Ten years ago, on Nov. 22, 2010, Nicki Minaj released her highly-anticipated debut studio album, Pink Friday. After inking a deal with Young Money in 2009 as the first female artist on the label, all eyes were on the New York rapper to see if she could keep the momentum going following her viral mixtapes, Beam Me Up Scotty, Sucka Free, and Playtime Is Over, plus a show-stopping verse on Kanye West’s “Monster.” She did not disappoint.
The album was an immediate success. Pink Friday debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart with 375,000 copies sold in its first week. It marked the second-highest debut week in the history of female hip-hop recording artists, with Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation of Lauryn Hill moving 422,000 units in August 1998. And it had staying power, spending 14 consecutive weeks in the top 10 following its release. The project ended up being nominated for Best Rap Album at the 54th Grammy Awards in 2012 and was recognized as the Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album at the American Music Awards.
Hailing from Queens, New York, Onika Maraj was an artist with something to prove. Throughout the 13-song tracklist, she proved her pen game was not to be questioned, while showcasing her vulnerability and chameleonic abilities. After asserting her dominance on the ultra-confident intro, “I’m the Best,” she followed with “Roman’s Revenge,” a song featuring none other than Slim Shady and Minaj’s British alter-ego, Roman. The pair exhibited so much chemistry on the song that it’s difficult to believe the collaboration almost didn’t happen. During an interview on Rap Fix Live in 2010, Minaj recalled Eminem turning down the first song she sent him, saying he wanted something that felt more like him. After agreeing to the Swizz Beatz-produced beat, both Minaj and Em engaged in a friendly bar-for-bar session, encouraging one another to bring out their inner beasts.
“I remember, every time I wrote a verse to ‘Roman’s Revenge’ and sent it to Eminem, he would send a new verse back,” Minaj told XXL in an interview for their 20th Anniversary issue. “It was competitive, it was fun.”
It was on “Roman’s Revenge” that Minaj proved she had staying power, laying a blueprint for the kind of effortless flows and catchy lyrics she’d lean on throughout her career. She also drew reference to ideas that encouraged a sense of nostalgia for ’90s babies, tipping a hat to classic Disney movies. “I am not Jasmine, I am Aladdin/So far ahead, these bums is laggin’/See me in that new thing, bums is gaggin’/I’m startin’ to feel like a dungeon dragon.”
Minaj secured major features for her debut effort, a feat that was made even more impressive due to the fact that artists like Eminem, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, and are selective about collaborating with newcomers. It said that high-caliber rappers respected Minaj’s work ethic, her pen game, and recognized her potential from the start. Years later, she would grant the same opportunity to other artists breaking into the industry, like she did with Megan Thee Stallion last summer on “Hot Girl Summer” and with Pop Smoke on the “Welcome to the Party” remix.
On the Kanye West-assisted track, “Blazin,” Nicki got a rematch with ’Ye following their iconic collaboration on “Monster.” In comparison to the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy standout, where Minaj shined the brightest, she took a different approach and showcased her quick wordplay over the infectious beat, before transitioning into melodic, catchy lyrics on the hook. She ultimately shared the limelight with the Chicagoan, setting the tone of the song before ’Ye joined in on the second verse.
She also tapped Drake, who was newly signed to Young Money as well, for a verse on “Moment 4 Life.” Throughout their friendship, the two played into the overall mystery that had fans wondering if the two were platonic or not. Drake even toyed with the idea on the track, rapping, “Fuck it, me and Nicki Nick gettin’ married today/And all you bitches that be hatin’ can catch a bouquet/Yeah, you a star in my eyes/You and all them white girls, party of five.”
As Nicki Minaj pointed out in her Complex cover story back in 2014, it’s important for women to be multifaceted. And it was immediately clear on tracks like “Save Me” that vulnerability and transparency were valuable facets of her skillset. The song told her listeners that not only can they expect club bangers, hard-hitting rap verses, and pop songs, but they can also trust Minaj to tell it how it really is.
On “Save Me,” Nicki Minaj talks about feeling disconnected from herself and the world. She’s asking for help from her loved ones and revealing she doesn’t want to give up on herself while battling all the challenges life throws at a person. Although it was released in 2010, it still feels timely with the world’s current social climate in 2020.
“The inspiration behind the single was for it to feel like a soundtrack,” Minaj dished in a Pink Friday diaries segment at the time. “This song feels like a soundtrack to a movie. It paints a vivid picture of a girl who has it all but still feels very much alone. She’s turned into a monster and pushed the one person who truly loved her away. She drives hundreds of miles, falls to her face sobbing, and begs him to save her.”
From her bold outfits to her multi-colored wigs, Minaj oozed confidence that inspired others who were watching closely. Her belief in herself was at an all-time high, and it was evident when she performed “Did It On’ em” at shows. On the Bangladesh-produced hit, Minaj once again showcased her quick, catchy wordplay, calling “bitches her son.” In a similar fashion as “Roman’s Revenge,” she displayed the arrogance that fans love.
Minaj was one of few female rappers buzzing at the time, putting her in a unique position to speak candidly about relationships, from a perspective that fans could relate to. Listening to a song like “Right Thru Me,” you can pick up on the way Minaj felt about being with someone who brings out all sides of her. On the Andrew “Drew Money” Thielk-produced track, she delivers calm verses before gliding into the chorus, singing about the different aspects of dating. Moments like these were important. Minaj set the expectation that her fans didn’t have to turn to classic R&B singers to have an emotional moment while listening to music. There was a new comfort in knowing that the MC had her girls covered, and no topic would go untouched.
“Every woman is multifaceted,” she told Complex in 2014. “Every woman has a switch, whether she’s going to be maternal, whether she’s going to be a man-eater, whether she has to kick ass, whether she has to be one of the boys, whether she has to show the guys that she’s just as smart or smarter, she’s just as talented or creative. Women suppress a lot of their sides.”
On the outro, “Last Chance,” Nicki proclaimed that her star was only going to continue rising. “Tell ’em that I’m gunnin’ for the top, Forbes/Headed to the top, dot org,” she rapped. And throughout Pink Friday, Nicki showed that for as well as she can rap, she can also create melodic songs and pop bangers. By blending genres, she proved she can’t be boxed into one category, a trait she would carry for the rest of her career.
Pink Friday was only the beginning. It previewed to the mainstream world that Nicki Minaj was in it for the long haul. The album will be remembered as a project that took her from the No.1 draft pick to someone who could transform into a seasoned veteran. She could be heard finding herself and figuring out exactly what works for her in real-time. After landing on a personal formula of intertwining rap and singing, Minaj would carry it with her, proving, in a similar fashion to Drake, that she doesn’t need to tap on anyone else to complete a song. She could do it all.
Since then, a long line of female rappers have stepped up to the plate to partake in an industry that was once male-dominated. Her unwavering success has inspired a generation of rappers who have followed in her footsteps. Just recently, new stars like Megan Thee Stallion, Mulatto, Rubi Rose, and more have spoken candidly about their admiration for Minaj’s career, citing her as one of their biggest musical influences.
Although Nicki Minaj didn’t rap much about sex on her debut, she would explore the topic in her ensuing projects. And Megan Thee Stallion, who openly spits about topics of that nature (perhaps most notably on her verse for “WAP”) has been inspired by Minaj’s growth over the years. Not only did the Queens MC motivate the newer artists to talk about sexual subjects, but she also encouraged women to embrace their curves.
On a more personal note, as someone who has been a fan of Minaj’s music for many years, I can attest to the fact that Pink Friday encourages vulnerability. Throughout the album, Minaj played by her own rules and spoke candidly about relationship troubles, fear of not accomplishing her goals, and wanting to remain true to herself at all times. As a fellow New Yorker myself, there were moments in my life where I questioned if my story was as important as my male counterparts. After listening to this album, I realized that it was, and still is.
Going from Beam Me Up Scotty‘s “Still I Rise” to Pink Friday‘s “Here I Am,” Nicki Minaj has shown me that it’s okay not to have it all figured out. As women, there is often an unspoken pressure to have everything down pat and not speak on issues that are bothering us. During this time, from the outside looking in, it appeared that Minaj had the world in her hands. Her music, however, revealed that learning how to deal with all the challenges that come with being a woman is not an overnight process. It takes years of acceptance, learning, and unlearning. I’ve had to have tough conversations with myself in a similar way that Minaj did with herself on “Dear Old Nicki,” in an effort to grow and reach a new level in life. Change can be challenging and scary. I’m grateful for Pink Friday showing me that it can be done.
One decade later, Nicki Minaj’s debut album can still be picked apart for gems, laughs, and a break from reality, which is ultimately a testament to its lasting legacy. Pink Friday proved that Minaj is here to stay, and she doesn’t need anything but her art to speak for itself.