Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Nicki Minaj – Chun-Li

Looking to earn your highest score as a lead artist since 2015? Simple! Just name your next song after a Street Fighter character and watch the points pile up…


Pedro João Santos: The quintessence of Nicki Minaj has always been her malleability: menacing, hard-edged in one minute, effervescently batshit in the other. This was best evidenced by the smörgåsbord of theatrical rap and faceless, exhilarating pop defined by Pink Friday: Roman ReloadedThe Pinkprint absorbed these phenomena through mellower Nicki’s confessionals, usual braggadocio and less ostensive sexuality. (See also: the power of a Grammy exorcism.) So it’s surprising to arrive at “Chun-Li” and see how she thrives best in the amalgamation of it all. It’s notably streamlined: acerbically cutting, antagonistic bars superimposed on a sharp, horn-punctuated beat. Yes, the greater instance of fanfare on this tough-as-nails ode to Bad Guy Nicki via Ninja Nicki is literal. The song not only excels by contravening her recent plaintive instincts and depending on her inexorable ferocity and competence — it earns an instant spot among her finest.

Alfred Soto: Unless a miracle happens, it’s already peaked in the top ten and falling. The best solo Minaj single in years, “Chun-Li” deserves to blast out of every car. Following “2 Chainz” with “ding dong” and a backdrop that incorporates a horn bleat and wobbly synth line will do it. “They need rappers like me” — don’t we ever.

Rachel Bowles: There’s no way this finesse was a coincidence, surely? I doubt anything the Queen of Rap does is by chance. If so, it hurts to know that my favourite rappers are warring but not to hear it. Though “Barbie Tingz” is my favourite of the two declarations, “Chun-Li” follows the same pinkprint: stripped back beats and Nicki’s incredible charisma and cadence. That understated purr — an iteration of her signature trill — is a divine touch. Lord knows we need rappers like her.

Tobi Tella: The Nicki Minaj-Cardi B comparisons irk me; just because there are now two mainstream females who are popular and undoubtedly rappers they have to be compared and pit against each other, while there are a million men in the rap game that sound the same. That said, I think having competition put some fire in Nicki, because comparing “Chun-Li” and the singles she released last year, there’s such a difference in the amount of passion put in. It’s an abrasive, aggressive song — exactly what anyone would come to listen to Minaj for. She gets in some great punchlines, and even the ones that don’t work (sorry, you can’t convince me that “Lara BEEN Croft” isn’t stupid) are delivered with so much fervor that you stay in the song’s energy until she drops another great line. It even has the trademark Nicki Minaj WTF moment, with her suddenly comparing herself to King Kong for about 30 seconds in the middle of the second verse. Nicki just delayed her album, but if it’s all the quality of this and “Barbie Tingz,” it’ll definitely be worth the wait.

Ryo Miyauchi: Nicki’s creative enough to craft her own cartoon voice instead of borrowing one from the most overdone movie in hip hop, but I suppose there are few out there that provides a better voice for the delusion of grandeur than Tony Montana’s. Sadly, though, “Chun-Li” finds Nicki more on the point closer to the fall than the rise to power. There’s a labored energy to elicit cleverness from the collage-like spread of references to rhyme schemes, as if to prove she’s yet to grow out of touch.

Edward Okulicz: The easy confidence Minaj exudes as she rides the boom-bap beat for about half of the run-time of “Chun-Li” is a delight. More hard punch than Spinning Bird Kick, but satisfying. But she sure runs out of steam some way through the second verse, repeating lines about King Kong, dropping a 2 Chainz-related clunker and eventually almost strangling the song in its last seconds with asking for a Wi-Fi password. It’s a pity, because she sounds primed for a fight, and the production is like barbed wire knuckles in velvet gloves.

Jonathan Bogart: Eight years between “let me get this straight, wait, I’m the rookie?” and “oh, I get it, they paintin’ me out to be the bad guy.” Well, sure. Not to endorse some facile “either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain” pop mythography, but one of the reasons Nicki has to work harder than any of her peers to maintain her credibility (well, besides sexism, or rather a nested subcategory within sexism, because none of this would apply if she wasn’t a woman) is her relentless pursuit of beef. Fight enough people, and at a certain point you’re no longer a ronin, just a bully. But God, nobody fights more entertainingly.

Reader average: [4.86] (15 votes)

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8 Responses to “Nicki Minaj – Chun-Li”

  1. But how does the Orientalism not sink the song though? Not the use of Chun-Li as a metaphor (which is nicely chosen) but the surrounding debris (the gong, chopsticks as hair accessories, “Siamese links on”)?

  2. Maybe because cartoon Orientalism has always been part of Nicki’s shtick; look at Your Love, her first solo song on the pop chart back in 2010. (Side note: lol I’d forgotten how much “we” hated it.) And yeah, we should probably be more sensitive on the subject by now, but given the way that hip-hop and other elements of Black American culture (not to mention explicit references to Nicki herself) have been adopted in East Asian pop culture it strikes me as less offensive (or at least of a piece with her general shit-talking offensiveness) and more hyperbolic.

    Which isn’t to say anyone taking offense is wrong, or that it shouldn’t sink the song or especially the video for you. I’m certainly not the correct person to be adjudicating appropriation discourse. I wish more of our Asian-diaspora crew had blurbed on this one.

  3. Crystal on “Your Love” (early 2015, I think) influenced my thinking on this.

    The risk of factoring in the use of hip-hop-derived symbolism in East Asian pop cultures is that you either get cranky at both sides (being equally annoyed by “Siamese links on” and CL’s video cutting to shoes hanging from a telephone pole, or J-Hope’s fake dreads), relax on both sides, or risk looking inconsistent. I should go ahead and say that I don’t think any critic could or should be held to a standard of pure consistency (and also, anyone who thinks I went too easy on Netta’s “Toy” is on fair ground) but at this point I’d rather take the generally cranky approach than the generally relaxed one, at least until more people I care about (who have more at stake, I.e. are of color) give the signal to stand down.

    (Cue Ryo saying, “My blurb is RIGHT THERE.”)

  4. My thinking has evolved since early 2015, but that’s not to say that ‘Chun Li’ and it’s imagery aren’t deeply whack. It’s ugly! It’s lazy! It’s boring! It may not feel bad anymore but I think the visuals on this one have been really dumb. That being said, the song bangs.

  5. The spoken word interludes are total nonsense and tank the song. And the bars aren’t very good either tbhhhh

  6. Eh, yeah, pretty much what Crystal said: it’s just too lazy and boring for me to really bother to care about it. (Though, it’s kind of not my place to really invest in it, if we want to get specific to where the East Asian imagery alludes to…) I mean, the depth at which Nicki goes with her lyricism in general here is, like, “dialing Nicki like the Prince song,” which, sure, nice pun, but there’s not much to get out of that besides a quick “I see what you there” laugh.

    The video is a different story.

  7. Unusually for me, I hadn’t really looked at the video until today (if a song doesn’t start within the first minute of a video, I skip it), and yeah, if I’d been taking it into consideration it probably would have dropped my score by at least a point or two. But the song though.

  8. I sort of touched on this in a long winded comment for the Mason Ramsey song but I generally am not too irked by stuff like this (at least in terms of it preventing my ability to enjoy something). When I was a teenager I obsessively scrobbled everything and rated everything I heard on RYM and my whole big lesson from that equally fun and miserable experience was that I’ll never listen to everything I’d possibly want to in my lifetime, so I should try to enjoy everything as much as possible. I think I partially came to that realization when I was deeply moved by/bawled while watching certain pink films.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t get upset about certain things, or that people shouldn’t either, but I’ve sort of justified it all with this dual “I want to find more great music I love/I’m wasting so much of my life listening to music” thought that has been with me forever (perhaps even better exemplified through how I find extremely disappointing albums to be enjoyable nowadays in that they at least arouse an identifiable/emotional reaction).

    So yeah, while I definitely find some of the stuff in the video upsetting, I find myself more immediately annoyed by how corny and lame this song is lyrically/musically. My opinions on that and the orientalism are somewhat intertwined, to be certain, but the first thought I had while reading these blurbs was less about the lack of disgust towards the orientalism present and more so how people thought this was good. I think that reaction also comes from how I assume the writers here are sensitive/aware of the issues we’re talking about.