November 27, 2017
By: Kristopher Smith
Photo credit to Christopher Macsurak
“It was back in 07 did a couple of tapes/Did a couple DVDs made a couple mistakes/Didn’t know what I was doing but I put on a cape,” raps Nicki Minaj on “I’m The Best”, the opening track from her debut album Pink Friday which was released seven years ago this past week. The song continues with “[n]ow it’s which world tour should I go on today?” as if she had a crystal ball to look into to indicate the trajectory her career would take.
Much has been written recently about the seven-year anniversary of Minaj’s verse on Kanye’s “Monster,” where she undisputedly bodies three hip-hop heavyweights while channeling two personas. Since then, Minaj has dropped three albums, judged a season of American Idol, sold over ten million albums, starred in movies, had a Barbie created in her image and has more appearances on the Billboard Hot 100 than any other female artist, surpassing Aretha Franklin earlier this year.
The same day that Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (which features “Monster”) dropped, Minaj decided to share her debut album with the world. Pink Friday, a first album from a relatively unknown female rapper, went head to head against the fifth album from a very established pop culture icon. While Pink Friday ultimately came up short against My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (which sold 121,000 more copies), the album did generate the highest sales week for a female rapper since Lauren Hill in 1998. Pink Friday would eventually reach the top of the Billboard albums charts with the help of several successful Top 40 singles.
“Somebody please tell ’em who the eff I is,” Minaj insists on the biggest hit from Pink Friday (and in the past seven years). She has managed to do that herself by becoming part of the pop culture zeitgeist. Her appearances on the aforementioned American Idol and numerous visits to the Ellen DeGeneres Show have helped with mainstream exposure. Working with the likes of Beyoncé, Madonna, Britney Spears, Kanye West, JAY-Z, and Katy Perry (the list is nearly endless, name a famous pop artist or rapper and Minaj has likely worked with them) hasn’t hurt either. She even managed to have the most viewed music video on Vevo in a twenty-four hour period for a song about big butts, which sampled Sir Mix-a-Lot, until “Anaconda” was dethroned by a video from another snake.
Minaj’s mass appeal has also lead to some artistic hurdles for the rapper. Critics have said that she has yet to develop a cohesive and thematic album. Pink Friday is a mish-mash of hard rap, pop rap, RnB rap and everything in between. Her follow-up, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded tried to appease fans of Nicki’s early mix-tape days along with her “Roman” alter-ego while the second half explored dance-pop and EDM after a successful collaboration with David Guetta. Minaj’s third album, The Pinkprint, highlighted a more personal side of the rapper but did not stick with that concept all the way through. (Though an argument can be made that perhaps albums are not that important anymore and that they are created as a body of work to be picked apart for streaming and playlists).
Minaj has also received criticism for her outspokenness. Her feuds with Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift have been highly publicized, but she often says this is because she is speaking out as a black woman. She famously expressed some of these frustrations in an MTV documentary that aired before Pink Friday dropped, in which she compares her assertiveness against a “bossed up” Donald Trump and recently called out sexism in hip-hop.
In the video, Minaj said; “but when you’re a girl, you have to be like everything; you have to be dope at what you do but you have to be super sweet and you have to be sexy and you have to be this and you have to be that and you have to be nice…”. This might explain why Minaj’s albums show such a wide range, why she wants to be the best rapper and the best pop star. It might explain all the wigs and outlandish outfits, and the more “natural” look she is going for now. It might also explain why the same woman who pleaded to young fans to stay in school also chooses to pose with in a “Minaj à Trois” cover shoot for Paper Magazine’s “Break the Internet” issue. Nicki feels like she needs to be all things to all people and maybe she wants to be just that.
Her ability to highlight so many sides of her personality makes Nicki Minaj the best. Do not let the current fascination with Cardi B fool you; no other female rapper compares to Minaj. She takes the raunchiness of Lil’ Kim, the artistry of Missy Elliott and, to a lesser extent, the conscious rap of Lauren Hill (maybe that will be the welcomed next evolution of this career chameleon) and makes it her own.
Nicki loves her fans and maintains a close relationship with them via social media. She announced on Twitter that she would pay off the student loans of some lucky followers. A recent Instagram post commemorating the release of Pink Friday also thanked fans for their loyal support and teased what was to come. “My fans have been the most loving, supportive, relentless people all over the world since b4 this album even dropped. Thank you. We’re about to do it all over again,” she wrote.
I replayed Pink Friday in preparation for this article and it has aged quite well in the seven years since its release. On “Fly”, Nicki spits, “[c]aus’ I am not a word, I am not a line/
I am not a girl that could ever be defined/ I am not fly, I am levitation/ I represent an entire generation.” For most of the last decade she has done just that.
It could be a safe bet that Minaj will release her fourth studio album sometime in 2018 and she is putting a lot of pressure on herself to “deliver a classic.” If anyone can do it, “The Generous Queen” can.
Now can she please/can the world get a Nicki Minaj/Missy Elliott duet already?