Nicki Minaj showed up in Brooklyn last night and promptly made a statement that she is much more than the raunchy, fast-rapping, bad-bitch alter ego she’s been reduced to in media circles. In a two-hour, sold-out performance at the Barclays Center that featured her boyfriend and Philly rapper Meek Mill and a surprise set by Lil Wayne, Minaj was at times sweet, funny, vulnerable, and inspirational — terms rarely used to describe her.
That’s not to say her set at Barclays didn’t include the record-breaking “Anaconda” or countless other hits in which her ass was fully on display. But the tone she set from the start, when she led off with a trio of ballads — “All Things Go,” “I Lied,” and “The Crying Game” — hinted at the way the evening would progress.
Minaj came on after a set by Mill in which he addressed his feud with Drake — Mill had claimed that Drake has a ghostwriter for his raps. Drake responded with a diss track. On Sunday night, Mill said he heard the track on social media and said it “was very soft, baby-lotion soft.” He didn’t return to the subject, though he later came on with Minaj at the end of her set to close out the evening.
For her part, Minaj did not discuss her comments on Twitter about the VMAs, or the conversation she and Taylor Swift had that prompted an apology from Swift. Minaj focused strictly on her fans, playing hits from Pink Friday and The Pinkprint, as well as verses from remixes like “Flawless,” the Beyoncé feminist anthem.
She returned to that feminist theme time and time again, exhorting the women and girls in the audience to stay in school, to empower themselves by forging their own paths and following their dreams, and to make sure to rely on themselves and God first, and not on the boys and men in their lives. At the end of one such message, she giggled: “The men are like, ‘Why did I come here?’ ”
At one point, she stopped the set and told the crowd: “It means so much to me that we are standing in an arena being headlined by a little girl from Queens that rap.” The Brooklyn crowd hollered, showering her with the praise she has garnered since she came on the scene a little more than three years ago with pink hair and flamboyant outfits.
It has been quite a ride for Minaj, who has forged a career in the male-dominated hip-hop and rap game while transcending the genre by fusing pop and hip-hop. The audience loved every second of that ride on Sunday night, singing with her when her voice faltered and taking over her raps when she stopped. She seemed overwhelmed by the love at times, expressing delight and surprise over the fact that the Brooklyn crowd knew every single song.
When she brought out Lil Wayne near the end of the night, the energy in the room climbed even higher. Weezy came on just as “Loyal” bumped through the speakers. He then went through a set of “6 Foot, 7 Foot,” “Glory,” and “A Milli.” He told the crowd that Minaj was the greatest rapper right now, which she turned back on him. “I saw this before she even thought it was possible,” he said. “So make some noise for my vision.”
Minaj brought Mill back out at the end for a few sweet duets before closing the night with the crowd-pleaser “Starships.” Despite a few sound and set issues and some notable awkward pauses here and there, the crowd in Brooklyn seemed to love every minute of it.