“Tragedy”: Nicki Minaj/Lil Kim Beef Escalates … But Why?

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Kim vs. Nicki

This weekend Nicki Minaj released her verses from “Tragedy,” a track allegedly from Lil Wayne‘s upcoming Tha Carter IV, to New York’s Hot 97. Taken alone, her bars are a brutal Lil Kim dis track.

Why such vitriol? In short, she’s responding to Lil Kim’s retail mixtape Black Friday, itself heavily laden with digs at Ms. Young Money. The title track, which Kim leaked in November, called her a “deluded Kim wannabe,” among many other things.

This beef has been ongoing for nearly two years. When Nicki Minaj rose to the bait of Kim’s 2010 provocations, slyly but insistently putting the older rapper in her place on “Roman’s Revenge” from the platinum-selling Pink Friday, she didn’t even name the Queen Bee, whose only chart appearances in the last seven years have been for 2005′s “Lighters Up” and her lackluster verse on Keyshia Cole’s 2007 single “Let It Go.” Which is as it tends to be in the rap game: if you don’t sell, you don’t exist. So when Kim made the unverified and probably wildly exaggerated claim that Black Friday had sold 113,000 copies in its first week, Nicki Minaj responded in the appropriate fashion:

And yet, here she is again, granting Kim legitimacy even as she tears Kim down. Why?

In part, Nicki Minaj probably once idolized Lil Kim, who was one of the more successful of the mere dozen or so female MCs who even managed to break into the new-school major-label rap game, and it’s got to hurt to hear an idol tear you down.

But really this beef is yet another example of New York rap hegemony. Nicki Minaj may be a Young Money/Cash Money artist, but she’s hardly a New Orleans native. The multitude of voices and characters she employs almost completely conceal a “self,” but make no mistake – ”she is a New York rapper. Just listen to her verse on French Montana’s “New York Minute”: she shares her memory of September 11, laments the deaths of Stack Bundles and Sean Bell, and remind listeners that she “originate[d] from the streets of Southside,” before Jadakiss goes on to favorably mention Brooklynite Lil Kim (among many others).

Lil Kim may not have had a hit in a minute, but the New York rap world’s geographical myopia (there are rappers in the South? What, you mean like Philly?) is counter-balanced by a long memory. Lil Kim still matters to Hot 97, and to Nicki Minaj, no matter how many miles away from South Jamaica, NY she may be.

If Lil Kim keeps clowning herself, this beef is going to fizzle sooner or later; she doesn’t have the Cam’ron charisma/savvy to make a much bigger player pay enough attention for long enough, and her current output is, well, dismal. But if she gets some good beats and drops the Bette Davis-in-All About Eve act, there might be room for both female MCs on the charts.

Dare to dream.

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