We're ranking Nicki Minaj's four studio albums from worst to best.
The rap game has historically been a Boy’s Club. Even after the emergence of female rap legends such as Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliot, Salt-N-Pepa, and Lauryn Hill, men still dominated the upper echelon of hip-hop, while women in the industry remained largely seen and not heard. The “video vixen” ideal that emerged in the ‘90s is still omnipresent as ever, with half-naked, submissive women being as much of a staple to hip-hop music videos and performances as the music itself. Many female rappers have stepped up to the plate and challenged this status quo, using their sexuality to sell their own music, rather than that of their male counterparts. Among them are the aforementioned rappers, and modern-day hip-hop monarch, Nicki Minaj.
Despite the prevalent hyper-sexualization of women in rap, Minaj’s reclamation of her own sexuality has often been used by the public as a way to discredit her. At no point has this criticism stopped the 37-year-old emcee from dominating airwaves with her spellbinding lyrical prowess, however. The MVP of modern female rap, Minaj has opened the door for the avalanche of female rappers now entering the game, such as Megan Thee Stallion, Rico Nasty, Saweetie, Doja Cat, and yes, even her adversary, Cardi B.
When Minaj outperformed Jay Z, Kanye West, and Rick Ross on West’s 2010 track, “Monster,” she proved she could outshine even the industry's finest. Her verse was crowned the best rap verse of 2010, cementing the words “Feat. Nicki Minaj” a surefire marker of a song’s quality, a sentiment that has stood the test of time. Since then, Minaj has released four albums and countless features, amassing about a dozen alter egos in the process, including Harajuku Barbie, Roman, Nicki Lewinski, Nicki The Boss, Chun-Li, and Martha Zolanski.
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On September 30th, Minaj rang in the latest era of her life— motherhood. Granted, she’s been calling fellow rappers her sons for the past decade, but Minaj has now given birth to an actual son, months after dropping some of the most iconic pregnancy photoshoot pics hip-hop has ever seen. In honor of the vast contributions Minaj has made not only to female rap, but rap as a whole during her 10-year reign, we’re celebrating this milestone by putting together a ranking of the hip-hop mogul's studio albums.
Count down with us from worst to best-- and let us know if you agree.
4. Queen (2018)
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Lauded by mentor Lil Wayne as “one of her best albums yet” prior to its release, Queen didn’t quite obtain the success Minaj had foreseen, which can partially be attributed to the muddled rollout of the album. Minaj dropped off singles “Chun-Li” and “Barbie Tingz” in quick succession prior to the release, a wise choice as they ended up being the album’s standout tracks. In the songs, Minaj marks her return the way everybody expected her to— by addressing the rise of Cardi B since her last album release in 2014. Despite never calling Cardi out by name, it’s pretty clear who Minaj was referring to when she rapped about, “cutting a b*tch,” in “Barbie Tingz,” hurling accusations that her music and look were being stolen by another.
None of this is to say that the album flopped, however— the album was met with commercial success, to be sure, but it still fell short of sky-high the bar Minaj continuously raises for herself. The album peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 200, fumbling the No. 1 spot to Travis Scott’s Astroworld. This loss brought out the Twitter fingers, with Minaj airing Scott out for “using” his baby mama Kylie Jenner, and their daughter, Stormi, to promote his merch bundles, and in the process, she may have very well hurt her own sales even further. Minaj also blamed Spotify for allegedly sabotaging the ad campaign of the album as “punishment” for the fact that she briefly previewed a snippet of the album on her Apple Music show, Queen Radio. Minaj capped off her largely one-sided spats by stressing that she put “blood, sweat, and tears” into the album, ultimately likening herself to Harriet Tubman.
Due to its profound messiness, the album’s rollout has become an inextricable part of the album itself. Regardless, fans were elated to see Minaj reacquaint herself with her aggressive, rapid-fire flow on tracks like “Good Form,” “Majesty,” and “LLC,” however an equal number felt Minaj’s overall narrative on the album contradicted her long-standing identity as a feminist champion. Between her seeming desperation to find someone to blame for the album’s anticlimactic reception, to the fact that most songs on the album serve only to tear other women down, it seemed as though Queen was little more than an ego-stroking projection of Minaj’s own insecurities.
3. Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded/The Re-Up (2012)
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Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded was all gas, no brakes. Much to the dismay of hip-hop purists, Minaj occupied nearly every lane in existence on the 19-track, 69-minute album— rap, pop, R&B, even dabbling in dancehall on her track “Gun Shot,” featuring Beenie Man. Utilizing her silver tongue to deliver scathing lashes to her naysayers, Minaj’s rambunctious energy was unfaltering throughout the entirety of the project. Initially released with the intention of shutting down critics who insisted Minaj was diverting from hip-hop in favor of pop stardom, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded ended up doing nearly the opposite. However, Minaj’s (somewhat pop-leaning) marriage of the two genres worked remarkably well on the album, proving that the criticism may not have been warranted in the first place.
The Re-Up, released seven months after the initial album, added eight additional tracks to the project, including hits, “Va Va Voom” and “The Boys” featuring Cassie. “The Boys” was a rollercoaster of genre-mixing in and of itself, with bouts of acoustic guitar and Cassie’s soothing vocals plopped between Minaj’s razor-sharp bars and thundering beats. Albeit, some found fault in Minaj’s continued tendency to rhyme words with themselves (see: “I Endorse These Strippers”), the album remained devoid of filler tracks, balancing out the initial release by mixing hard and soft seamlessly.
The album’s frenzied vigor was exactly what fans wanted from the project, and Minaj overzealously delivered, going absolutely berserk and delivering incessantly brash lyrics throughout. Admittedly, Minaj’s sophomore album gave listeners a lot to digest. Thankfully, Minaj fans who prefer her rap side, and Minaj fans who prefer her pop sound, both agreed that the album was worth the long listen.
2. Pinkprint (2014)
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One of the most common critiques of Minaj’s music is that it is shallow and impersonal. Marking the beginning of a new era in her music, Pinkprint changed that perception. On Pinkprint, Minaj stripped down her flamboyant demeanor and garish wigs, showcasing her hardly-seen emotional side. Given that she is one of the few rappers who is simultaneously regarded as one of the best of all time, yet paradoxically always tasked with re-proving herself as an artist (every time another female rapper emerges, it seems), it makes sense that she’s not one to let her guard down often. However, Minaj proved she does vulnerability just as well as she does carefree, cartoonish exaggeration on soul-bearing Pinkprint tracks like “Bed of Lies” and “All Things Go.”
Nicki straddled the line between rap and pop often on Pinkprint, delivering melancholic bars over sparky, energetic beats. Leaving her tenacious alter egos behind entirely, Onika Maraj herself took center stage on Pinkprint, chronicling the ups and downs of her personal life. Minaj delved into the sorrows and regrets that have haunted her perpetually on opening tracks “All Things Go,” “I Lied,” and “The Crying Game.” In “All Things Go,” Minaj discloses the guilt she felt for the death of her cousin, Nicholas Telemaque, in 2011 due to “a senseless act of violence”, which she felt she could have prevented by taking him in: “His sister said he wanted to stay with me, but I didn’t invite him… yes, I get it, I get it was all me; I pop a pill and remember the look in his eyes the last day he saw me.” Minaj also sheds light on the demise of her relationship with ex-boyfriend of eleven years, Safaree Samuels, upon her rise to fame, saying their love faded once Minaj began attaining material success.
In addition, the album contained upbeat, light-hearted tracks “The Night Is Still Young,” “Anaconda,” and “Trini Dem Girls,” the latter of which contains one of Minaj’s raunchiest hooks to date. Showcasing a mixture of weepy ballads and sanguine, ego-drunk convictions, Minaj does it all on Pinkprint, oscillating between being cocky and humble, bossed-up and broken, in an unerring demonstration of the complexities of adulthood. Paying homage to Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, Pinkprint is a testament to Minaj’s versatility. The album features powerhouses Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, Drake, and Weezy F Baby himself, all of whom rose to the occasion and further added to the eminence of the album.
1. Pink Friday (2010)
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Freshly signed to Lil Wayne’s Young Money Records the year prior, Minaj released her debut studio album, Pink Friday, in November 2010. Incorporating both singing and rapping— a union that would soon become Minaj’s trademark— the album was full of Minaj’s now-signature double entendres and comical accents. The album established Minaj in a unique lane-- there weren’t many other, if any, dominant female rappers at the time-- and solidified her first mega-hit, “Super Bass,” which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, the highest any solo female artist’s song had ranked since Missy Elliot’s “Work It” in 2002. Songs like “Your Love” and “Wave Ya Hand” demonstrated Minaj’s knack for internal rhymes and contrasted her captivating ferocity on “Did It On’em” and “Blow Ya Mind.” The numbers don’t lie, either: Pink Friday peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and garnered three Grammy nominations, in addition to the accolades the album still receives to this day.
Even in the midst of her Barbie madness, Minaj still managed to embody an endearing girl-next-door persona on tracks “Save Me” and “Right Thru Me,” jumping octaves and effortlessly switching gears from her harsh delivery. Although the album featured some at-times lackluster beats, Minaj’s lyrical dexterity more than redeemed the project, with her rattling off boasts, taunts, and heartfelt desires at warp speed throughout. Minaj’s skillful genre-bending musicality is what defines the project, however, establishing the upcoming rapper as a hip-hop and pop heavyweight.
The album was jam-packed with hits, birthing six Top 10 singles on the U.S. rap chart, including “Fly,” with Rihanna. Produced by “A Milli” producer, Bangladesh, “Did It On’em” was one of the album's most prominent tracks, alongside “Super Bass.” Minaj delivered both poignant sentiments as well supercilious hooks in her introductory album, which is an undoubted cultural phenomenon. The album wonderfully employed wordplay, wit, and just the right amount of vulgarity to deliver Minaj’s overarching message: she’s the best.
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