The rap superstar delivers a show that kills and forgives its delay
Nicki Minaj is late. Two giant screens on either side of the main stage deliver that message to the large and growing crowd waiting for their latest headliner wirelessly. Some take this as a sign of departure; we’re on the third day of a festival that’s been pushing 30 degrees all weekend, and it’s a Sunday, after all. But most stay put, eager to see Minaj take the stage – even if it’s only for 45 minutes.
The choice of music on hold is questionable, with audiences regularly mistaking the numerous pauses in Busta Rhymes’ “Break Ya Neck” as indications of the rapper’s imminent arrival. Not twice, but three times, a premature round of applause breaks out in Finsbury Park. When Minaj arrives, time is running out against her and she wastes no time reaching for the punches.
Haven’t released an album since 2018 Queen, Minard offers a set composed mainly of hits that date back a decade. It’s a brilliant throwback moment in the festival and includes a bumper-to-bumper medley of his best collabs. Her status as queen of guest verses remains firmly intact, despite the conspicuous absence of her beloved verse on Kanye West’s 2010 track “Monster.” While the omission remains unexplained tonight, last week she has told a New Orleans audience that she was “Monster’d out” and appeared to diss her collaborator, saying, “We don’t fuck clowns.”
Instead, she seamlessly oscillates between the lightning-fast rhymes of 2011’s “Dance (A$$)” and the daring of her collaborations with Beyoncé with 2014’s “Flawless” and “Feeling Myself.” are my caribbean people? she asks before launching into Sean Kingston’s 2011 hit “Dutty Love.” Newer versions do just as well. People are loving 2017’s “Rake It Up,” which found new life thanks to a viral TikTok trend. To the delight of the audience, she releases American rapper Bia for the remix of 2020’s “Whole Lotta Money.” The pair dance on a rotating circle of poles set up like a sexy carousel.
It’s hard to say if this compilation of 30-second sound bites was still the plan, or an abbreviated version of the show cut short due to the late start. Either way, it’s a satisfying solution for an act that has too many standout tracks to present them all in full. It also makes for one of the most sing-along shows at the festival, with almost everyone shouting the lyrics to these songs from their youth. Replacing Ariana Grande on “Side to Side” is a particularly euphoric moment.
It takes a while for Minaj to adjust to the crowd, and dancing is usually kept to a minimum. A hip kick here. A body rolls there. “Anaconda,” of course — Minaj’s 2014 cultural reset and ode to all big asses — calls for something more dramatic. The musician leans over and twerks for the camera, drawing the loudest applause of the night. “Feeling Myself” is accompanied by a suitably exciting grinding of a leather futon. At one point, Minaj effortlessly lifts a diamond-studded boot above her head as if to say she still has it. But it’s her facial gymnastics, a longtime Minaj signature, that continues to fascinate. Assaulting the camera as she raps to 2010’s “Did It on ‘Em,” the screens behind her display iterations of the past star: full bangs, pink hair, snarling.
By the time Minaj begins to wrap up with her hit “Superbass,” it’s clear the crowd got what they came for. And when she disappears, to the emotional heights of 2010’s “Moment 4 Life,” it’s in a cloud of cheers. His late departure is almost forgotten.