This isn’t a Cardi B. vs. Nicki Minaj post. I’m just leading off with Invasion of Privacy because it’s the most recent high-profile example of a single folding into album sales. I don’t believe in pitting female artists against each other in a way that men are never compared. There are 3,000 mumble rappers on the radio and another handful of Doodleface KoolAidHair Rappers that I can’t tell apart, yet we keep acting like there isn’t space for Nicki and Cardi to be great at the same time. Just wanted to put that upfront.
Before Cardi B. even finished her debut album, it had already gone gold. She could’ve released 10 tracks of silence and Invasion of Privacy still would’ve had a Gold Certification from the RIAA upon release because of “Bodak Yellow.”
Congratulations are in order for Cardi B, whose debut album, Invasion of Privacy, dropped minutes ago and is already eligible for a Gold certification.
The Bronx-born rapper can attribute this figure to the massive success of her debut Atlantic Records single, “Bodak Yellow,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100 last September and is certified 5x Multi-Platinum (5 million units) by the RIAA. As Chart Data recently noted, 10 track units equal one album sale, which means Invasion of Privacy has moved 500,000 units on the strength of “Bodak Yellow” alone, enough to earn a Gold certification.
In the age of digital music, it helps to have a single that massive as a prelude to your album because those streams and downloads eventually count toward your album’s streams and downloads, and in turn, toward your album’s sales. Back in the day, we bought singles from the store. That was the end of that purchase. The album came out a couple of months later, and we bought that too — with the lead single somewhere in the track listing — but those were two separate purchases. Now, you can pull up an entire album, listen to one song on loop all day, and those streams count toward the album’s total streams. Listening to a 10-track album straight through is the same as streaming one of those songs 10 times. The same goes for downloads. If you and ten of your friends download one single, y’all just bought an album.
Nicki Minaj released Queen last week and whether you love it or not, I think it’s hard to ignore that there are at least some really great spots on the album…but it’s too long. Very long albums with 26 tracks (including interludes) would pop up from time to time when I first started buying CDs in the 90s, but most artists get in and get out. Here’s 45-53 minutes of music over 11 to 13 tracks, and we’re done. Queen is an example of the current trend of artists releasing overly long albums (whose quality could benefit from a lot more editing) in the digital age to capitalize on album equivalent units.
Drake released Scorpion and it has 25 tracks. It doesn’t need 25 tracks. Only 8 tracks are memorable. But having 25 tracks means streaming it through once is already double the number of streams for a shorter album. Plus, the more tracks you release, the higher chance that someone will latch on to one of those songs and put it on loop.
Artists have less of an incentive to really buckle down and find the cream of the crop for the final track listing because consumers don’t have to listen to albums straight through anymore. Do y’all remember cassettes? If you hated a song, you had to fast forward…play to check your spot…fast forward…play to check your spot…rewind a little because you overshot…and then start the song you like. Now, you don’t even have to download that song or keep that song in the album’s playlist. Making an album in 1988 meant you had to be 100% in love with everything you put there as an artistic statement. You had to really stand behind every track because every consumer had to listen to every track and you wanted to make sure every track was a fair representation of what you wanted to say on the album. In 2018, if you have 12 tracks you love, there’s really no harm in putting out the other 13 that would’ve been left on the cutting room floor. In fact, it benefits you because who knows which of those songs will connect with enough people to give your album another sales boost through selective streaming and downloading. A stream is a stream. A download is a download. Even if the vast majority of people think it’s crap, the people who don’t think so are still contributing to your sales.
But the most cynical way to pad your sales is to take a big single, sometimes with another artist, and tack it on to your album.
Nicki Minaj released Queen without her collaboration with 6ix9ine because it doesn’t fit on the album. It makes no sense within the context of that project (or her career at all really) and it felt like a publicity stunt for cash and publicity leading into the release of her album. Queen doesn’t need “Fefe” and its inclusion would bring down the overall quality of the album.
That would’ve mattered in 1988, but in 2018, “Fefe” is just straight sales and album equivalent units. Now that the first sales weekend numbers have come in, Nicki’s team can clearly see she’s not going to hit the numbers posted by Cardi or Kanye or Travis Scott or any of the other high profile hip-hop releases this year. She might not even hit the top spot if Travis Scott’s album holds over well for a second week. To mitigate that damage, Queen now has “Fefe” tacked on to it, which is currently one of the most popular songs in the country, especially on streaming platforms. Now that “Fefe” is officially included on the tracklist for Queen, every stream goes toward her album’s sales which could give her an extra boost to capture the #1 spot. Further, the album will reach RIAA certifications faster because — like “Bodak Yellow” — it’s a big single whose streaming and downloads will count toward album equivalent units.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this because taking advantage of a format just means you’re playing the game efficiently, but Nicki Minaj shouldn’t be playing the game. Nicki Minaj can rest on her talent and her impact and her legacy (ie some of the best rap features of the past decade). She shouldn’t be pulling tricks to boost sales numbers. And she shouldn’t be referencing “stats” to prove she’s better than other female rappers.
.@NickiMinaj on being compared to other female rappers: “To me, it’s silly now to compare me to women cause there’s no woman that can come in right now […] that, realistically, can put up the stats.”pic.twitter.com/I9csVSFOMw— Pop Crave (@PopCraveNet)
There’s only one female rapper (one female artist, period) to chart thirteen entries on the Billboard Hot 100 in the same week and it’s not Nicki Minaj. There’s only one female rapper whose first three singles landed in the Top 10. We can actually go down the list of chart achievements for Cardi B.’s first year out the gate and she completely washes Nicki Minaj at the same point in her career but guess what. Anybody who fixes their face to say Cardi B. is a better rapper than Nicki Minaj is just a garbage person with disingenuous opinions formed by a My Fave vs. Your Fave mentality that has nothing to do with the quality of the music. Cardi makes bops and I *love* Invasion of Privacy, but Nicki would mop the floor with her in a battle, and that’s just plain common sense. Nicki Minaj shouldn’t even be entertaining conversations about who is better than who because Nicki is better than everybody! She should be resting on her talent and letting the music speak for itself! Instead, she gets into embarrassing spats with casual listeners who have mild criticisms, she encourages her rabidly devoted fanbase to display the most horrid behavior online, she collaborates with a wildly polarizing inferior talent just for publicity, she tries to put public pressure on music legends to clear samples for her, and she changes the tracklist of her album to inflate her sales numbers. These are not the moves of a secure boss who knows their talent is enough to keep them at the top of the industry. These are the insecure stunts of a brat who can’t bear the slight possibility of being second in a contest that doesn’t matter.
Janet Jackson had five top 5 singles from Control, was nominated for Grammy of the Year, and had one of the most influential albums of the 80s. And then her choreographer released a MONSTER of a debut album that had everybody comparing the two of them. When Paula Abdul released Forever Your Girl, it became the most successful debut album of all time (up to that point) and Paula became the first artist to notch four #1 singles from their debut album.
In response to Paula’s astounding success straight out the gate following a format Janet laid the blueprint for a few years earlier, Janet Jackson decided to get into a public war with the press, brag about her sales numbers, and release a terrible collaboration with a convicted sex offender.
Wait. No she didn’t. Janet Jackson released Rhythm Nation (still the only album to produce SEVEN top 5 singles), nabbed nine Grammy nominations (including the first Producer of the Year nom for a woman), and put on the most successful debut concert tour in history. Then she spent the next decade laying the foundation for every pop/dance/R&B diva to come after her. And you haven’t heard a Paula Abdul song since 1991.
That’s what a legend does. That’s what someone secure in their talent does. The new chick on the block DOES NOT MATTER when you know what you are bringing to the table. Nicki Minaj needs to stop worrying about what the industry is saying about Cardi B. or any other rapper and focus on making her Rhythm Nation.
I think Nicki Minaj is beyond talented. I don’t like everything she puts on record but that’s because we have different tastes. You can’t say that someone who outshone everybody else on “Monster” is untalented just because they rhymed “kong” with “kong” thirty times. Nicki Minaj doesn’t rhyme the same word with the same word over and over because she couldn’t think of another word — she does that because that’s what she wanted to do for that part of that song. If a world class chef makes a ham sandwich, they’re still a world class chef — they just decided to make a ham sandwich that day because that’s what they wanted to make.
And just like I don’t expect to like every song by every artist I like, I don’t expect to like all the parts of someone’s personality. Part of hip-hop is being braggadocious and constantly promoting yourself as the best in the game or the best who ever did it. I accept that, but desperation isn’t a good look on anyone. If you’re the highest paid female rapper in history with more chart entries than Aretha Franklin and co-signs from every influential rapper, producer, entertainer across the industry, you don’t need to get into a Twitter beef with a casual listener or collaborate with a disgusting joke of a rapper no one will even remember in five years. Just be a legend and let your talent speak for itself.