minaj train is barreling full force into a thick cloud of ominous fog; there's no telling whether there will be more track waiting on the other side, or if there will be a steel wall bringing the journey to an end. At 35 years old, she's had one hell of a journey – possibly the best in women's rap history. Over the course of a decade, Nicki became one of the world's biggest artists, marrying genres and cultures together with effortless ease. Now that she's possibly in the twilight of her career, we may be in the midst of seeing her pivot towards another calling, similar to Joe Budden, that being radio. While their journeys aren't perfectly in sync, it's evident that Nicki's been analyzing his blueprint to perhaps become a paragon of urban radio.
Nicki's journey started with the creation of Queen Radio ahead of her fourth studio album Queen. On Aug. 8, she announced her new endeavor to facilitate discussion and control the narrative surrounding her upcoming project. Her misfiring singles and allegations of verbal assault against music journalists were creating a volatile atmosphere of fear and anxiety on her behalf. To cut through the tension and take control, her Beats 1 show would serve that purpose. Her program was different than the ones that Apple Music gave to Travis Scott, The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, DJ Khaled and, most notably Drake. Nicki would be the lone voice that would speak to her fans. They just didn't know about what.
The first episode made it clear which Nicki that fans would be getting. There were no shenanigans or restrained attempts at familiarity: this was Nicki at her harshest, giving the facts without excessive bullshit encasing them. Her words cut through attempts at snaking the narratives; her explanation of "Barbie Dreams" quickly dismantled the absurd rumor that she had actually slept with the numerous names she claimed on the song and then a second rumor that her diss was serious. Her words soothed the culture and played a part in vanquishing tabloid headlines in the works.
Week in and week out, Nicki's show has grown from a fringe album promotion tactic with curious fans feeding in to hear new insight to a cultural phenomenon that explores in-the-moment events and offers new understanding. What, on the surface, appeared to be needless attacks on Travis Scott for selling more than her with the use of merchandise bundles, exposed the wider world to ways of gaming Billboard's sales algorithm. She also brought labelmate Tyga onto the show to help the world understand his role in pushing Kylie Jenner's brand to the urban icon status she inhabits today. Just recently, when The Cosby Show actor Geoffrey Owens was exposed as an employee of Trader Joe's possibly in need of opportunity, Nicki pledged $25,000 to helping him get on his feet. Many of the biggest moments in pop culture from the last month either run through her show or have been impacted by it.
There are no true indicators yet, but now may be as good a time as ever for Nicki to push for new territory. Reception for Queen has been all across the board. At 35 years old, she's growing further into her legendary status, away from the next generation hailed by the likes of Cardi B, Tierra Whack, and The City Girls. While there's still plenty of life in her career left, she runs the risk of damaging her legacy the older she gets. As Kanye West and Nas have shown this summer, it becomes increasingly harder to innovate successfully with age. Instead of taking notes from iconoclasts before her, she should and is probably looking towards Joe Budden's rapidly blossoming empire.
Joe Budden's journey began on the tristate mixtape circuit of his late teens, culminating with a Def Jam contract when he was 20 years old. "Pump It Up" is his 2003 smash that everyone knows, gracing everything of the time period from You Got Served to Def Jam Vendetta. He held a brief co-host gig in 2004 at Hot 97, this being his first taste of broadcast radio. Budden eventually turned his back on it at the behest of then-Def Jam executive Kevin Liles. By 2007, he was emancipated from Def Jam after a few years of delays and radio silence. He fell into a moody rap funk, creating music that touched on the darker side of his psyche. This was him at his angriest. He musically butted heads with everyone from The Game to Lil B The Based God over the next couple of years.
He eventually hit the reality television circuit, spending two years on Love & Hip-Hop: New York with model girlfriend Tahiry Jose, and then a year with Kaylin Garcia on Couples Therapy. This carried him throughout 2015; his penchant for romantic encounters spurned three of his most emotional projects: No Love Lost, Some Love Lost, and All Love Lost. Perhaps inspired by his experiences and the culmination of a relationship and the pursuit of something new, Budden launched I'll Name This Podcast Later, signaling his return to rap commentary—it would later be rebranded as the Joe Budden Podcast—through a period of growth, thanks to his unflinching ability to critique without boundaries. In 2017, he became a third of Complex's Everyday Struggle cast and further pushed his brand as the snarky, grizzled OG forgoing words of wisdom for blunt truths. But that wouldn't last long; by December of that year, he had left the program because it was becoming farther and farther away from the vision that he had for it.
Today, Budden is perhaps rap's biggest personality. He has an exclusive, six-figure podcast partnership deal with Spotify and he's preparing for the premiere of a television series called State of The Culture with REVOLT TV. His opinion is not only validated, it's central to cultural growth. Nearly all lanes flow through Budden's orbit. It all started from finding a passion outside of music once it became a little harder to fit in and developing it.
Nicki's obviously in a different position, but she's definitely learning from Budden's imprint. Budden's not the first hip-hop iconoclast to pivot to radio; the legendary Angie Martinez worked with Funkmaster Flex in her teens but stepped away for musical reasons, eventually returning to become one of the culture's most recognized voices. But what makes Budden's domination of media channels so important is that his boldness, which would have been frowned upon any other time prior to now, has seen him reap more benefits than he could imagine. Nicki's own boldness mirrors Budden's and, now that she has her own radio show, we can see that. The show could even be considered a practice run for when she really does make the switch.
The similarities between Nicki and Budden are slim. Aside from them both being rap paragons equally adept in cultural commentary as they are in their skills on the mic, there's nothing that brings them together. In fact, they've been against each other in the past. They exchanged jabs about her previous relationship with Meek Mill in 2016 and Budden recently offered some inside details into Nicki's pre-album actions on his podcast (he blamed them on alleged drugs). While there may be bad blood between them, Nicki's learning from his blueprint to try her hand at fulltime cultural criticism in the near future. She has the chops for it. Now, all she needs is to switch her focus. Hopefully, in the near future, the two can become amicable. Divided, they're forces to be reckoned with. Together, the things that they could accomplish would be legendary.
More by Trey Alston: