Nicki Minaj has undoubtedly cemented her legacy as one of hip-hop’s most important artists. As the leading female artist with the most charting entries on Billboard’s Hot 100 – surpassing even Aretha Franklin – she has been an endlessly creative force in hip-hop throughout the 2010s. Along with her greatness, she boasts a controversial streak that keeps grabbing headlines, but the best Nicki Minaj songs are what her reputation will rest on. As she continues to build on what came before – a multitude of brand endorsements and a record-shattering radio show are the most recent additions to her empire – she consistently lives up to the claim she made with her first group, The Hood$tars, back in 2004: “I ain’t the lady to mess with.” Here are 20 essential tracks that prove why.
20: ‘5 Star Remix’ (Yo Gotti, featuring Gucci Mane, Trina, and Nicki Minaj)
“I just had an epiphany, I need to go to Tiffany’s,” is the way that Minaj starts her all-star appearance on the remix of Yo Gotti’s 2009 single. On this track, Minaj is the rookie, but she undoubtedly holds her own alongside Gotti, Gucci Mane, and her veteran inspiration, Trina. With the last verse, Minaj steals the show, alluding to her Fendi prints, the sex toys that she would eventually bring on stage during tour appearances, and her love for Harajuku girls. At this moment, a star was born. Years later, her guest spot on Gotti’s “Rack It Up” would prove how far she’d come.
19: ‘Win Again’
If Minaj needed a topic for her senior thesis, this bonus track from 2014’s The Pinkprintwould provide it. With unapologetic swagger about her dominant reign, the rapper compares herself to the 21-times nominated and three-time Academy Award-winner Meryl Streep, and forewarns, “I’m gonna s__t on my critics some more”. This anthemic single best summarizes her success and is crucial to understanding Minaj’s game play.
18: ‘Catch Me’
“Catch Me” later appeared as a bonus track at the end of her debut album, Pink Friday, and would lay the pinkprint for Minaj’s futuristic sound. A long-time fan favorite, it captures both sides of Minaj’s persona: she comes in all-guns-blazing, but by the time the chorus kicks in, she’s gone into a full R&B diva croon. Produced by Swizz Beatz, the track features a hard-hitting tribal bass and space-age synths – a slick hybrid sound that would come to dominate the best Nicki Minaj songs.
A novelty track by Minaj’s own admission, “Anaconda” still slaps to this day, thanks to Minaj’s full-throttle commitment to the “size-matters” ethos of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s 1992 track “Baby Got Back.” Even if the song doesn’t have the same staying power as the rest of Nicki’s catalog, the video broke the internet when it first premiered and continues to rack up views thanks to Minaj’s homage to perfect posteriors.
16: ‘Here I Am’
As a standout deep cut, “Here I Am,” is a rare case where Minaj lays out her insecurities for all to see. The tenth track from Pink Friday asks, “Why is it that you can only see the worst in me?” before acknowledging, “But to keep it all real it’s kind of hurting me!” Originally titled “Letter To The Media,” the message works on both counts, with Minaj addressing her critics in music and her relationships. “Here I Am” reflects Pink Friday’s conflicting aggressive and more vulnerable sensibilities, as Minaj is both wounded and unapologetic. She even quotes Helen Reddy’s famous anthem “I Am Woman.”
After laying low for a year following 2017’s “Regret In Your Tears,” Minaj re-emerged in April 2018 with two back-to-back singles, “Chun-Li” and “Barbie Tingz,” giving a taste of her forthcoming album Queen. She wasn’t just taking shots at anonymous aggressors here; it was clear Minaj was coming for the hip-hop crown in the face of imitators who “copy every word, every inch”. A clear throwback to the kind of mid-90s swagger she grew up on, Minaj introduces another alter-ego , Chun-Li, into her arsenal, named for the ass-kicking Street Fighter video game character. Over a hypnotic saxophone line and head-nodding beat, Minaj delivers one of her most-quotable singles yet, “They need rappers like me/So they can get on their f__king keyboards and make me the bad guy, Chun-Li,” she declares, landing in the Billboard Top 10 while doing so.
14: ‘Hello Good Morning (Remix)’ (Diddy – Dirty Money, featuring Rick Ross and Nicki Minaj)
During the lead-up to Pink Friday, Minaj’s knack for providing show-stealing guest verses resulted in smash hits for some of the biggest names in the game including, P. Diddy and his Dirty Money trio’s “Hello Good Morning (Remix),” featuring Rick Ross. Minaj sets the track ablaze, her rapid-fire pace offsetting Ross’ more mellow flow. “I just came up in it, a little bit self-centered/But did I kill a queen?” Minaj spits, even claiming she’s eclipsed the former “Queen Bee”, Lil’ Kim.
13: ‘FEFE’ (6ix9ine, featuring Nicki Minaj and Murda Beatz)
Controversy was definitely the name of the game when Nicki Minaj linked up with controversial rapper 6ix9ine for “FEFE.” Though the union sparked some outrage in the summer of 2018, it was also clear that “FEFE” was an inescapable hit. It also proved that Minaj had her finger on the pulse of the hip-hop’s SoundCloud generation, and could still provide a track’s most memorable verse.
12: ‘Beez In The Trap’ (featuring 2 Chainz)
Not many people realize how integral Minaj was to the trap music scene of the 2010s. After all, she is the female protégée of the genre’s biggest champion, Lil Wayne. As with her turn on “5 Star Remix,” “Beez In The Trap” proved that she could switch up her New York flow with southern cadences. Alongside 2 Chainz, Minaj also gives a shout-out to various regions, cities, and states, ensuring everyone was represented on terrestrial radio.
11: ‘Roman’s Revenge’ (featuring Eminem)
A noted diss track during her ongoing feud with the original queen bee, Lil’ Kim, “Roman’s Revenge” unleashes Minaj’s signature alter ego, Roman. Here, her persona faces off against another alter ego, Slim Shady, as the two battle in verse. The lyrics are grimy enough to match Eminem’s rage while also exposing Roman’s violent nature. The two MCs brought out the best in each other: as Minaj sent Em a verse, he would come back with something even harder. Featuring a seizure-inducing Swizz Beats production, “Roman’s Revenge” is chaotic, and one of the wildest Nicki Minaj songs. Roman would be a constant character in Minaj’s discography, including on her Pink Friday follow-up, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded.
With the EDM explosion taking over mainstream pop in the early 2010s, Minaj joined in as an enforcer of the sound, going head-to-head with the pop stars of the era. “Starships” had been a drastic and somewhat unexpected turn for a hip-hop star to make – it even upset some of her core fans and hip-hop personalities, among them Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg, who publicly called the song “bulls__t”. Once the controversy died down, it became clear that Minaj had carved out another lane for hip-hop. The song propelled to No.5 on the Hot 100, becoming an international smash in 2012 and setting the tone for more EDM-fueled Nicki Minaj songs.
9: ‘High School’ (featuring Lil Wayne)
One aspect of Minaj’s brilliance is her ability to repackage her albums into deluxe editions and re-ups. “High School” comes from Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, and fused dancehallwith hip-hop. Minaj had found earlier dancehall success with a guest spot on Sean Kingston’s “Letting Go (Dutty Love),” in 2010, but “High School” took it a step further with her mentor, Lil Wayne. Midway through the track she breaks down the riddim, tapping into her Trinidadian roots. She would return to this sound on Queen’s “Coco Chanel.”
8: ‘Truffle Butter’ (featuring Drake and Lil Wayne)
Look at any hip-hop DJ set and the jittery house beat of “Truffle Butter” will likely find its way into the mix. Known as the “Big Three” of the Young Money roster, Lil Wayne, Drake,and Minaj all provide thrilling and equally enticing verses to this track. As all three start their respective parts with “Thinkin’ out loud,” the unity on this bonus track from The Pinkprint would go unmatched, as each MC discusses the rather crude sexual term the song is named after.
7: ‘Feeling Myself’ (featuring Beyoncé)
A collab that seemed to be a long time in the making, The Pinkprint’s “Feeling Myself” connected two queens. Following the impactful surprise release of her self-titled album, Beyoncé makes a splash alongside Minaj, whose punchlines are equally boisterous, witty, and rightfully cocky. In the music video, which was filmed during Coachella, both ladies bask in a friendship that saw two strong women in music come together. The duo would rekindle the chemistry on a remix of Queen Bey’s “***Flawless,” from her self-titled album.
6: ‘Your Love’
Though her actual debut single, 2010’s “Massive Attack,” didn’t see the kind of commercial success she hoped for, Minaj quickly followed it up by releasing “Your Love.” Originally included as a quick cut on her mixtape Barbie World, the song ended up being leaked to radio stations, and DJs immediately took a liking it. What powers “Your Love” is Minaj’s flirtatious rapping and singing over a sample of Annie Lennox’s 1995 gem “No More I Love You’s.” With a few lyrical changes, “Your Love” confirmed that Minaj had the ability to become a mainstream solo star. It peaked at No.14 on the Hot 100 and became the first song by a female artist to top the Hot Rap Songs chart since Lil’ Kim’s “Magic Stick” in 2003.
5: ‘Monster’ (Kanye West, featuring Jay Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, and Bon Iver)
“Pull up in that monster automobile gangsta…” The rest does not need repeating, because it’s probably being recited in your head as you read along. This is Nicki Minaj’s most iconic verse and her finest guest appearance, solidifying her spot among her peers, both female and male. Set up for her to emerge as the victorious “Monster” MC on Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, fans and critics unanimously agree that Minaj defeated West himself, alongside the track’s other guests. Go to any party, have this song come on, and the crowd will all join in unison, just waiting for Minaj’s verse to obliterate the others.
4: ‘Moment 4 Life’ (featuring Drake)
Nicki Minaj’s rise is a fairytale narrative, especially when looking back at her Pink Fridaystart. Featuring Drake, “Moment 4 Life” finds Minaj comfortably spitting bar after bar in her celebratory ode to the new acclaim she’s found. Both MCs work as perfect opposites, with Drake taking his chance to “propose” during his verse. Becoming a mainstay on radio, the song would peak at No.13 on the Hot 100, while earning Minaj her second No.1 on the Rap Songs chart.
3: ‘Super Bass’
Already a fixture in hip-hop, Minaj needed a track that would ensure she’d become a pop crossover sensation. This energetic and glowing bonus track from Pink Friday would become that go-to number, making her a household name around the world. With an addictive pre-chorus and hook, “Super Bass” got audiences familiar with the colorful nature of Minaj’s rapping and singing, ultimately paving the way for the dance-pop direction she would later embark on.
2: ‘Lookin’ Ass’
Sometimes rappers have one song that goes for the jugular and doesn’t let up. That song often lays everything out and, by the end, there’s nothing that can be debated or picked apart. In 2014, while leading up to The Pinkprint, it seemed as if Minaj was going through an image change. Tired of her pink wigs and the colorful numbers that made up Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, Minaj’s new direction focused on bars that annihilated her critics. “Lookin’ Ass” catches Minaj in her rawest form, calling out misogyny and providing girl code at the same time. It’s hip-hop’s answer to TLC’s “No Scrubs.” but harsher. Undeniably one of her strongest rap performances, it more than earns its place among the best Nicki Minaj songs.
1: ‘Itty Bitty Piggy’
When people discuss the best Nicki Minaj songs, they always go back to her mixtape days. Before there was a “Super Bass.” before there was a collab with Beyoncé, before the Lil Wayne and Drake link-ups, before her show-stealing turn on “Monster”… there was 2009’s “Itty Bitty Piggy,” from her 2009 mixtape, Beam Me Up Scotty. Over the reworked DJ Holiday beat of Soulja Boy’s “Donk,” Minaj drop multiple sets of 16 bars that showcase her dexterity in flow, rhyming, and punchlining. She slyly references Whitley from the sitcom A Different World, the Little Red Riding Hood folklore, Oscar Mayer wieners, and the Muslim salutation “As-salāmu ʿalaykum” in less than four minutes. This song’s lyrical ability put Minaj on the map. It sees her at her most confident and conquering, and features all the aspects that make her the star that she is today. Simply put, “Itty Bitty Piggy” is Nicki Minaj in her purest form.
Article originally published on uDiscoverMusic.com.