An Introduction to Nicki Minaj’s Mixtapes
It’s always done Nicki Minaj a disservice to call her the best female rapper in the world. She is, quite simply, one of the best rappers in the world. In terms of lyrics, technique and creativity, she is in a league of her own.
However, the mere fact that she has the ability to balance top five rap status with a knack for releasing chart-shattering pop smashes has led many to conclude that her credibility as an MC is depleted. I guess people have a hard time accepting that one person can be two things: one of the best rappers in the world, and one of the world’s biggest pop stars. In an attempt to reiterate the former, we’ve compiled a quick guide to the three mixtapes that preceded her trajectory as a major label giant.
Disclaimer: We aren’t trying to say the old Nicki is better. We aren’t cooped up in the office whinging about artists who end up getting endorsement deals and perform at the VMAs with Taylor Swift. That stuff is inconsequential. There are just some standout moments on these overlooked releases that are worth celebrating.
Playtime Is Over2007
Having spent a while uploading music to MySpace and reaching out to specific producers, Nicki caught the attention of Fendi – CEO of Brooklyn-based imprint Dirty Money Entertainment – who signed her and put her on a DVD series called The Come Up. Clips of Minaj’s appearances on those DVDs is dynamite. Watch one choice cut here. The DVD caught the attention of Lil Wayne who then signed Nicki to Young Money. It’s a brilliant introduction. Mostly using existing beats and instrumentals, Nicki’s assault on rap’s male-dominated climate began. It still stands as Nicki’s most completely hip-hop release. There was less of the sugary pop-rap and more whirlwind flow with the same bizarro character interchanging. The alter-ego of ‘Nicki Lewinsky’ was debuted and Minaj used the faux-cockney accent for the first time. As a first mixtape, it’s a firecracker. This was the tape that built the hero-worshipping online following and the tape that introduced the world to her knuckleduster flow. It was also packed with brilliant examples of Nicki’s ability to blend menacing threats with day-to-day mundanities. (“Name one bitch in the game, that I can’t murder / Chicken noodle bitches, on the side with a soda” – 40 Bars)
Top 3: Dilly Dally, Wuchoo Know, Sticks In My Bun
Following her signing with Young Money, Nicki’s sophomore tape arrived with Wayne in tow. Very few of these cuts are original, Nicki jumped on a load of popular hip hop instrumentals (a format Wayne has now done to death) but she successfully made every track feel like her own. Dead Wrong was one of the cuts that called in comparisons to NYC rap legends like Notorious (a similarity that cropped up again on The PinkPrint’s Four Door Aventador). Nicki’s remix of Wayne’s Lollipop also made the filthiest song of all time even more X-rated. To the point where quoting it in this article would make me worried about my bosses seeing. See it for yourself.
Top 3: Dead Wrong, Autobiography, Cuchi Shop
Beam Me Up Scotty2009
The final instalment of mixtape Nicki. It is clear on listening to Beam Me Up Scotty that Nicki had set her sights on the big leagues of the crossover pop-rap world. Feature spots from Wayne, Drake and Gucci Mane all hinted at plans for world domination and I Get Crazy got picked up as Nicki’s first real radio hit. Despite the slight shift in the direction of commercial domination, this tape features some of her fieriest verses on record. The tape was recorded at a time where Nicki felt too much focus was being put on building her image and her aesthetic. As the intro track attests, “You know, its not going to be about connections. It’s not gonna be about my looks. Its gonna be about, who wants it the most… and I want it the most”. Itty Bitty Piggy instantly became a club favourite in Queens and beyond. It’s also got two of her sharpest lyrics ever; “I don’t fuck with pigs, like As-salamu alaykum / I put em in a field, I let Oscar Mayer bake ’em.” and “I think I’ll have a rap bitch for my entrée / ‘Cause they be thinkin’ they can spit, spit shine my shoes”. You’ve been warned.
Top 3: Beam Me Up Scotty, Itty Bitty Piggy, Can Anybody Hear Me