Tell that bitch with the crown to run it like Chris Brown
She won three rounds, I'mma need a hundred thou'
Like Chinatown, bitches better bow down
Oh, you ain't know? Bet y'all bitches know now
— Nicki Minaj “Dirty Money (Freestyle)” (2007)
Nearly three full decades after Mattel, Inc. debuted the first official Black Barbie, the Hip-Hop community was formally introduced to a talented young Trinidadian-born rapper who would go on to become one of the most notable Black Barbies of all time. On the cover of her 2007 mixtape Playtime Is Over, the aspiring artist struck a doll-like pose from behind the plastic veil of a pink doll box, and while that eye-catching visual helped pull curious fans in, it was her charismatic and voracious bars that made rap acknowledge a 24-year-old Onika Tanya Maraj as the sensational Nicki Minaj.
In the fifteen years that have passed since Playtime Is Over, Nicki has dropped two additional mixtapes and four monumental studio albums, and with every release, her claim for the title of the Queen of Rap has steadily grown stronger. But all throughout her career, Nicki Minaj’s ascension has been constantly downplayed with excessive criticism, negative responses to her personal life, and a relentless amount of hate from both the rap industry and finicky rap fans. Yet even as one of Hip-Hop’s most polarizing figures, Nicki remains an artist whose groundbreaking run during the 2010s changed female rap, and Hip-Hop altogether, forever. She’s not only one of the most impactful female rappers to have ever hopped on a beat — she’s also one of the greatest rappers of all time.
Long before the influx of women in Hip-Hop during the final stretch of the 2010s, Nicki Minaj had to navigate a rap scene that, rather than today’s more male-oriented industry, was practically devoid of any commercially viable femcees. After Missy Elliott’s final studio album — The Cookbook — was released in 2005, there was a four-year drought when no albums released by female rappers came even close to cracking the top 10 best-selling Hip-Hop albums of the year. Nas had prophesied that Hip-Hop was dead back in 2006, but if anything, it was the female subsection of Hip-Hop that had lost its pulse. Essentially, Nicki Minaj’s goal of becoming a successful artist also required her to reinvigorate female rap in the process.
From 2007 to 2009, she worked towards doing just that in the underground scene with her Playtime Is Over, Sucka Free, and Beam Me Up Scotty mixtapes, and during that time period, Nicki Minaj also gained notoriety as an integral member of Lil Wayne’s iconic Young Money Entertainment roster. Coming up alongside other soon-to-be industry giants like Drake and Tyga, the Harajuku Barbie easily stood out as one of Young Money’s best lyricists, and her high-profile features on the We Are Young Money cuts “Roger That” and “Bedrock” quickly made her one of the most exciting rising artists to watch at the turn of the decade. Yet with all that she had accomplished in those three years, Nicki Minaj’s run in 2010 is what put her and female rap at the forefront of Hip-Hop.
All the girls will commend as long as they understand
That I'm fighting for the girls that never thought they could win
'Cause before they could begin, you told 'em it was the end
But I am here to reverse the curse that they live in
— Nicki Minaj “I’m The Best” (2010)
Just as 2020 was revered by many fans, critics, and media outlets as the year of the female rapper, 2010 was arguably the year of Nicki Minaj. While the year would culminate with the release of her classic — yes, classic — debut album, Nicki’s presence was felt heavily throughout the entire year thanks to a barrage of impressive guest features. In 2010 alone, the Young Money heiress appeared on Usher’s “Lil Freak,” Lil Wayne’s “Knockout,” Trey Songz’s “Bottoms Up,” Christina Aguilera’s “Woohoo,” DJ Khaled’s star-studded “All I Do Is Win (Remix),” Diddy - Dirty Money’s “Hello Good Morning (Remix),” Ludacris’ “My Chick Bad,” Trina’s “Dang A Lang,” Gyptian’s “Hold Yuh (Remix),” and Drake’s “Up All Night,” among plenty of other tracks. Thus, when it came time to roll out her highly anticipated debut, Nicki had already become a formidable and influential force within the music industry.
Yet even after she had built a faithful army of fans — infamously known as the Barbz — who religiously rocked Barbie necklaces, wore pink wigs, and sported bangs, Nicki Minaj still managed to elevate even more in the last quarter of 2010. As Pink Friday loomed over the horizon, Nicki gave one of her earliest career-defining performances on Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy single “Monster,” and it cannot be overstated how much her now-iconic guest verse resonated with the Hip-Hop community. If you weren’t a Nicki Minaj fan before you heard “Monster,” you definitely were afterward. The unbelievable hype that Nicki had garnered from that high-profile feature carried her straight into the release of her debut album, and once it was finally released — on the same day as Ye’s aforementioned magnum opus, for the record — Nicki Minaj had officially arrived.
Although some Hip-Hop fans weren’t thrilled with Nicki’s early forays into pop, Pink Friday was an expertly assembled record that showcased the Young Money femcee’s emotional range, lyrical capabilities, and penchant for hitmaking. Stacked with guest features from Eminem, Kanye West, Drake, and Rihanna and loaded with unforgettable records like “Roman’s Revenge,” “Moment For Life,” “Fly,” “Right Thru Me,” “Your Love,” and “Did It On’em,” Nicki Minaj’s debut hit on all cylinders, and twelve years after its release, Pink Friday continues to age exceptionally well. With 375,000 copies sold in its first week, the album debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 under MBDTF, and roughly a month after being certified platinum by the RIAA, Pink Friday peaked at #1 on the Billboard album’s chart on February 19, 2011. Yet perhaps the most impressive aspect about Nicki Minaj’s debut album is that she successfully created a classic record that was unapologetically feminine. In contrast to her mixtape output, Pink Friday wasn’t “balanced” out with cuts that catered to a male audience, and if anything, it even expanded the idea of what a female rap album can encompass. Pink Friday was a testament to the validity of both Nicki Minaj’s talents and woman’s perspective in Hip-Hop, and that’s why it belongs in the ranks of Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and Lil’ Kim’s Hardcore as one of the most important female rap albums of all time.
An entire book can be written about the inner workings, as well as the enduring legacy, of Pink Friday, but what makes Nicki Minaj such a legendary Hip-Hop figure is that her success didn’t stop there.
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Why these bitches don't never be learnin'?
You bitches will never get what I be earnin' (Uh)
I'm still gettin' plaques, from my records that's urban
Ain't gotta rely on top 40, I am a rap legend
Just go ask the Kings of Rap, who is the Queen and things of that
Nature? Look at my finger, that is a glacier, hits like a laser
— Nicki Minaj "Feeling Myself" (2014)
In the decade that followed the triple-platinum-certified Pink Friday, Nicki Minaj laid her claim as the Queen of Rap by fleshing out her discography with three subsequent studio albums — Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded in 2012, The Pinkprint in 2014, and Queen in 2018 — and delivering countless classic moments on and off wax, and while nostalgia and fandom can most certainly obstruct an artist’s perception, the Queen’s numbers definitely reflect her dominance throughout the 2010s.
Just like Pink Friday, all of Nicki Minaj’s studio albums have peaked within the top two spots of the Billboard 200 and, as of March 2022, been certified platinum or higher by the RIAA, with Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded and The Pinkprint both crossing the double-platinum threshold. Nicki’s commercial accomplishments don’t end there, however. At 39 years old, she has already notched 23 platinum-certified singles, 14 gold-certified singles, and one ever-elusive diamond-certified single, thanks to the Pink Friday Deluxe bonus track “Super Bass” in 2010. As she has reminded us on tracks like her Queen cut “Sir,” 2 Chainz’ “Realize,” and her 2019 freestyle over Meek Mill and Drake’s “Going Bad,” Nicki Minaj also broke Aretha Franklin’s previously-held record as the female artist with the most Billboard Hot 100 entries of all time for over three full years, and although Taylor Swift ending up breaking Nicki’s record in 2021, the “Do We Have A Problem” artist remains firmly cemented as one of the 10 artists (of any gender) with the most Hot 100 entries. Nicki currently boasts 121 — which is likely to soon increase to 122 following her newly-released “Blick Blick” single with Coi Leray — entries to date, and surprisingly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her wealth of industry records.
However, rather than continuing to expound upon Nicki Minaj’s extensive chart placements and various commercial accolades, it’s also imperative that her cultural impact be recognized as well. From being one of Lil Wayne’s most commercially and critically successful protégées to teaming up with Beyoncé on multiple occasions to create timeless female rap and R&B crossover hits, many of Nicki’s accomplishments can’t really be quantified. Instead, much of what makes Nicki so great is simply felt by her fans and the music industry altogether. Both her distinct brand of rap and her career-long dedication to stressing the importance of women writing their own bars has influenced an entire generation of heavy-hitting femcees, from Latto and Doja Cat to KenTheMan and Baby Tate. Furthermore, her polarizing decision to become genre-fluid so early on in her career has manifested as the norm for not only female rap, but commercially viable rap across all genders.
Yet, what’s most astonishing and powerful about Nicki’s impact on Hip-Hop is her presence and, sometimes, the lack thereof. Whether she’s going on an unexpected freestyle or guest-feature run, giving a rare interview, or speaking her mind in a wild Twitter rant, Nicki Minaj’s presence — be it aural, digital, or visual — is absolutely enthralling, and when she’s on hiatus, you can tell. Despite the welcomed contributions of women like Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, City Girls, and Doja Cat over the past few years, female rap still feels incomplete without Nicki Minaj’s presence and output, and that alone illustrates how important she is to Hip-Hop, as a genre, and as a culture.
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No one bitch could be my opp, that shit offends me
It's corporate giants and machines that went against me
I wash bitches, man, they couldn't even rinse me
She said she hot, I said, "Well, bitch, come and convince me"
Ain't no C in green, but I'm seein' green
Even with them floor seats, they couldn't see the team
The K-I-N-G, the G.O.A.T., plus me, the Queen
I send shots, send 'em back or flee the scene
— Nicki Minaj “Seeing Green” (2022)
Thanks to her revitalization of female rap, commercial accomplishments, cultural impact, and unique artistic output, Nicki Minaj has left a legacy that most rising artists can only dream of coming close to, an incredible feat considering that she hasn’t even put out her fifth album yet. Her contributions to the sport and evolution of Hip-Hop over the last decade have been invaluable, and as a result, that young and ambitious woman who once posed as a Barbie doll for the cover of her debut mixtape eventually managed to cement herself as the Queen of Rap and one of the greatest Hip-Hop artists of all time.
Nicki Minaj’s fingerprints — or better yet, her pinkprints — are all over the Hip-Hop history books, and there’s nothing that could ever wipe them away.