Nicki Minaj is running late. Two jumbo screens on either side of the main stage relay this message to the large and growing crowd awaiting their final Wireless headliner. Some take this as a sign to leave; we are on the third day of a festival that has been pushing 30 degrees all weekend, and it is a Sunday, after all. But most stay put, eager to see Minaj take the stage – even if it is for just 45 minutes.
The choice of waiting music is questionable, with the audience routinely mistaking the many pauses in Busta Rhymes’s “Break Ya Neck” as indications of the rapper’s imminent arrival. Not twice but three times does a premature swell of applause break out across Finsbury Park. When Minaj does arrive, the clock is ticking against her, and she wastes zero time getting to the hits.
Having not released an album since 2018’s Queen, Minard offers a set mostly comprising hits that go back a decade. It’s a brilliant throwback moment in the festival and includes a bumper-to-bumper medley of her best collaborations. Her status as the queen of guest verses remains firmly intact, despite the conspicuous absence of her much-beloved verse on Kanye West’s 2010 track “Monster”. While the omission goes unexplained tonight, last week she told a New Orleans audience that she was “Monster’d out” and appeared to diss her collaborator, saying: “We don’t f*** with clowns.”
Instead, she flits seamlessly between the lightning-fast rhymes of 2011’s “Dance (A$$)” to the sass of her Beyoncé collaborations with 2014’s “Flawless” and “Feeling Myself”. “Where my Caribbean people at?” she asks before launching into 2011’s Sean Kingston hit “Dutty Love”. More recent releases fare equally well. People lap up 2017’s “Rake It Up”, which has found new life thanks to a viral TikTok trend. To the delight of the crowd, she brings out US 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 tell whether this compilation of 30-second soundbites was always the plan, or an abridged version of the show cut short due to the late start. Either way, it’s a satisfying solution for an act who has too many standout tracks to feature them all in full. It also makes for one of the festival’s most sing-along-ready shows, with nearly everyone screaming the lyrics to these songs of their youth. Filling in for Ariana Grande on “Side to Side” is a particularly euphoric moment.
It takes a while for Minaj to warm up to the crowd, and dancing is kept mostly to a minimum. A hip thrust here. A body roll there. “Anaconda”, of course – Minaj’s 2014 cultural reset and ode to all big butts out there – calls for something more dramatic. The musician bends over and twerks for the camera, eliciting the loudest applause of the evening. “Feeling Myself” is accompanied by an appropriately horny grinding of a leather futon. At one point, Minaj lifts a diamante-studded boot over her head effortlessly as if to say, she’s still got it. But it’s her facial gymnastics, a long-time signature of Minaj’s, which continue to enthrall. Mean-mugging at the camera as she raps along to 2010’s “Did It on ‘Em”, the screens behind her display iterations of the star gone by: full fringe, pink hair, snarling.
By the time Minaj begins to wrap things up with her star-making hit “Superbass”, it’s clear the crowd got what they came for. And when she does disappear, to the emotional heights of 2010’s “Moment 4 Life”, it is in a cloud of cheers. Her late start is all but forgotten.
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