Nicki Minaj performs at KIIS radio's 2012 Wango Tango in May. (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles…)
At best, it's counterintuitive to insult your headliner right before they take the stage. Especially if it's Nicki Minaj.
The rapper was set to headline Hot 97′s Summer Jam festival in East Rutherford, N.J., on Sunday but pulled out hours before following disparaging remarks from station personality Peter Rosenberg, who also hosts MTV's "Hip Hop Squares."
Commenting from the festival stage on Minaj's radio-friendly single "Starships," which was produced by pop/dance powerhouse RedOne, the radio personality told the crowd that the New York station was "all about that real hip-hop."
"I know there are some chicks in here waiting to sing along with 'Starships' later," he said between acts at the festival, one of only a few annual hip-hop events of its stature. "I'm not talking to y'all right now." He then dismissed the song with some unprintable language.
The snub didn't sit well with Minaj — or with her label head, Lil Wayne. He pulled the plug on all his Young Money artists set to play at Summer Jam. "The President has spoken," wrote Minaj on Twitter. "I go above and beyond for my fans. But won't ever go against wayne's word. What he says, goes."
Minaj started out as an edgy, underground hip-hop artist in Queens who made a name for herself with razor-sharp raps and warp-speed rhymes. She was a rare example of a successful and respected female emcee in a largely male-dominated genre.
But since the April release of her sophomore album, "Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded," Minaj has been criticized in some hip-hop circles for turning her back on the world she came from.
She raised hackles among Catholics and conservative Christians with her provocative, "Exorcist"-themed Grammy performance this year, and complaints from music fans that felt she was trying too hard to be controversial, a la Lady Gaga.
The glossy Euro-pop track "Starships" (the album's first single) offered an infectious chorus, fist-pumping breakdowns and a "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" sample. The song debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard pop chart, only her second solo Top 10 debut, after the equally pop-focused "Super Bass."
Minaj unapologetically attempted to sate both longtime fans wanting the venomous verses they fell in love with on mix tapes and her newer, pop-loving delegation that appreciated the whimsy of "Super Bass" and singsongy pop numbers such as the David Guetta collaboration, "Turn Me On."
Times pop critic Randall Roberts commented that the album's dance tracks sinked the disc: "In a spectacularly unfortunate crash-and-burn, Minaj abruptly hits the accelerator and stops rapping, leaving behind the minimal, bouncy hip-hop tracks that highlight her charm and achievement in favor of 128-beat-per-minute dance pop songs as simple as they are generic," he wrote.
When Minaj burst onto the scene in 2010, hip-hop purists hoped her crossover success would resurrect female rap, and a slew of fresh talent bubbled up in her wake. New faces such as Australian bombshell Iggy Azalea, Florida girl Brianna Perry and bawdy spitfire Azealia Banks, especially, have become darlings on rap and indie blogs that have grown disenchanted with Minaj's balancing act.
Minaj, who didn't respond to a request for comment, tweeted that she was especially peeved that Rosenberg, who has christened himself the "Jewish Johnny Carson" and works for a radio station with a predominately African American audience, would diss a black woman. Hip-hop has long been dominated by men, and despite the number of women who have broken through before Minaj came along, femcees have been rare sightings on the charts for nearly a decade.
"It's very disturbing," Perry said when asked about the lack of female rappers on the scene. "I know it's a male-dominated game in hip-hop and rap. It's kind of discouraging being that's what I want to do. But I feel like girls are coming back strong right now. A lot of women are working hard and grinding. The female empowerment is coming back."
Rosenberg didn't return a request for comment but tweeted, "Last night I said nothing different than I have ever said. It was not a personal dis. It was starships is .... WHICH WE ALL KNOW IS TRUE."
Hot 97's Funkmaster Flex, an on-air personality, agreed with Rosenberg and said, "We don't ... with commercial artists no more. We don't give a ... if you commercial or pop and you afraid to touch down in Jersey."
The prolific DJ fueled the controversy after making comments clearly directed toward Minaj. He said he had a career to ruin on his radio show and joked about Minaj's record sales. After re-tweeting negative and positive comments directed toward the station following the incident, he said "all questions will be answered." Minaj was booked to appear on his radio show Monday night. The show will undoubtedly promise big ratings (Minaj's A&R and co-executive producer Safaree Samuels had promised to punch Rosenberg.)