Nicki Minaj's 13 Best Singing Moments: 'Super Bass,' 'Your Love' & More

Nicki Minaj performs at MetLife Stadium
Scott Roth/Invision/AP

Nicki Minaj performs at MetLife Stadium on June 7, 2015 in East Rutherford, N.J.

Over the years Nicki Minaj has really taken some heat for her singing, as if her crooning somehow detracts from her rapping. 

When Nicki Minaj first released her debut album, Pink Friday, in late November of 2010, many were shocked that the firebrand with the show-stealing verse from Kanye West’s “Monster” spent so much of the album singing. Then there was the disrespect of Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg, who dissed Minaj's follow-up Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded's massive hit “Starships” as “not real hip-hop,” causing Minaj and her Young Money crew to pull out of Summer Jam in protest. 

Obviously hip-hop has changed a lot in recent years. Now, it’s basically expected for a successful rapper to sing. Just look at Drake, Fetty Wap, Young Thug, Chance the Rapper and D.R.A.M., to name a few. Yet a vocal chunk of the hip-hop cognoscenti still believe that Minaj’s propensity towards tender piano ballads and uptempo EDM pop jams on her records is what stands in the way of them being hailed as full-blown classics.

We're here to present a counter argument with 13 highlights of singing in her career, proving in no way that she should limit herself to doing just one thing anytime soon.

“Knockout,” Lil Wayne’s Rebirth (2010)

While Nicki Minaj’s full solo personality was still gestating, she was receiving notice as the rising star of Lil Wayne’s Young Money clique. Her feature on "Knockout," the highlight of his highly anticipated and poorly received rock album Rebirth helped give the new wave banger a honeyed hook and cheeky vibe akin to No Doubt. This marked an early sign that she could have fun trying anything.

“Your Love,” Pink Friday (2010)

The song that started it all, “Your Love” first appeared on Minaj’s 2010 mixtape, Barbie World, and found mainstream radio success before her album was even underway. And it’s quite possibly the pinkest song the genre’s ever seen: those soft-focus chords, twinkling sound effects and do-be-do-be-do-do-dos sampled from Annie Lennox’s “No More ‘I Love You’s'” turned rap’s competitive masculinity upside down. It was an “easy” route to radio sure, it was surefire and catchy and lovelorn. But it’s to Minaj’s intergalactic talent that she had staying power almost immediately, augmenting this P.M. Dawn-style gauziness with a tough-as-nails streak of vicious verses unlike anyone else the genre has seen in years.

“Save Me,” Pink Friday (2010)

The only song on Pink Friday with no rapping at all, “Save Me” proves that Minaj confesses to being a “monster” even when she’s unspooling prettiness over a piano ballad. You can feel every resonating piano chord in your chest as she pleads to be rescued and slips away from a dying relationship over buttery harmonies, empathetic synths and surprising double-time “Funky Drummer” breaks.

“Dear Old Nicki,” Pink Friday (2010)

The Pink Friday cut with the fewest co-conspirators brings one of Minaj’s most gorgeous melodies, yet her verses are utterly furious, demonstrating early on her head-spinning knack for balancing the sweet and the sour. More impressively, she directs them at herself. It’s hard to imagine that anyone expected something so harshly introspective on the same album that begins with “I’m the Best” and an invincible Eminem rhyme-off. But while her rapping received immediate respect, not enough people gave props to how beautiful her synth-balladry really was. 

“Super Bass,” Pink Friday (Deluxe Edition) (2010)

This gargantuan hit is the one Minaj tune that everyone can agree on for good reason -- it’s one of the best pop songs of the decade and it sounded both familiar and classic instantaneously. Many tunes before and after have made their hay singing about a pounding heart or praising the irresistible dance-ability of a powerful beat, but few have intertwined the two so confidently. How many rap crossover hits wielded such an uptempo serotonin rush? “Super Bass” absolutely secures its place in the cosmos alongside “California Love” and “Juicy” as one of the most blissful escapes the genre has ever spawned.

“Make Me Proud,” Drake’s Take Care (2011)

Between 2010 and 2012, Minaj was conquering just about anything she touched. But this Drake single in particular, from his Internet-shattering sophomore album, Take Care, was perfect not just for her uncompromising flow but her clarion ability to carry a tune. Just check that sizzling harmony when she trails off “million, billion, trillion miles away.” The song cries out for more of her, only stoking the coals for a follow-up album even more.

“Turn Me On,” David Guetta’s Nothing but the Beat (2011)

Nicki’s versatile timbre works its ass off here, stutter-rapping and auto-tune-dive-bombing and pulsing and dropping with the fervor of Nirvana’s “Sliver.” With all due respect to “Va Va Voom” and “Starships” and “Automatic” -- which are all enjoyable if a bit inevitable -- this is Minaj’s greatest dance floor tune thus far.

“Roman Holiday,” Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (2012)

“Roman Holiday” was proof of Minaj’s utter originality; it sounds like nothing else in pop before or since, save for maybe Queen. Her maniacally rapped verses ride a tabla that’s more Bollywood than “Get Ur Freak On,” and the dramatically sung chorus is almost that of a show tune, quickly rattled off in a British accent as both the titular alter ego Roman Zolanski and his mother Martha. She even bends “O Come All Ye Faithful” to her will in the bridge. The Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded opener is still one of her most ambitious and complex career highlights and it’s the only tune that’s ever been performed at the Grammys by a solo female rapper.

“Come on a Cone,” Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (2012)

Yes, “Come on a Cone,” the most eviscerating song in Nicki Minaj’s catalog, is entirely rapped. That is, except for one brief but essential part. About two minutes in, the beat drops out after she threatens to put her dick in your face. And for emphasis, there she goes, singing like she’s auditioning for American Idol, or at least The Lonely Island: “Diiiick in your face/ Put my diiiick in your faaace.” This moment did for rap was PJ Harvey’s “50 Ft. Queenie” did for rock: made it submit to a woman wielding the same weaponry that its overwhelmingly male practitioners have been shoving in her gender’s face for decades.

“Marilyn Monroe,” Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (2012)

“If you can’t handle my worst, you ain’t getting my best” was an affront that Minaj’s most conservative rap critics took personally when forced to contend with the half of Roman Reloaded that they wished had been separated from their beloved "real hip-hop" at birth. But the pop songs are just as strong as the rap ones, including the dynamite chorus from this piano-driven stunner.

“Young Forever,” Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (2012)

“Young Forever” was an underrated hook-fest pulled together from disparate sources: it’s equal parts Caribbean chiptune and dubstep power ballad, sung with the gooiest auto-tuned layerings possible. All pink everything.

“Gun Shot,” Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (2012)

Minaj’s best pop song since “Super Bass” (and the highlight of Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded) fully explored the dancehall-applicable possibilities of her islander inflection alongside one of reggae’s biggest post-hip-hop stars, Beenie Man. It says a lot about pop in 2012 that the perfectly-fine “Starships” was chosen as a single over this monolithic party sing-along and one wonders if that still would’ve been the case in a 2016 where Rihanna’s similarly accent-driven “Work” has dominated enduringly.

“Pills N Potions,” The Pinkprint (2014)

The Pinkprint is a richly textured cornucopia of sneaky melodicism that didn’t get enough love even in 2014, a year with no banner To Pimp a Butterfly or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy classic. But many of its best sung moments belong to others: “Get on Your Knees” might be Ariana Grande’s finest hour, and “Feeling Myself” pulls Beyonce more into Minaj’s hip-hop orbit than the rapper into Queen Bey’s. “Pills N Potions,” though, is all Nicki, a return to the tenderness of “Save Me” and “Dear Old Nicki” stained with breakup tears that have been welling up throughout the entire full-length. “I still love, I still love, I still love,” she insists, over a piano that’s barely holding it together. The twin spectacles of “Anaconda” and “Only” would quickly erase “Potions” from the Nicki Minaj conversation in 2014, but the song’s only acquired more majesty over time.


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