Beam Me Up Scotty‘s reissue holds up as Barbie’s career-best record.
Twelve years have passed since Beam Me Up Scotty was originally released, a stretch of time that has seen Nicki Minaj transform herself into one of the great contemporary pop stars with a sustained popularity fueled by the deeply loyal Barbz and a bold, forward-thinking discography that rewards replay and reassessment (TikTok has proven to be a very Nicki-friendly platform). Over a decade in the industry and the Queens rapper hasn’t really seen her popularity wane: her stanbase is as fervent and engaged as those of younger artists, and the critical establishment is more willing to engage with her work in full (thanks in part to the rise of poptimism, though helped by deserving projects, like masterpiece Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded). But while cultural appreciation for her music and artistic legacy seem to ride comfortably, appropriately high these days, it’s hard to feel terribly celebratory: the last few years have seen Nicki testing her PR team’s ingenuity and the depths of her audience’s goodwill. The lead-up to the release of her 2018 album Queen was marred by a press cycle that saw Minaj fighting Cardi B at New York Fashion Week, lavishing praise upon Tekashi 6ix9ine, and taking part in an Elle profile where she offered patronizing concern for strippers and influencers who dabbled in sex work, saying “…it makes me sad that maybe I’ve contributed to that in some way.” These instances were disappointing in the way that they seemed to contradict and undermine the messages of sexual autonomy and feminist self-determination espoused in Nicki’s music and videos, though none were as troubling as her 2019 marriage to convicted sex offender Kenneth Petty, who has allegedly made use of her wealth and influence to further harass and silence the victim of his assault.
This is the context into which Nicki Minaj brings us a reissue of her third and (as of this writing) final mixtape, debuting on streaming services with slightly touched-up album art and lightly modified track list. Beam Me Up Scotty is a pivotal release in the Minaj canon, the project on which her style first began to be properly codified, and established the Harajuku Barbie persona that would (more or less) become her default mode stepping into the spotlight alongside since retired character Nicki Lewinsky, The Mistress. This streaming re-release loses five of the original tracks to sample clearance issues (including the Busta Rhymes featuring “Mind on My Money,” sadly), but finds worthy replacements in contemporaneous singles “Chiraq” (featuring Lil Herb era G Herbo, now credited as such) and her remix of PTAF’s “Boss Ass Bitch,” both tracks hot as ever. There are also three wholly new tracks at the front of this version that includes a nostalgic collaboration with Wayne and Drake (“Seeing Green”) celebrating their continued successes and interlinked mythos, and “Fractions,” a more traditional, Jay-Z sampling rap song formally aligned with the 2009 tracks that has Nicki riffing on recent events (Gamestop, Gorilla Glue, unfortunate Kamala shoutout) and hinting at a return. The third new track, a remix of ascendant dancehall artist Skillibeng’s “Crocodile Teeth,” also gestures towards the idea that an entirely new project looms in the near future, and certainly, this re-release is a savvy and welcome prelude to that inevitability. Of course, Beam Me Up Scotty’s reissuing is more than that, finally commemorating one of the great mixtapes of the late 2000s, an important time capsule of a very different music industry in the not-so-distant past (producer DJ Holiday’s radio-type ad-libs and the inclusion of three Gucci Mane features the sort of creative decisions Nicki sadly no longer indulges). Alas, it’s hard to be terribly excited about the future of Nicki Minaj at the moment, and with recent troubles in mind, it’s hard not to see this reissue as brand management. Still, what’s presented on this iteration of Beam Me Up Scotty holds up as career-best work, irresistible in its arrogant verve and camp sexuality. Something of a nostalgic misdirect, yes, but divorced from questions of motivation, it’s long overdue canonization.
Published as part of Album Roundup — May 2021 | Part 1.