Once typecast as ‘the fearless Barbie’ Nicky Minaj is no puppet. She is of course the wildly successful rapper, singer, songwriter and entrepreneur whose command of hip hop, R&B and funky pop has taken her skywards. Her debut album proper (her mix tape endeavours preceded it) is the huge selling Pink Friday, a number one release that gave us the glorious “Super Bass” and made Nicky the first female artist to enjoy charting seven singles simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100. Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, another global smash, and 2014’s The Pinkprint, with the anthemic single “Anaconda” slithering across dance floors, rubber-stamped her household name stature, as did her voice casting for Ice Age: Continental Drift, in which she gave life to the teenage woolly mammoth Steffie, sassy leader of the animated Brat Pack. Nice work.
Minaj’s talents as a rapper have seen her fend off all the big boys and she is considered to be as influential as anyone in the popularisation of the genre: the New York Times hit the nail on the head with this assessment: “It was only a matter of time before a hip-hop star would blow through the lines separating pop from rap and appeal to two lucrative audiences at once. And it was as inevitable that hip-hop purists would swiftly cry foul. It is particularly upsetting to the hip-hop boys club that the most successful transgressor, a freshly minted megastar named Nicki Minaj, is a woman.”
Nicky’s rap pyro attack and complicated rhyme schemes are a match for Kanye West or Jay-Z and her hardcore cred is clear to hear on “Roman’s Revenge” where she cusses and cuts it with Eminem, the veritable Bard of Badass. Two peas in a tripod. Not for the faint hearted, this battle of the sexes face off is a bitching Brooklyn play on words nonetheless.
We love Minaj even more because she does funny voices and accents, takes off, adopts alter egos, flips up a mean cockney brogue and dresses weird and wiggy. A female superstar no doubt, she has endorsements with top sports, cosmetics and drinks companies and decorates her house with all the bling of a zillion awards. A food bank donator, Minaj is a regular on the Forbes Hip Hop Cash Kings List. She bad, but she good and she’s one of a kind.
Born Onika Tanya Maraj in Trinidad and Tobago, 1982, the lady we’ll now call Minaj was later raised in Ozone Park, Queen’s, New York and received her show biz education at LaGuardia Arts School in Manhattan, the legendary location for the movie Fame’s wannabes.
Graduating to become a formidable MC Nicky knew she could compete with old school girls who put sex into the mix but just as soon sussed there was more to her artistry than that. For one she had a painfully acute childhood to draw upon (her drug addicted alcoholic father burnt down the family house).
Once Lil Wayne took her under his wing though things looked straight up and she immersed herself in the hotbed at Young Money with three cracking mix tapes already circulating. Her opening trio of videos was “Lil Freak”, “Shakin’ It 4 Daddy” and the breakout “My Chick Bad” with Usher, Robin Thicke and Ludacris respectively.
Another collaboration, with Mariah Carey, resulted in the explosive “Up Out My Face” and major TV exposure. With back-up mentors like West, Diddy and James Cruz and a forged link to the likes of Lil’ Kim her ascent was rapid and irresistible.
In late 2010 Pink Friday hit already bolstered by the major singles successes “Your Love”, “Check It Out:” and “Right Thru Me” although other tracks like “Super Bass” and “Did It On’em” really pushed the Pink Friday phenomenon into overdrive. Eminem aside the guests include will.i.am, Rihanna, Drake and Kanye West.
All the haters were dashed once Nicky sampled Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” on “Check It Out” and Minaj’s fusion of Korean costume and Japanese anime in the video was both disarming and ahead of the curve. The album is particularly recommended in the Deluxe edition and there are several other digital download bonus versions to enjoy.
Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling over a quarter of a million copies in its first week. The top slot was attained again in the UK and Canada with the stand-out tracks “Roman in Moscow”, “Starships” and “Come on a Cone” - and the madcap production conjuring a perfect blend of contemporary pop and cutting edge rap. The purists love “Champion”, featuring Nas, Drake and Young Jezzy, and the genre-busting techno of “Automatic”.
The extras on Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded – The Re-Up followed six months later. The lovely “Pound the Alarm” is a return of a different kind since it tributes Trinidad and Tobago, carnival steel pan music and local characters like the voluptuous Dame Lorraine. Heaps of fun.
The third brand new set is The Pinkprint, Nicky’s most grown up and emotional work to date, given the lyrical subject matter ranging from the search for love to the yearning for motherhood.
The notion that Minaj is fully on top of her game is reinforced by the presence of Beyoncé Giselle Knowles on the confident “Feeling Myself” and Ariana Grande on the predatory “Get On Your Knees”.
Other notable collaborators include the English soul girl Jessie Ware, Lil Wayne and Skylar Grey on the exceptional “Bed of Lies” – that track’s appearance on the Hot 100 ensured Minaj tied with Madonna and Dionne Warwick for the third-most entries amongst women. Next year we reckon she’ll own that record.
To keep her fans sweet in 2015 Minaj has seen releases on “The Night Is Still Young”, “Truffle Butter” and a feature slot on “Bitch I’m Madonna”, the US Top Twitter Tracks #1.
Currently touring, The Pinkprint Minaj received sensational notices for her London O2 Arena show and picked up yet another BET Award in Los Angeles in June 2015.
A modern multi-media, multi-platform superstar, Nicky Minaj is a Caribbean Queen.
Words: Max Bell
Although it was explained in pre-release promo material as a return to her early hardcore rap style, Nicki Minaj's third studio album landed as the diva's own 808s & Heartbreak, although one with an extra booty-worshiping summer hit ("Anaconda") plus some bad ballers that really do bring back mixtape memories ("Feeling Myself," where special guest Beyoncé acts like a wonderful cross of Lil' Kim and Grace Jones; then there's the traptastic "Only," which is just too nasty to summarize). "Trini Dem Girls" is an oddball, although quite enjoyable, dancehall plaything that barely fits on the LP as well, but the rest is a deep dive into breakups, heartache, and rebirth. "Bed of Lies" with Skylar Grey, "All Things Go," and "The Crying Game" are superior, stylized R&B and pop blends that find Nicki singing more and revealing much more than previously. Still, it's the small, simple confessional "I Lied" that comes off the best, putting a long-term relationship to rest with all the confusion ("Even though I said don't touch me, I lied") and pride ("That shit wasn't real, it was magic") that most other breakup songs miss. "Grand Piano" is a close second as Nicki's complicated heart demands committed lovers and pities those not up to the task, while "Get on Your Knees" with Ariana Grande is equally as strong but from another angle, putting listeners in the body position of delivering oral sex and suggesting we all play the rebound lover at one point or another. After all, "It builds character," which, in the end, seems to be the album's outlook on life itself. A bold progression from her previous work with some porno and punch line classics thrown in, The Pinkprint is certainly scattered, but it's well written and weighty where it needs to be, and it remains intriguing the whole way through.
Words: David Jeffries
Nicki Minaj's sophomore effort was pre-release promoted as the "mixtape Nicki" gone legit, as her unpredictable, provocative, and artistically free alter ego "Roman Zolanski" bubbled to the top. That's sensible as this bold, layered artist is just as comfortable alongside Madonna during the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show as she is hanging with the Cash Money crew during the after party, so a two-album roll out might be necessary, but this is the wrong part two. The first Pink Friday presented a street queen gone elegant (which is what you do when you go from mixtapes sold at quickie marts to Dr. Luke productions sold by publicly traded companies) and here, the Roman gone well-funded thing works for more than an EP's worth of cuts. "Starships" offers a Katy Perry-styled singer that can convincingly drop both a MF-bomb and a weed reference, while the vicious "Stupid Hoe" gives birth to the genre of millionaire booty music and suddenly, sipping sizzurp in your own private jet seems entirely possible. Then there's vaudeville-hop opener "Roman Holiday" where the rapper/singer adds performance artist to the list by doing a British constable impression over knotty electro, while "Come On a Cone" gives Nicki her own "A Milli" and states the album's purpose ("Now I'm not masturbatin'/But I'm feelin' myself") as only she can. A handful of equally inspired numbers that come from this angle of gangsta-girl-in- a-post-wonky-pop-world add to the excitement, and with RedOne and a batch of other innovative producers providing a kaleidoscope of beats, the first half of the album is an amusement park for production lovers. Still, as the Lil Kim side of Nicki heads into the wonderfully dangerous territory of Gangsta Boo, Khia, Peaches, and beyond, her Madonna side has drifted into the land of Kara DioGuardi and other craftspeople for hire, as you could offer most of the latter part of this album to Ashlee Simpson, Kelly Clarkson, late-era Santana, or etc. The polished ballad "Marilyn Monroe" is a prime example and it would be an admirable second-tier track most anywhere else, but here, Nicki's simple musing about Marilyn and fame is one complicated, misunderstood blonde bombshell addressing another, but on a surface level when there's substantial stuff to explore. Cut the iffy pop off these 19 tracks and you're left with Roman's true four-star empire, but as it is, Roman Reloaded is a frustrating mix of significant and skippable.
Words: David Jeffries
By the time 2010 rolled around, debuts like Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday could still fall into the “highly anticipated” category, but the reasoning was different. Two years of strong mixtapes and guest appearances meant the hip-hop faithful already knew this sometimes dirty debutante could take that gutsy Lil' Kim style to another level, and that both the single and the full-length format were at her command. The only question left is how this versatile artist would present herself to the general public, and the answer is a Gwen Stefani-meets-Baz Luhrman-meets-Young Money-type affair that both dazzles and disappoints. Feed off the production, the great musical ideas, and Minaj’s keen sense of her surroundings, and Pink Friday is an outstanding success. It’s chock-full of new wave textures and diva attitude, creating the kind of atmosphere where will.i.am stops over while you tell the haters to kill themselves over a “Video Killed the Radio Star” sample (“Check It Out”). More grand moments come when Kanye West and Minaj mack together on the great, Simple Minds-sampling “Blazin,” or when “Your Love” waltzes out of the speakers with a unique brand of hood majesty, but when “Dear Old Nicki” comes round with “In hindsight, I loved your rawness and I loved your edge,” Minaj suggests that her growth as an artist requires the sacrificing of all Trina-like qualities. Confusingly, the key track, “Romans Revenge,” finds her winning while acting as savage as ever, standing up to Eminem -- who is in gross-mode -- and literally roaring like a tiger to get the job done. This is the Nicki the mixtape crowd fell in love with, and you only need check out 2009’s mixtape Beam Me Up Scotty for examples of how the Barbie (read: pop and R&B) and the bitch (read: hip-hop) sides of Minaj can be sensibly presented together. In the end, Pink Friday is an ambitious, glossy stunner if fashion week is your favorite time of year, but Minaj didn’t earn her diva status this way. Longtime fans familiar with her underground work won’t even consider this her debut, just an extravagant coming out party, the kind where the invite mentions “no sneakers or athletic apparel.”
Words: David Jeffries
The Re-Up comes on with such an anti-Roman, back-to-basics attitude that it slowly slithers up to the Wayne track, opening with a grind-meets-gospel cut "Up in Flames" ("I keep a sniper/I ain't talkin' 'bout Wesley") before the loopy meditation on fame called "Freedom" offers the listener a dreamy float in space. Then there's the dark majesty of "Hell Yeah," which comes off as a cursed Usher track while also rhyming "menses" with "Louis V lenses", but everything after the Wayne duet is the kinetic Minaj of the past, starting with the too true "I'm Legit," where Nicki alternates between imitating a robot and an air-raid siren as Ciara provides the silky hook. It's a thrill, as is the girls' night anthem "The Boys," which skillfully switches influences from Diddy to Diplo to Dan Fogelberg (dig that acoustic guitar bridge) with singer Cassie along for the ride. As "Va Va Voom" closes The Re-Up with some Black Eyed Peas-styled flash, this tacked-on EP winds up as wild and rangy as Minaj's debut. For fans who don't yet own the second album, this is certainly the better deal and bigger picture, and with some versions adding a DVD's worth of videos, the value goes up. Words: David Jeffries