When she’s on fire nobody in hip hop can extinguish her talents.
Adam Kennedy 2010
It's been a while since hip hop, the planet's most testosterone-charged genre, had a female mouthpiece to truly mix it with the boys. Enter Nicki Minaj, five-foot-not-a-lot of Trinidadian-born, New York City-raised dynamite. Her debut album certainly explodes with requisite vitality too, even if a significant proportion of 13 potty-mouthed tracks fail to completely combust.
Replete with day-glo hair and cartoonish alter egos, Minaj employs mildly terrifying upfront sexuality last seen when Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown began trading catty pot shots in the late 1990s. Yet the rub leading up to this record was her major label paymasters would in some way desexualise Minaj's fearsome mix of potty-mouthed sass and fearless musical rulebook tearing.
The sceptics are made to look foolish on evidence of early loonfest Roman's Revenge, a schizophrenic alternate personality face-off with Eminem, she declaring loudly “I'm a c***”, Slim Shady turning in his most vicious rhymes for many moons. It's a potent combination, a bass music-led match made possibly closer to hell than heaven. And Minaj is hardly holding back on the subsequent Did It on 'Em, threatening to – metaphorically or otherwise – defecate on all comers.
It's a frenetic start, but the pace doesn't last, handing naysayers an opportunity to point out where the label's artistic direction may come into play, setting eyes on the charts rather than breaking new ground. Fly, featuring Rihanna, and Right Thru Me are the first moments where a sensation of wasted opportunity begins to nag.
Several novelty crossover attempts are slightly excruciating (see Check It Out re-appropriating Buggles' one-hit-wonder Video Killed the Radio Star), Kanye West sleepwalks through Blazin’ and Natasha Bedingfield is an incongruous name aiding closer Last Chance. But doubts are erased in the face of such self-aware diatribes as Dear Old Nicki, lyrics like “In hindsight, I loved your rawness and I loved your edge” approaching a missive to herself from the future.
Pink Friday isn't a classic by any means, then, but when Nicki Minaj is on fire nobody in hip hop – male or female – can extinguish her bright-burning talents.