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A Q&A on Nicki Minaj's 'Chun-Li'

Contributed by
Apr 13, 2018

Yesterday, Nicki Minaj dropped her new single "Chun-Li," which had people asking "Who is Chun-Li?" This question broke our gamegrrl hearts, but it wasn't nearly as bothersome to us as the question of "But, why?" BECAUSE NICKI CAN DO WHAT SHE WANTS.

We put together this handy Q&A with this important bit of information and others to keep you in the know. 

So… how ‘bout that “Chun-Li,” huh?

Yeah, right? I’m personally an “Anaconda” girl through and through—I love creative sampling—but I will always throw down with a chilly Minaj boast track. Seems like it’ll headline a lot summer Spotify playlists.

But… why?

Well, because Nicki Minaj can literally do whatever she wants, and also I’m trying to trick the weather by playing summer jams nonstop. It’s gotta work sometime!

No, I mean, why compare herself to Chun-Li?

Well, this isn’t the first time she’s compared herself to Chun-Li. Do you remember Willow Smith’s song “Fireball”?

No.

Okay, “Fireball” was after “Whip My Hair” and before ARDIPITHECUS, which is an album I personally enjoy. It’s a Disney Channel-appropriate piece of braggadocio where Smith the Youngest explains she’s the life of the party. Nicki Minaj drops in as a kind of rap fairy godmother, complete with, in the music video, a pastel outfit that can best be described as if an rival queen conquered the land of Lisa Frank and really wanted to stick it to all those rainbow dolphins and cat brides. It looks AMAZING.

Here’s Minaj’s verse:

Ok I’m the street fighter, call me Chun-Li
A-a-and it’s goin’ down, l-l-like a bum knee
B-b-built a guest house to put the coupe in
’cause I’m a fireball, Hadouken

So she’s at least been comparing herself to Chun-Li since 2011.

Okay… but she doesn’t really mention Chun-Li in “Chun-Li.”

It’s true; Chun-Li only gets mentioned twice in the song, at the end of the chorus (“Plates say Chun-Li, drop the Benz off”) and in one of the interludes (“They need rappers like me, they need rappers like me /So they can get on their f-cking keyboards and make me the bad guy, Chun-Li”). In fact, she name-drops some other iconic ‘90s genre women in the chorus—specifically, Storm and Lara Croft.

I’m just. “Make me the bad guy, Chun-Li?” Chun-Li isn’t a bad guy!

You’re right. She’s literally a police officer seeking revenge for her father’s murder via street-based fighting tournaments. (In the late '80s and early '90s, this was the only way to acquire justice, if my sources are correct.) The closest we’ve ever gotten to an evil Chun-Li is Shadow Lady in 1998’s Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes. Shadow Lady is a palette-swapped Chun-Li with a slightly different moveset created by M. Bison capturing Chun-Li and turning her into a cyborg. And even Shadow Lady eventually crossed back over to the good guys. Chun-Li’s that Lawful Good.

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I just don’t understand why you would name a song after “Chun-Li” if you weren’t going to bother really using the character.

What were you expecting, “Anaconda” but with Chun-Li’s theme instead of “Baby Got Back?”

Well, yeah!

Yeah, that would have been awesome… but it’s hardly Minaj’s modus operandi as a recording artist, you know? If it’s video game remixes you want, the rest of the Internet is right over there.

Ugh, fine

My friend, you are missing for the forest for the trees. And also the point of how Minaj utilizes pop culture references in her work.

You see, we’re very used to seeing pop culture references dropped for the sake of being pop culture references. (They made a movie about it; it’s called Ready Player One. HEYO!) But rap, especially at the level Minaj is rapping at, involves some high-level wordplay. Think about Minaj’s last verse in “Feeling Myself.” Shivers! Namedropping Chun-Li is, first and foremost, a way to set up a lyrical tee. In this case, she doesn’t go for another Street Fighter reference, as she does on “Fireball.” She goes for Storm and Lara Croft. Think about it less as a failure to live up to your unrealistic expectations regarding someone else’s creative output, and more in terms of what she's actually saying.

Listen to the song again and tell me what you hear.

”I been Storm,” “I been off, Lara been Croft”… I don’t get it, what am I missing?

Minaj is saying been there, done that, to both Storm—to Ororo kriffing Munroe, the woman who, among her many, many accomplishments, once beat Scott Summers in hand to hand combat without powers—and Lara Croft. And you know Minaj is talking about pre-reboot, Angelina Jolie Lara Croft, with the international heists and fancy cars and the generally being James Bond but a straight woman. She’s been Storm; her X-Men, in this case, likely Young Money, have already been formed. She’s been Lara Croft; look at her staggering achievements.

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But her plates say Chun-Li. She wears ox horns on the cover of the single. She might not speak much about Chun-Li, but when she does, she speaks of Chun-Li as an equal, Because there are ways in which they’re similar. Chun-Li, as a recent trip to a bar/arcade reminded me, is the strongest woman in the world, the best at what she does (which is, again, justice via street kicking). Minaj is so good at what she does that Kanye West considered deleting her famous verse from “Monster” because he was scared it would outshine the entire album that the track appeared on. Chun-Li entered a male-dominated space and dominated the game… much like Minaj. One of my favorite details about Chun-Li’s character design is that her bracelets are counterweights, meant to help even the playing field she’s intent on conquering. Minaj, too, has had to work and work hard to level the playing field while staying true to herself and her instincts instinctually.

That’s how she’s like Chun-Li. She’s at the top of her game and anyone eager to try and challenge her? Well, as “Chun-Li” the song tells us right off the bat, she’ll dunk on them.

Wow. I guess when you put it that way, it makes a lot more—

Also, my current working theory is that she’s talking to Chun-Li.

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Think about it! In the second verse, Minaj poses two questions to herself—“this is King Kong?” and “How many championships?” What if those aren’t queries utilized to maintain flow, but Chun-Li herself. This even explains the “They need rappers like me, they need rappers like me /So they can get on their f-cking keyboards and make me the bad guy, Chun-Li” lines. She’s not implying that Internet trolls are making her a bad guy like Chun-Li; she’s commiserating to Chun-Li about Internet trolls. And you know how Chun-Li probably feels about Internet trolls.

That’s… interesting…

I dare you to prove me wrong. Hey, where are you going?