Peter Rosenberg on Nicki Minaj’s New Music: “She’s Potentially the Greatest Female MC of All Time”

Hip-hop’s “reigning purist” weighs in on Nicki’s new music

April 22, 2014

Hip-hop's "reigning purist" weighs in on Nicki's new music

"Hell no," Nicki Minaj said today when asked whether there'd be pop songs in the vein of "Super Bass" and "Starships" for her new album, Pink Print. After hearing a definitive response like that, it's hard to not think of Peter Rosenberg. In 2012, the Hot 97 DJ infamously called out Nicki's pop-leaning songs as "not real hip-hop," leading her to withdraw from a planned performance at the radio station's Summer Jam concert. A year later, they made up on-air, but she seems to have taken his criticism to heart. Over the past six months, Nicki's latest tracks and remixes—"Looking Ass Nigga," "Chi-raq" and "Danny Glover”—have all shown a resurgence in the decimating rap style that first brought her to prominence. We called Rosenberg to hear his reaction to Nicki's latest quote, and where her career's going.

What did you think when you saw Nicki say “Hell no”? I wasn’t surprised to hear it, based on the music that she’s been putting out. I wouldn’t say I feel validated—her and I have spoken about music, and I’ve been giving her a positive reinforcement to music she’s already been making. Obviously, I think that circumstance had an effect on her, and it had an effect on me, but I don’t think she’s running out to try to prove something to me. I just think it was the natural progression of where she was in her career. She went one place, and it made sense for her to be there in her eyes, and now it makes sense for her to be here. I’m not trying to be overly political correct, I just don’t take credit for an artist as big as her changing her style. I would feel vindicated if she made really awesome hip-hop like she’s doing and everybody loves it. And I think that will be the case, but it remains to be seen. People will decide, but I think the music she’s been making is pretty dope.

Did you know this one conversation you had with her would lead to so much? I think it played a part, but I think Nicki would’ve eventually come around. Maybe it affected the timing, but she’s a rapper; she was going to eventually rap again.

What does this say to fans who love Nicki precisely for “Super Bass” and “Starships?” If I was her, I wouldn’t worry about people like that, because if they became real fans once they heard that type of song, then they went and listened to her whole body of work. So if you’re the type of person that’s like, “Oh I love ‘Super Bass’ and ‘Starships’ on my iPod for the gym,” you can still listen to those songs at the gym.

In your on-air conversation, it sounded at the time like she wasn’t really trying to hear it from you, but do you feel like she really was paying attention? If anyone read between the lines, you could tell it struck a chord for a reason. She didn’t care about me specifically but she cared about someone anointed by the radio station having a really strong opinion. And I understand the things that happened from the way it came about that were annoying to her, and made me come across as a chauvinistic douche. And I also understand the parts of what I said that are valid. She’s a human being, she’s an artist, and artists are affected by a lot. I think she would’ve been making this music no matter what.

Have you heard any new Nicki music that the public hasn’t heard yet? No. I’m going out to LA next week and I was going to try and see her and see if she’d play something for me. I’ve just been playing “Chi-raq” on my Sunday night show, and it didn’t use to be commonplace that she would have records that I would lay on my Sunday night show, but I thought that “Chi-raq” was pretty awesome. And “Lookin’ Ass.”

What's her place in the hip-hop world now? I don’t think she’s leaving an audience behind or trying to seek out a new audience. I think that she's making music that she loves to make and that was at one point her bread and butter, and I think still is her bread and butter. That said, I do think there’s a chance that there will be different ears on the music because it sounds different. But I don’t think you’re losing true fans. If she made true fans with “Starships” and “Super Bass” and songs like that, then those people really came on board and listened to her—because she’s already had rap on her projects—so I don’t think they’d turn around and say, "Oh my god, I hate this." You might lose peripheral fans that weren’t real fans in the first place.

What do you see her achieving in the next five years? I think of Nicki right now much as she did when she first came out: she's potentially the greatest female MC of all time. I think that’s within her grasp. What I think Nicki wants to do is make her seminal album, and I think she has every bit of potential to make an epic album that would solidify her between the sales and the classic material. She’s a great, great rapper. It’s really all in her hands—she’s so talented and already has such a huge audience. She’s already been pretty big for five years—she’s really sitting on the precipice of being the best female MC of all time. She’s already in the conversation, and it’s just about when and how she cements herself.

What did you think about your New Yorker profile? I was pleased with the way they portrayed my role in hip-hop. The New Yorker article and the NPR piece really investigated what was behind those things, both musically, socially, racially—they really got into it well.

What's the story on the new Hot 97 TV show? We took an opportunity to do a TV show that’s really different and cool and we've gotten tremendous feedback. I know people assumed that it would be some sort of reality show, but I know people who have watched have really gotten into it. I’m super proud of that.

And the next Summer Jam is soon… One day, people will reminisce about what Hot 97 used to do, and think "Why didn’t we appreciate those things when they happened?" Everybody always wants more from Summer Jam, but you look at the lineup this year and you we’re bringing back 50, and you have Nas, and Nicki coming back to the stage. So right there, you already have this awesome Queens thing in general. But then you have like Action Bronson on the main stage. You have Troy Ave on the main stage. You have Jhene Aiko and Childish Gambino on the main stage, too. And The Roots anniversary performance—if I was a hip-hop fan, I’d be like, "Wow, it’s so cool that when shit is getting so mainstream, they seem to consistently put on real hip-hop stuff."

Peter Rosenberg on Nicki Minaj’s New Music: “She’s Potentially the Greatest Female MC of All Time”