The Trinidad-born, Queens, NY-bred artist released her first album Pink Friday in 2010 to success, following a slew of witty, phrase-turning features on songs like Kanye West’s “Monster.” However the singles that exploded from her debut weren’t the gritty rhymes made famous by mixtapes like Beam Me Up Scotty—instead pop-laden tracks like “Super Bass” pierced Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and garnered her an “Ellen” appearance where she hugged two tiny screaming British fans.
On April 3, 2012, the artist born Onika Maraj released her sophomore album Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded with a slightly different formula. Kicking off the LP’s promotion in January with a visually-interesting video but collectively mundane song rehashing her dislike for rival Lil’ Kim in “Stupid Hoe,” Minaj went the opposite direction during her Grammy performance of “Roman’s Revenge” in February, acting out an exorcism and causing an explosion of positive and negative social media commentary. Minaj even arrived at the award show with a Pope lookalike, upsetting the Catholic League, and drumming up conversation about her artistic freedom of speech. Combined with her Fashion Week appearances—where she sat next to Vogue’s Anna Wintour, and a Super Bowl performance alongside Madonna and M.I.A. for the Material Girl’s “Gimme All Your Luvin,” single, Minaj’s sophomore album entered the Billboard 200 albums chart at number one. Her lead single “Starships” currently sits on the Hot 100 chart at number seven nestled between Flo Rida and someone named Carly Rae Jensen. Over on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart Ms. Minaj appears at number 24, after Tyrese’s “Stay,” with her Chris Brown-assisted “Right By Your Side” and her sophomore album currently sits at number three in its second week of release on the Billboard 200 bested by Lionel Ritchie’s Tuskegee and Adele’s 21.
And while traditional rap cuts from Roman Reloaded like “Beez In The Trap” co-starring 2 Chainz are sure to hit the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart eventually, it’s clear where the pop star’s bread and butter lies.
“I guess I went commercial, just shot a commercial when I flew to the set though, I ain’t fly commercial … so I laugh at hopefuls, ‘Nicki pop,’ only thing that’s pop is my endorsement op. F*ck around and have to go and reinforce the glock,” she raps on the album’s title track amid gunshots.
Touting sponsorship deals with Pepsi, M.A.C. Cosmetics and O.P.I. nail polish, the first lady of Lil Wayne’s Young Money label is also releasing a fragrance and a clothing line. Bouncing her ample behind in a cage—a slight nod to Sara Baartman with or without knowing it—in the “Stupid Hoe” clip, Minaj has become a controversial poster child for feminism in 2012 by helming her career in an exacting manner. Her success has inspired record label executives to sign female emcees—and few would be surprised if Minaj appeared in a film or as a recurring television character following her upcoming world tour. Still it’s clear that descriptions like “pop,” though linked to mainstream money, are dirty words in urban culture where authenticity remains king.
Me … I can’t listen to “Starships.” I am happiest when Ms. Minaj raps and literally eats the microphone. With her lyrics, voice inflection, beauty and kooky imagination, Nicki Minaj could’ve become the biggest female emcee in history but her path shows that she’d rather emulate former tour mate Britney Spears over Foxy Brown. I don’t begrudge Ms. Minaj her fame and fortune, I just want an album I can play all the way through.