What happened? That is the question everybody in hip-hop wants to find out.
When you first emerged, you were a street-edged temptress not afraid to show yourself off. At your peak, you were best known for your "temptress" side. Now, it's been 5 years since your most recent album dropped (with no new release date in sight) and now hip-hop has pretty much forgotten you. To grasp an understanding of this transformation, allow me to progress throughout your rap career.
As documented in 2009's "Notorious" (in which you were portrayed by 3LW alumna Naturi Naughton - much to your displeasure), you started out as a simple teenage girl on the streets of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, until an old friend by the name of Christopher Wallace shared his dream of making it big in the rap game. Before too long, you were one of the "big three" of his Junior M.A.F.I.A. group (and the only one besides Biggie and Lil' Cease who is still remembered by most). Even now, many remember your verse as the one which stood out on "Get Money", which is quite an achievement considering the legend who led.
Eventually, as demand grew, you released your own debut set "Hard Core" in November of '96 (complete with its infamous attention-getting promo poster above). That album went double platinum, spawned three hit singles ("No Time", "Crush on You", "Not Tonight") and let the whole industry know you were truly a force to be reckoned with.
Fast-forward seven years, a mentor's passing, another album, and a worldwide Grammy-winning smash to 2003, at which point your racyness became the norm for female rap, meaning all of a sudden we have the likes of Trina, Jacki-O, Shawnna, and last week's subject Foxy Brown putting their bedroom prowess forward. Heck, even the previously tomboyish Da Brat switched her style up when she took 360-degree look at her mirror and noticed herself. With that year, we have your junior album "La Bella Mafia" fueled by lead single "The Jump Off" and its 14, count 'em fourteen brand name drops, propelling the single to platinum status. Then came your biggest lead hit to date, the 50 Cent-assisted "Magic Stick" (in case the fans are wondering why I didn't provide a video link, it's because there was never one shot due to your later beef). And then came the major drama.
To make a long story short, your homies got involved in a shootout, you threw the feds off the wrong path, Cease snitched on you (even for those who don't adapt to Cam'ron's definition, that's snitching), and now you get a yearlong sentence in prison. At that point is when you were inspired to go back to your street roots with "The Naked Truth". Put simply, it accomplished its mission to regain the respect of hip-hop enthusaists worldwide, even inspiring The Source to give it the coveted "5 Mic" rating, something it would not do again for another 58 months. Two years later, you rebounded to snag a feature on Keyshia Cole's biggest lead hit "Let It Go" along with homie Missy Elliott (Every time it's played at the club, I can still hear all the women in the club rap along the "Little do she know she just a rebound" line.)
However, 2009 was your best shot at a comeback, thanks to critical acclaim on Season 9 of "Dancing with the Stars" (the nation was in shock when you were eliminated). This paved the way for-finally-another single: the "Computer Love" update "Download". That had everything you'd need for a hit-something the nostalgics could enjoy (I applauded when I heard Charlie Wilson's voice on the backgrounds), T-Pain on the hook (one autotune superstar paying tribute to a legend), and something the younger folk can relate to. However, for some reason it never took off-perhaps because there was no album for us to anticipate?
Which brings us to the present day. Right now you're virtually silent on the hip-hop circle (save for one solid verse on Luda's "Hey Ho"). The reason you've been in the news is because of the shots you've been taking at Nicki Minaj, demanding that she give you props because you "made her style". Forgive me if I should be blunt, but I agree with Drake the most on this issue. Those who get the most respect don't have to keep demanding it-it simply speaks for itself (you don't see Jay-Z pestering all these newcomers for that "respect"). In addition, you seem to have discarded that same street attitude you had embraced on your last album, looking almost unrecognizeable in the process.
After this extensive review, I still have no idea "what happened?" Though I do have one suggestion: Listen to "Hard Core" and "The Naked Truth" without skipping sometime when you're alone. On those two albums are you at your most honest, and I believe it is there you can channel your inner self and regain your sought-after respect (and inner peace in the process-if you hear them all, you'll be all about unity!)
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to write another open letter to your former Atlantic labelmate (and the one who was originally supposed to get "Magic Stick"). Thanks for your time, and I wish you all the joys this art provides-if you seek after "this art" again.