Nicki Minaj: Hip-hop's leading lady? If not her, who?

nicki-minajImage Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty ImagesNicki Minaj is hip-hop’s new leading lady. It’s been said many times in the past year, most recently in the subheadline of a reverential Paper magazine profile. The reason this has become something of a cliché is because it’s as true as generalized statements get. Really, who else could plausibly lay claim to that title in September 2010? Go ahead. Name another female rapper as exciting and relevant as Nicki Minaj is right now.

I’m waiting. Did you think of one? The fact is, Nicki Minaj is today’s most important female rapper by default. There are plenty of other very talented women with hip-hop fanbases of various sizes — Trina, Lil Kim, Jean Grae, Rah Digga, and Remy Ma are a few names that come to mind. But none of them are currently on the level of stardom that Minaj has reached so rapidly through a series of attention-getting guest appearances and one hit single of her own. If we’re talking artistic merit or overall historical significance, sure, those are much tougher questions to settle. In terms of contemporary pop stature as a female rapper, though, Nicki Minaj simply doesn’t have much competition.

In fact, at this point it’s reductive to call Nicki Minaj hip-hop’s number one woman. She’s more than that. She’s one of the most fascinating personalities in rap, period. How many artists of any gender could upstage Kanye West and Jay-Z on their own song the way she did last weekend? Who else is parsing Shakespeare and giving shout-outs to gay fans like she does in that Paper profile? Some people find Minaj’s fondness for silly voices annoying, or think her lyrics lack depth, and those are fair opinions even if I don’t particularly share them. I am a fan, and I acknowledge that she has a long way to go before she’s the world’s best rapper. (On a related note, the Village Voice‘s Zach Baron recently made a dispiritingly reasonable case for why all Minaj’s talent and charisma still might not necessarily yield a great debut album.) But Minaj is certainly well past the point where any serious hip-hop fan can ignore her.

You tell me: Where do you think Nicki Minaj stands in 2010’s hip-hop pantheon? Is she the biggest female rapper? Something more? Something less? Let’s hear it.

(Follow The Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

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Comments (50 total) Add your comment
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  • Shawn

    Love Ms. Minaj. I think she is exciting, fun and knows exactly who she is. Is she doing anything terribly original? No. But she’s taking what Kim and Missy did, making it current and appealing to both hip-hop and pop fans. She’s the best!

  • Reginald

    I believe that Nicki Minaj is talented but she is also overexposed and definitely has no competition in the female mc arena right now. I think everyone is still in jail or laying low including Da Brat, Foxy Brown, Eve, Lil Kim, Missy and Latifah. Callin’ all female mc’s… where you at? It’s time to represent! Nicki is alright but I’d like her to pass the mic from time to time… (Btw, I do enjoy Nicki’s flow on Mariah’s ‘Up Out My Face’ and Xtina’s ‘Woo Hoo’ but even her appearance on Trey Songz ‘Bottom’s Up’ was mediocre at best… sorry)

    • AYJ

      @Reginald – have you heard monster? that’s all that needs to be said

    • minajstress

      Shes not OVEREXPOSED – The other artists DITCHED their job…. Im not saying she is a goddess or anything but shes doing her thing; shes making music and thats all that needs to be said.

    • BRI

      Mediocre naw u just didn’t understand it look up wat Anna Nicole Smith did at the VMA awards perhaps u will understand it better

  • Nikki

    I cannot see the appeal of this woman. Her lyrics are HORRIBLE, the voices are annoying & her flow is non-existent. Is she hip hops leading lady? Yes, because there is not much competition.

  • lol

    lets start at the beginning though… nicki minaj isn’t even really hip hop… she’s hip pop

    • Reena

      AGREED! I dont consider her hip hop at all….the original women of Hip Hop are MC Lyte Queen Latifah etc…she is not going to be relevant in a year atleast i hope she wont be!

      • MIRA


  • Alpha Kenny Body

    She’s the best lyricist outside of Jean Grae (who is unfortunately not as popular). I don’t care too much for her image, but her raps are fire.

  • Creek

    Oh, how fast we forget about Eve. :(

  • Phil

    I LOVE Minaj much like I did when I was a teenager and Lil’ Kim bust on the scene with Biggie & Junior M.A.F.I.A….but I wanna know can Nicki bust the different voices & flows she’s made famous on her guest verses when she is on the mic LIVE..or is it all studio magic a la Auto-Tune!?
    And let’s REALLY keep it real here…Wayne basically prolly went to all these artists Trey Songz, Usher, Mariah, Keri Hilson, Sean Kingston, etc. before he went off to the big house saying…give her all the guest appearances I’d have done on your track and I’ll give ya free verses or remixes when I get out of jail next year. I mean, as a businessman & head of Young Money, y’all don’t think that was the case!? If he couldn’t keep Young Money hot while in jail with new material, who better than a female EmCee, who the charts haven’t shown love to in some time!? And I don’t really think her “Monster” verse is all that…its good but not my fave Minaj track so far.
    And Simon, I totally agree with you…Nicki has no competition right now. I wish Eve would drop her long delayed album, or even a new single. Tack it on an urban based movie soundtrack…c’mon ma!

    • equasia

      great point!performing live and singing in da studio r two different things.nicki cant touch most female rappers.true statement.illuminati got her famous and rich not her flow/appearance.

  • Fatima

    I love Nicki so much it hurts. I’ve been obsessed with her since last year and when I heard her verse on Monster last week, my jaw dropped and I thought, “Damn, she has OFFICIALLY arrived.” I know she has a lot of haters, but if you can’t get past her crazy image, I kinda pity you. What she’s done with shifting identities and accents and even her sexuality is bordering on performance art.

  • MS

    Let’s see. Eminem was the one that upstaged her number 1 rap single from the top of the rap charts. He’s also at the top of the billboards but he has a big ass lead as far as experience goes.

    Drake and lil wyane beat her out of the urban charts with MISS MEE. Drake has a small lead, Wayne has a Huge lead in the race. Kanye will be realeasing in NOV- Huge lead. Plus she got on a track called Monster, and killed kanye an the other heavy weight in the hip hop game named JAY Z and some would even say Rick Ross is a heavy weight lol. She made the track though.

    Justin Bieber, the boy sensation is in a category with her for the VMA’s and was also in a category going against her for the BET. Unfair advantage and small lead.

    My point is, these are all Nicki Minaj’s competition at this point and they are pretty steep competitors. You don’t have to like Nicki minaj but stop making excuses for her success.

  • marky

    Nikki is the truf!

  • Cartina McLovin

    If you google “female rapper” … Google will return the search result of the female rapper that is actually the most popular. It’s not Nikki Minaj. It’s someone else … and she’s also the #1 female rapper on Amazon too.

    That just goes to show you how underground ew and mtv are nowadays … the mainstream is now google and amazon and not mtv and billboard.

    • MIRA

      THATS A LIE.

      • larry

        nope, it’s true!

        I just did it.

        Google female rapper

        See the top result right after wikipedia … she’s the real queen.

  • CJ

    Nicki is a Lil’ Kim clone. Kim won a grammy and she had orange hair. Nicki won a bet award and she has orange hair. Kim did the pink lambo and big blonde wig. Nicki does it for her first video. Kim did the green hair hopping out the car, Nicki is up in a car with Diddy in a green wig. Nicki seems like a crazed Lil Kim fan that just happened to get herself a record deal.

    • B1Tch

      1s Of Nicki Was In A Blue Wig In Diddy’s Car.. && Beyonce & Katy Perry Did Pink Wigs.. Does That Make Them Lil Kim Clones.. Find A Better Excuse Next Time. Nicki Is Queen.. KimCant Rap.. Nicki Will Upstage Her Anytime

  • realrapfan

    go to any hip-hop blog/website and listen to rah digga’s new single with redman she killing nicki…popularity has nothing to do with being a dope mc

  • u

    Please… Nicki GARBaj is all hype and ZERO substance. She is a weak lyricist and has very little flow in her raps. Why all the fuss about her, I don’t know. The only reason she’s popular right now is because she’s the only female rapper on the mainstream scene. Had she been around in the era of Trina, Eve, Missy and the others, far less people would care. Oh, but I forgot, anyone associated with Lil Wayne becomes overrated hype, including Lil Wayne himself. I mean look at Drake, probably the most talented artist out of the Young Money clan, but his popularity far exceeds his abilities. Granted, that pretty much describes the popular music scene these days, lots of hype going behind little talent…

  • larry

    i feel like nikki has more haters than lovers … kinda like justin bieber … she is very polarizing.

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