Sat. Feb 24th, 2024

The Beef Business: Nicki Minaj & Megan Thee Stallion’s Feud Has Been a Money-Maker

By Michael Feb 6, 2024

“Rap beef is so washed and tired. Exhausting. Embarrassing. Just f—ing over all corny as f—.” 

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The rapper Coi Leray made this pronouncement in a since-deleted tweet on Jan. 26. She was responding to an Eminem verse in a new Lyrical Lemonade song titled “Doomsday Pt. 2,” but the spat — and Leray’s suggestion that beef was a waste of energy — was quickly forgotten. 

That’s because, that same day, Megan Thee Stallion released “Hiss,” a withering track that hurls vitriol at blogs, exes, shit-talkers, copycats, “Z-list hoes,” and more. Nicki Minaj is not named in the song, but she took offense to a line, and has spent her subsequent days letting the world know in interviews and on social media. She also attacked Megan Thee Stallion in a venomous new song called “Big Foot.” 

All of this has been great for the commercial reception of “Hiss,” which launched at No. 1 on the Hot 100, far higher than Megan Thee Stallion’s last single, “Cobra” (No. 32). On-demand audio streams of “Cobra” started at around 1.7 million the day of release and then slid to a plateau around 1.1 to 1.2 million, according to Luminate. “Hiss” started out higher — earning 3.2 million on-demand audio streams opening day — and then began to make a similar slide, falling to 2.3 million plays by Sunday, a drop of around 27%. However, when Minaj released “Big Foot” Sunday at midnight, streams of “Hiss” shot back up — hitting 3.8 million on Monday, a jump of more than 60% — and they stayed strong for the rest of the week. 

That’s all worth real money. Billboard estimates that “Hiss” earned around $121,000 in royalties from those on-demand audio streams — about $33,000 of which came from that “Big Foot” bump. (Megan Thee Stallion recently signed a distribution deal with Warner Music Group.) “Big Foot,” meanwhile, has earned more than $44,000 in recorded music royalties from its audio streams, Billboard estimates. (These figures don’t take into account other sources of streams or sales, which were especially significant for Megan Thee Stallion.)

In an industry where the competition for attention is fiercer than ever, the combination of controversy and celebrity remains the closest thing to a surefire winner. “When you're in a very crowded marketplace with however many songs coming out on streaming services every day, you have to figure out an angle to cut through the noise,” says Eddie Blackmon, a longtime A&R. “Obviously this is cutting through the noise.”

"Beef always helps music, because it just brings attention," adds another rap executive who requested anonymity to speak candidly. "In the clickbait world that we're in, that gets the headlines, that's what people talk about, that gets the barbershops going. People react to negativity more than they do positivity."

Megan Thee Stallion has already proved adept at using celebrity and controversy to galvanize headlines and streaming, of course. When she released "WAP" with Cardi B in 2020, conservatives objected to the sexually explicit lyrics, turning the single into a culture-war-flashpoint — and a No. 1 hit. (When the two rappers released "Bongos" in 2023, it failed to incense right-wing commentators, debuted at No. 14, and quickly faded from view.) Lil Nas X achieved a similar feat with "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)," transforming conservative outrage over the track's video into a tail-wind that propelled him to No. 1. 

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These days, culture war controversy may be the most effective rocket fuel for hits. For two other examples that helped mint No. 1's in 2023, see Oliver Anthony Music's "Rich Men North of Richmond" and Jason Aldean's "Try That in a Small Town." 

Hip-hop feuds are another strain of controversy with their own long history, fodder for many an internet list: MC Shan vs. KRS-One; Lil' Kim vs. Foxy Brown; Jay-Z vs. Nas; 50 Cent vs. Ja Rule; Meek Mill vs. Drake; Minaj vs. Remy Ma, and many, many, many more. 

Sha Money XL produced 50 Cent’s “Wanksta,” a hooky Ja Rule diss that came out in 2002. "That was 50's first break-through record," Sha Money XL says. "DJs went crazy with it."

A dispute between artists "is definitely going to raise your attention," the producer and longtime record executive adds. "The bad thing is there can be fights, shoot-outs, that come with it." 

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Listeners love to take sides in abstract debates — which rapper is more talented, or more of a sellout — especially in an era where zealous fan armies vie for primacy online, but there can be dangerous real-world consequences. "With beefs there can be a bravado there; guys want to hurt each other or defend their ego," says Ray Daniels, a veteran hip-hop executive and host of The GAUDS Show.  

In the case of Megan Thee Stallion and Nicki Minaj, Daniels continues, "no one is saying, 'tool up and get security up.' So to me, it's a great thing that they're using their platforms to shine lights on each other, whether that's good light or bad light. Both songs are streaming; it's obviously working." (Though while streams of "Hiss" rebounded and stayed high, "Big Foot" enjoyed a big debut — 4.1 million on-demand audio streams — then fell off quickly, logging 1.1 million plays in the last day of the track week, according to Luminate.)

If sales can be a side effect of some spats, they can also be the main event, the whole purpose of the fracas. 50 Cent and Kanye West battled over who would sell more units in 2007, as did Minaj and Travis Scott in 2018. (At the time, Minaj memorably ridiculed Scott as "this Auto-Tune man coming up here selling f---ing sweaters.") 

Squabbles over sales also help drive sales, of course — it's not a coincidence that West's Graduation earned the biggest opening week of his career at that point. "Some skeptical hip-hop fans believe that most of these feuds are merely cheap marketing stunts meant to help sell records," The New York Times noted at the time. "This feud was unabashedly a marketing stunt, with record sales not the hidden agenda but the main point."

We know there are real beefs and then there are manufactured beefs," acknowledges Blackmon, who started his career working at West’s G.O.O.D. Music label. "But they all help build awareness of the songs that are being released. It's all marketing at the end of the day. If it takes on a life of its own, the companies and teams around it figure out how to fan the flame.”

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That fanning process can happen more quickly in the social media era. "Social media makes little things bigger, magnifies the tension and the opinions," Sha Money XL notes.

Many of the prominent music- and culture-focused accounts on X, Instagram, and TikTok are entrepreneurial, meaning they accept money for posts. "People spend tens of thousands of dollars across Instagram, blogs, and X culture accounts," says one digital marketer who is not working with either Megan Thee Stallion or Minaj. "Narrative-based campaigns are everything. You're getting the internet to see the parts of the story you want them to see; if you wanted to hurt somebody, for example, you seed out their low first-week numbers [when they release an album], knowing that everybody's just gonna roast them."

"Black Twitter has had a field day right now with this whole feud" between Minaj and Megan Thee Stallion, the digital marketer adds. His advice: "Keep fueling it."

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"You want to continue the conversation," a second digital marketer uninvolved with either rapper agrees. If a rivalry is developing, he continues, artist's teams can go to culture-focused accounts and pay $50 or $100 for posts asking something as simple as, "who's harder?" "It's much easier to push a narrative on X, especially if you're a large artist," the digital marketer says. "You're going to get impressions just by using the name."

Both Megan Thee Stallion and Minaj seem keenly aware that their clash has the potential to drive clicks. Even as Minaj insults Megan Thee Stallion in "Big Foot," she claims that she's doing her rival a favor: "It's the most attention you've ever gotten." Meanwhile, "Hiss" targets anyone "usin' my name for likes." "All this free promo," Megan raps. "I'm turnin' a profit."

By Michael

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