Sometimes I want the world to be more interesting than it really is. It’s a flaw of mine, I know. For instance, even though there is little evidence of hostility between rising Young Money Entertainment star Nicki Minaj (now the groomed protégé of Lil Wayne) and Chicago newcomer Nikki Lynette, I find myself imagining a great rivalry that would go down in hip-hop history books as powering out a variety of cutting disses. And after listening (obsessively) to Nikki Lynette’s recently released mixtape Roses ‘N Guns: The Totally Bad Ass Mixtape that Rocks!!!, I know which side I’m on.
I’ve discussed Nicki Minaj before, and I think she’s very talented. Poly-ethnic from Jamaica, Queens, New York, she occasionally puts on more international airs for fun. She can sing, she can dance, she can rap. She was hand-picked by Lil Wayne (to whom she gives constant thanks on her records) and is now a staple of the constant stream of raw material put out by the Young and Cash Money crowds. Her last few mixtapes were fun outings that threw Minaj’s potent lyrics over some of the most popular hip-hop and R&B songs of the year.
Nikki Lynette has the backing, though much more loosely, of fellow Chicago rapper (and A Man and his Mixtape favorite!) Lupe Fiasco. (One day Lupe will actually release his next album, and I’ll finally be able to explain why he is so awesome.) Mostly though, she is on her own. The only notable feature presence on her mixtape is GLC on “Nothing To Worry About.” But still her mixtape came out beautiful and seamless, much of it powered (unsurprisingly given the title) by Lynette’s heavy alternative rock influences (one song delicately, heartbreakingly samples a few bars from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”). She’s defiant in her attitude, high-speed and relentless in her flow, and startlingly emotionally open in her lyrics. She hasn’t yet quite “broke out” in the rap industry, and makes most her living as a producer, multi-media artist (read: web designer) and blogger for ChicagoNow.com.
Minaj has many names: Nicki Lewinski and Nicki the Ninja, which she occasionally goes by on her tracks, plus her given name Onika Tanya Maraj. Lynette, on the other hand, says on one song “Call me what my momma do: Nikki Lynette / Do I really need a name much slicker than that?” Maybe that is where I get these fantasies of a grand rivalry, that line which could be a subtle dig. But I think this really a telling difference between the two ladies. Minaj has a fractured professional identity, playing with names, with Barbie and super hero aesthetics. Much of her work involves quick verse cuts over popular songs. She has a whole posse pulling her in different directions. Lynette feels solid. Confident in her unique style, forthright with controversial opinions, open about her troubled past. Her Roses ‘N Guns doesn’t piggyback on the success of others, it is a mixtape in the new style: a mixtape that is really an album. She produced the whole thing with obsessive attention to detail, I expect. And the effort there shows.
There is no reason to assume a rivalry between these two talented female rappers, and no reason not to like them both. But still, I’m rooting for Lynette, in part because I like her mixtape better, in part because I like her style better. But also because I like the idea of her more. Nicki Minaj was discovered off MySpace by superstars who are basically handing her the keys to success. Nikki Lynette is a producer rapper from Chicago (like Kanye West was) who will probably grind for another three, five, ten years before she finally blows up (though she could blow up today, if the right connections found her). And her music will be better for it.
Download Nikki Lynette’s Roses ‘N Guns: The Totally Bad Ass Mixtape that Rocks!!! at http://www.djbooth.net/index/mixtapes/entry/nikki-lynette-roses-n-guns/. And do keep an eye out for further work by Nicki Minaj, including her first album coming out this year.