There might not be a fanbase more dedicated than Nicki Minaj’s Barbz. At Sunday's Pinkprint show at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, they were out in full force—tweens in custom merch, 20-somethings in impossibly high platforms, and fans across the age, race, and gender spectrum paying homage by wearing variations of her once-signature wigs. At some point during Nicki’s long set, a handful of rogue concertgoers snuck their way down to the front row to be closer to their queen. When stringent security demanded they show their tickets, on the threat of being ejected back to whichever nosebleed seats they came from, a group of fans who had ostensibly paid hundreds of dollars for prime seating at the stadium came to the intruders’ defense. “It’s ok, it’s ok! We’re all here for Nicki,” they pleaded. Indeed we were.
The narrative of her post-mixtape career, when she made the jump from VladTV to the VMAs, has focused on the perceived split between her pop and rap selves. It's presumed that Pop Nicki and Rap Nicki are at odds, with the former reaching suburban kids and their parents in Middle America, and having forsaken the latter to do so. But as unfair as that narrative is to Nicki, it's especially unfair to the Barbz, who ate up "Grand Piano" with as much gusto as they rapped along to the dense loosie "Lookin' Ass." And as she ran through several outfit changes while tearing through diverse hits like "Pound the Alarm" and "Beez In The Trap," it became clear the extent to which her catalog has something for everyone. Three albums into her career, it’s less about the division between the different Nickis, and moreso about the way they form like a Swarovski-bedecked Voltron. Sort of like an all-powerful combination of her support acts—a little Dej Loaf mixed with a little Tinashe, with some Rae Sremmurd and Meek Mill thrown in to the mix.
That every woman-ness was also represented in her now-regular bouts of motivational speaking. In the same way that Kanye's Yeezus tour was routinely punctuated with free-wheeling thoughts about commerce, fashion, and politics, Nicki interrupts her Pinkprint show to deliver the mission statement that has made her queen of her kingdom—an earnest, empowering plea for her fans, and for those fans who are young women in particular, to find independence, to work hard, and to manifest their dreams. If a little girl from Queens could do it, so, too, can her Barbz.
But there was an owl-shaped elephant in the room—how, if at all, would Nicki address the ongoing saga that puts her in trine to her boyfriend and her labelmate-cum-occasional-suitor? When Meek Mill publicly accused Drake of not writing his own raps, and Drake retaliated with a diss track, it wasn’t just the two rappers’ beef with each other that was interesting, but the intrinsic messiness of their connections that intrigued most.
At Barclays, Nicki brought out Lil Wayne, and, as he bobbed around to “Loyal,” “A Milli,” and “6 Foot 7 Foot,” I heard more than one person wonder what that meant for Drake. As they repeatedly fawned over each other—at one point she instructed the audience to “make some noise for the man that singlehandedly changed my life,” to which Wayne responded, “There’s a certain person by the name of Nicki Minaj who be kicking my ass”—it was hard not to wonder what that meant for Drake, who was not mentioned at all. After all, with Wayne and Birdman's dramatic, Young Thug-accelerated split, the YMCMB family has already begun to splinter. If it's going to implode again, the Barbz need Onika to let us know.