Last week I both checked a major event off my Bud Light Bucket List and experienced Nirvana. But first let me back up.
It’s senior year of college and I’m visiting Labeling Men Art Director Eric Fulcher in his hometown of Race City, U.S.A. “Harold has been repping this chick,” Eric tells me as he turns onto his parents’ street. “Nicki something…” Harold, known to the Internet as King Hershey, is Eric’s childhood best friend and our automatic go-to for the next-big-thing-in-girl-rappers, i.e. all-we-care-about. I didn’t think much about Eric’s off-handed comment at the time, but I have since thought back on it frequently, kicking myself in the metaphorical shins for not latching at the opportunity to see Nicki live in 2008 (when she was still playing small venues and identifying as bisexual) like King Hershey did.
A few months later we’re sitting in Eric’s bedroom, i.e. “the VIP Lounge,” when Eric urges us to gather around his computer screen. “Harold’s girl is poppin off,” he says, loading the video for Yo Gotti’s “5 Star Chick Remix.” This is my first acquaintance with Ms. Minaj, and while I’m not necessarily blown away, I’m charmed. Given my turbo-Wasp upbringing, I appreciate the rhyming of “Tiffany” and “epiphany,” and, looking back, I find it pretty hilarious that Nicki thought it a worthwhile use of her skills to dis Lil Mama (“five, Lil Mama, you a three star”). I think of the track as my first date with Nicki. While it isn’t love at first sight, I want to see more of her.
My interest is again piqued when during a late night YouTube bender I find a Hood Affairs video of a less glammed up, but equally callipygous Nicki performing “Itty Bitty Piggy,” a single off her third mix-tape, Beam Me Up Scotty. Suffice it to say my second date leaves me more enchanted than the first. While she doesn’t have much of a reputation at the time outside the world of hip-hop-heads, Nicki’s lyrics express the same notion that characterize her raps today – that no one out there even approaches her skills: “I’m the baddest in the school / baddest in the game / excuse me honey, but no body’s in my lane.” And, oof, rapping along to Nicki’s bumptious lyrics got me feeling some typa way! The song builds slowly but fiercely, culminating in what will become a classically Nicki monologue: “Like, I meannn…. I don’t even know why you girls bother at this point! Like… give up. It’s me! Iiiiiii win. You LOSEEEEE,” followed by maniacal laughter and then a four-time rapid-fire: “I’ma bad bitch / I’ma I’ma bad bitch.” She isn’t yet making 250k for a verse, but she’s aware of her brilliance, gearing the rest of us for what’s to come.
If there was a precise moment at which Nicki transitioned in my consciousness from obsession-du-jour to religious-level-icon slash unattainable-love-of-my-life, it would be the first time I heard her verse on “Monster.” The year is 2010, my first year of law school, and I’m sitting alone in my studio apartment pounding Diet Coke and trying to figure out what a tort is. After three and a half unremarkable minutes of the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy single, something magical happens to my ears – Nicki enters the song as if she owns it. She not only redeems the track; she lights it on fire. After rewinding and re-listening to her verse several times (and maybe shedding an excitement-induced tear) I call up Eric, the only person in the world who can possibly understand the delightful feelings swirling inside me at this moment. “Can we talk about Nicki’s verse on ‘Monster’?” I say, sans introduction. “Iiiiiii know,” he responds, “She is on this track with Kanye and Rick Ross and Jay Z and she LIT-TRA-LEE slays every single one of them.”
Eric and I obviously aren’t the only people to appreciate the glory of the verse. Nicki addresses her own magnificence when she raps: “So let me get this straight, wait, I’m the rookie?” Rick Ross describes watching Nicki record the verse “a moment in history.” But perhaps most significant are the words of world-renowned narcissist and track creator Kanye West himself, who says in the midst of a rant I can’t say I follow: “It was like that moment, you know, when I thought of taking Nicki’s verse off of ‘Monster,’ because I knew people would say that was the best verse on the best hip hop album of all time.”
It takes a few years for the Nicki we hear on “Monster” to come to full fruition. I imagine shorty thereafter, record execs – white men – see something worth snatching and play a role in crafting the cartoonish, bubble-gum “Starships” Nicki that becomes the popular conception of Ms. Minaj for years. I like this Nicki okay. She’s certainly a nice alternative to the army of dead-behind-the-eyes Katy Perry type Dr. Luke creations that dominate the pop scene. And she’s still releasing the occasional occasional gem during these years (see “Did it On Em,” “Beez in The Trap”). But I know Nicki has more in her.
And then 2014 happens.
The year begins with Nicki shedding her technicolor wigs and gaudy costumes for sleek blond hair and black on black on black for YG’s “My N*gga (Remix),” tying up her verse with a hearty shout-out to her “main bitches” and her “side bitches.” Then we see her looking and sounding near perfect while firing two assault rifles in Nabil’s “Lookin’ Ass” video, prompting MTV news to announce “this 2014 version of Nicki is far more menacing than anything we’ve ever seen.” In 2014, we hear her infuse fire into Juicy J’s “Low,” Young Thug’s “Danny Glover,” and Rae Sremmurd’s “Throw Sum Mo.” And then in December, she drops the Pinkprint, our first album from Nicki the rapper as opposed to Nicki the pop star. It perhaps contains more ballads than I would have chosen, but her fierce flow(s) on “Feelin Myself,” “Want Some More,” and “Get on Your Knees” more than make up for it. Reviews in Pitchfork and Jezebel laud Nicki’s feminist vision, a notion that in 2014 has somehow become hip. Cable TV darling Ilana Glazer announces herself as a “No. 1 Nicki Minaj fan,” and Lena Dunham tweets that “every Jewish male comedy writer should just wish he were as witty as Nicki Minaj.” Suddenly – poof! – I’m no longer met with smug laughs or pleas for explanation when I list Nicki among my favorite MCs of all time.
There is typically nothing I hate more than when an artist I cherish as my personal favorite – my secret – gets picked up by the rest of the world. Ok, fine, Nicki was never really my secret – she was signed to Young Money when I “discovered” her after all. But for several years I felt as though there was something about that was mine. I saw her as more than pink wigs and strange voices that could hold a syllable for an entire bar. I saw in her a talent and a potential that I felt most overlooked. Yet for once in my life, I’m not the slightest bit annoyed that the masses are – syears later – starting to agree with me. In fact, I’m proud. I’m happy that Nicki has finally achieved the greatness she’s always known was hers. And last Friday – one very pink Friday – I got to watch Nicki perform along with 12,500 others who knew every word to “Itty Bitty Piggy,” with 12,500 others who were moved to tears during her numerous boss-bitch-monologues, with 12,500 others who know that Nicki deserves to be the “highest selling female rapper, for the record.”
I had planned to write this piece about the show, but the experience put me into such a state of bliss that Anna the Critic faded into obscurity. I entered one of those rare states Zen enthusiasts, i.e. most Californians, call “being present.” For once, my mind wasn’t spiraling, evaluating, judging, imagining how things could be better. I just…was. But luckily for you all, Anna the Critic has been experiencing Nicki long enough to write over 1,400 words on the subject without having a single distinct memory of the show aside from a deliriously excited gay man grabbing her mic and sprinting across the stage screaming, “Nickiiiiiiiiiii.”The show also provided me with a nice opportunity to reflect on my favorite Nicki songs, with an obvious emphasis on Nicki the rapper. I’m of course including some features because among Nicki’s most impressive skills include eviscerating more “established rappers” on their own tracks. Enjoy the selection below and never stop being 5 star chicks ya’ll!!!
Listen Here: all hail queen nicki
“Did it On Em” – Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday, 2010
Trust me I keep a couple hundred in the duff’ b / couple wet wipes case a bum try to touch me (EW)
“Low” – Juicy J, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Pure THC: The Hustle Continues, 2014
I ain’t talking bowlin, but I’m with the kingpin
“Monster” – Kanye West, Jay Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, 2010
Pink wig, thick ass, give em whiplash / I think big, get cash, make them blink fast
“Bottoms Up – Feat. Nicki Minaj” – Trey Songz, Passion, Pain & Pleasure, 2010
I’m with a bad bitch, he’s with his friends / I don’t say “hi,” I say “keys to the Benz”!
“Beez in the Trap” – Nicki Minaj, 2 Chainz, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, 2012
Bitchez ain’t shit and they ain’t sayin nothing / a hundred mother fuckers can’t tell me nothin
“Want Some More” – Nicki Minaj, The Pinkprint, 2014
I poppin tags every day it look like my B’day / this bitches suck so I nickname these bitches BJ
“Lookin Ass” – Young Money, Nicki Minaj, Young Money: Rise of an Empire, 2014
Call me Clinton, I’m Billin’ these n*ggas
“Feeling Myself” – Nicki Minaj, Beyonce, The Pinkprint, 2014
Bitches ain’t got punchlines or flow / I have both and an Empire also
“Letting Go (Dutty Love) Feat. Nicki Minaj” – Sean Kingston, 2010
ayo I ain’t gotta tell em / and I ain’t gotta sell em / it’s Y-S-L dadd, I ain’t gotta spell it
“Get On Your Knees” – Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, The Pinkprint, 2014
I’ll be back at eleven, you just act like a peasant / got a bow on my panties, because my ass is a present
“My Nigga – Remix” – YG, Lil Wayne, Rich Homie Quan, 2014
I’m so fuckin’ rich I cop rides for my bitches / dollar menu fries apple pies other bitches
“Y.U. Mad” – Birdman, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, 2011
Damn, Billboard, I mean I’m winning, but I’m still bored / Yeah we shine, gold cluster / as for your career, dead: Ghost Busters
“Check it Out” – will.i.am and Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday, 2010
Da done done / Yep in London / Competition? Why yes, I would love some
“Blazin” – Nicki Minaj, Kanye West, Pink Friday, 2010
I’m the best, anybody with some money should invest now / Soccer mom needs to organize a pep rall’ / Your game over bitch, Gatorade, wet towel
“Only” – Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Drake, The Pinkprint, 2014
My man full, he just ate
“I Am Your Leader” – Nicki Minaj, Cam’Ron, Rick Ross, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, 2012
Nunchucka’, no time to ducka’ / Sign of the cross, cause this is her last suppa’
“Come on a Cone” – Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, 2012
When I’m sittin with Anna / I’m really sittin with Anna / Ain’t no metaphor, punchline / I’m really sittin with Anna
“Four Door Aventador” – Nicki Minaj, The Pinkprint, 2014
For the money and they whips, putting kitten on lips / dividing dividends, get the money and dip
“Touchin, Lovin (feat. Nicki Minaj)” – Trey Songz, Trigga, 2014
Sometimes I tell ‘em I love ‘em, because I just wanna fuck ‘em
“Favorite” – Nicki Minaj, The Pinkprint, 2014
I don’t wanna hype ya / but you a lucky n*gga if my mean ass like ya
By Anna Dorn
Photograph courtesy of Nicki Minaj's Instagram