‘Pink Friday’: How Nicki Minaj Went From Scene-Stealer To Star

On her debut album, ‘Pink Friday,’ Nicki Minaj showcased a genre-bending musicality that took in everything from underground cuts to crossover smashes.

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Nicki Minaj Pink Friday
Cover: Courtesy of Young Money

The timing could not have been better for the game-changing arrival of Onika Tanya Maraj-Petty, aka Nicki Minaj. In the male-dominated genre of hip-hop, during the late 00s and the early 2010s, few female MCs experienced the same acclaim and commercial success as their male counterparts. Seizing the moment, Minaj emerged on the scene equipped with next-level lyricism and unabashed sexuality. Backed by Lil Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment, she was the perfect candidate to represent women who were aiming to make a name for themselves in hip-hop, and by the time her debut album, Pink Friday, dropped, she was practically a household name already.

Listen to the expanded version of Pink Friday here.

Showcasing her versatility

Proving she was more than just eye candy, Minaj flexed her lyrical dexterity on the underground mixtape circuit (Beam Me Up Scotty and Barbie World) and delivered epic verses on a plethora of guest features such as ‘Bed Rock’, with Lil Wayne and fellow newcomer Drake; “My Chick Bad’,” with Ludacris; and her show-stealing appearance on “Monster,” accompanied by hip-hop heavyweights Kanye West, Jay Z, and Rick Ross.

Anticipation was high for Pink Friday, which landed on November 20, 2010. As one of the most exciting and unique newcomers on the hip-hop landscape, Minaj used her debut album as a showcase for her versatility and the unpredictable personalities of her alter egos, harnessing a genre-bending musicality that took in everything from underground cuts to crossover smashes.

Consisting of 18 tracks, with contributions from an all-star cast of guests, including, Kanye West and Natasha Bedingfield, Pink Friday touted deep album tracks that catered to her diverse audience, including the stellar opener, “I’m The Best”; the Swizz Beats-produced psychological thrill ride of “Roman’s Revenge,” featuring Eminem; the boss-talking of “Did It On’em,” and other standout tracks that displayed the expansive reach of Minaj’s songwriting prowess.

A pop-rap innovator

But the strength of the album lay in Minaj’s innate ability to craft pop-rap crossovers that skyrocketed up the Billboard charts. An unprecedented eight singles were released from Pink Friday, raising the bar for other mainstream rap stars to follow. Her debut, “Massive Attack,” was a clear stylistic departure from Minaj’s mixtapes and guest appearances, and peaked at No.22 on the Billboard Hot 100. The first track to be lifted from Pink Friday, Annie Lennox-sampled pop-rap ballad “Your Love,” a track Minaj had recorded a few years earlier, became a surprise hit when it peaked at No.14 after being leaked to radio, while the electro-pop of “Check It Out,” a joint single with will-i-am, also took Minaj to the top of the charts.

Nicki Minaj - Moment 4 Life (MTV Version) (Official Music Video) ft. Drake

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While Pink Friday is loaded with hits, two singles officially sent Minaj into the pop stratosphere: the Drake-assisted “Moment 4 Life,” which became an inspirational anthem, and Minaj’s true crossover hit, “Super Bass,” which became her first Top 10 entry as a lead artist and the highest-charting solo record by a female artist since Missy Elliott released ‘Work It’ in 2002. Fusing rapid-fire rhymes with bubble-gum pop, and with candy-colored visuals to match, “Super Bass” still sounds light years ahead of its time.

The new queen of hip-hop

Along with “Right Thru Me” and “Fly,” featuring Rihanna, Pink Friday spun off an amazing six Top 10 singles in the US rap chart. But Minaj wasn’t just making music for the masses. With her message of female empowerment, her singular style, and her energetic persona, she created an undeniable movement. Pink Friday was a runaway success, selling over three million records, launching Minaj as a global icon, and crowning her the new queen of hip-hop.

Nicki Minaj - Super Bass

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In its first week of release, the album debuted at No.2 on the Billboard 200, selling 375,000 copies. It would ultimately reach No.1 on the chart. Building off the blueprint of those who came before her, Minaj blazed a new trail of her own, and Pink Friday remains an influential body of work whose DNA can be heard in the stylings of Cardi B, Meg Thee Stallion, Lizzo, Doja Cat, and Kash Doll.

Without question, Minaj’s debut album was more pop-driven than her original fans expected, but it was an immense accomplishment, setting a course that led to the MC becoming a cultural phenomenon. On Pink Friday, she proved that her music was not just for the streets of Queens or the mixtape aficionados. It was for the world.

Listen to the expanded edition of Pink Friday here.

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