If there was any doubt that Nicki Minaj was the “it” girl of hip-hop, the Queens emcee wiped it away.
After going head to head with Kanye West when delivering her highly anticipated debut album on last week’s very crowded pre-Thanksgiving record release day, Minaj scored the No. 2 spot.
Minaj's “Pink Friday” sold 375,000 copies of the disc, behind West, who took the top spot after selling 496,000 of “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” according to Nielsen Soundscan.
With few female emcees on the charts, Minaj (who was recently profiled in The Times) has been hailed as a kind of savior with pop crossover potential. In the last half-decade, rappers such as Foxy Brown, Eve, Lil' Kim and Missy Elliott have been out of the spotlight, and with Lauryn Hill only vaguely on the scene, the absence of a powerful female voice has been notable.
The strong debut of “Pink Friday” is just another feat for Minaj. The last female emcee to push first-week numbers like those was Elliott, whose 2002 album "Under Construction" sold 259,000 copies its first week out.
The rapper is no stranger to making chart history after her Annie Lennox-sampling single, "Your Love," became the first female hip-hop No. 1 to hit Billboard's rap singles chart since Elliott's "Work It" in 2002. She's also the female rapper with the most chart entries in one year on Billboard's 100 — she's had eight so far.
When we spoke with her earlier this year, the expectations for the album’s release weighed heavily on her mind.
“I think about the pressure to deliver, but it actually motivates me more than anything. I use that in a positive way,” she said about the attention placed on the disc. “Sometimes it’s a little scary. It’s funny, I’d rather people have low expectations of me than super-high expectations because then I just live my life like I want to exceed everyone’s expectations, so if you set them extremely high I feel like I have way more to do. Way more to prove.”
What Minaj’s big debut will mean for the future of female rap is uncertain -- especially as her would-be peers including Lil’ Kim definitely aren’t welcoming her with open arms (Kim released a diss track last week mocking Minaj, titled “Black Friday”) and fans continue to anticipate long-rumored returns from Elliott, Hill and Kim.
But despite all the naysayers, rapper Talib Kweli says Minaj isn't getting enough credit for what she is adding to hip-hop.
“Say what you want about her being a Barbie or whatever. But there are no artists out there who have elevated the level of the 16 bars to where she has it right now," Kweli said. She brags on one of her records that she’s never been on a record that didn’t make Billboard charts, and that’s not a fluke, because when Nicki goes on a record, whether it’s ‘Monster’ by Kanye West or ‘Bottoms Up’ by Trey Songz, she creates characters, changing her voice, doing inflections, doing everything emcees should be doing.
“Some people see all the pop and the marketing and it turns them off, but they don’t realize that the reason these artists are where they are is because they pay attention to the craft.”
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photo: Nicki Minaj poses at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles in September. Credit: Mario Anzuoni / Reuters