Rapper by trade, pop star by destiny, Nicki Minaj is one of the most innovative and influential artists of her generation. Since emerging from the NYC borough of Queens in 2007, the native of Trinidad and Tobago has released three hit albums — her most recent being this year’s The Pinkprint — and landed more than 60 songs on the Billboard Hot 100. Whether presiding over her own track or dropping a guest verse, Nicki is a force of nature: a supremely clever writer and rhymer who flips from tough to sexy to silly to confessional almost as fast as she changes wigs and costumes. Her hits range from dance-pop confections like “Starships” to “Pills N Potions,” a sobering look at how fame changes people.
She’s a little bit gangsta, a little bit Gaga, and she’ll be bringing her completely original style to the Billboard’s inaugural Hot 100 Festival, which hits New York’s Nikon at Jones Beach Theater (and the surrounding beach area) Aug. 22-23. Check out our timeline of Nicki’s most priceless moments and remember why this Hot 100 headliner became the undisputed queen of hip-hop.
July 5, 2007: Nicki makes her mixtape debut. Titled Playtime Is Over and featuring and eye-popping cover shot of Nicki dressed as Barbie, one of her many guises, this 20-track collection put Minaj on the map. Guests include Ransom and Lil Wayne, but Nicki owns the spotlight, establishing herself as a tough, playful MC unlike any other in the game.
August 31, 2009: Nicki signs to Lil Wayne’s Young Money label. “I am honored to have Nicki Minaj as Young Money’s First Lady,” said Lil Wayne in a press release announcing the deal. “She is a star.” Weezy had discovered Minaj a few years earlier and appeared on all three of her early mixtapes, so he knew full well the caliber of artist he’d landed. “This is my time,” Minaj told Billboard, revealing her ambitious streak, “and it makes me feel like I need to deliver a classic album.”
June 1, 2010: Nicki releases “Your Love,” her first No.1 on the Billboard Hot Rap Songs chart. Minaj explored her softer side with this rap ballad, built on a sample of Annie Lennox’s “No More I Love You’s,” and fans came along for the ride. The second single from Nicki’s debut, Pink Friday, “Your Love” climbed to the top of the Hot Rap Songs chart and went Top 20 on the Hot 100.
October 2010: Minaj sets a new record with seven simultaneous singles on the Billboard Hot 100. In the fall of 2010, the only way to avoid Nicki Minaj was to unplug your radio, TV, and computer and institute a full-on personal media blackout. Otherwise, you’d hear her on Ludacris’ “My Chick Bad,” Sean Kingston’s “Letting Go (Dutty Love),” Weezy’s “Knockout,” and four other songs on the Billboard Hot 100 –including her own “Your Love.” Every day was Pink Friday, and the album hadn’t even dropped yet.
November 19, 2010: Pink Friday drops, begins 11-week climb to No. 1. After debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, Pink Friday reached No. 1 in February 2011. The record ultimately spent 73 straight weeks on the chart and earned Nicki three Grammy nominations, including Best Rap Album. While she lost that prize to Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it should be noted that Minaj opens Yeezy’s album with a poetic soliloquy and steals the show on “Monster,” one of the finest cuts.
February 6, 2012: Minaj joins Madonna for the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show. Talk about your power trios: Nicki joined Madonna and M.I.A. at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for “Give Me All Your Luvin’” — yet another pop song Minaj makes about a thousand times better with her presence. Nicki’s was a memorable appearance — what with her gold wig, pom-poms, and machine-gun flow — but M.I.A. garnered more attention with her middle finger to the camera. She also garnered a fat fine, so Nicki probably fared better in the long run.
April 2, 2012: Nicki returns with Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. Critics were mixed on Minaj’s second album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, but listeners weren’t mad at the odd mix of hip-hop and dance-pop. On the strength of lead single “Starships,” the disc debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, giving Nicki her second consecutive chart-topper.
September 2012: Minaj signs on for American Idol. Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey are big personalities, to say the least, so when American Idol producers cast both artists as Season 12 judges, they were asking for trouble. Sure enough, the two feuded from the get-go, and in early October, Mariah accused Nicki of making threats. Minaj denied the charge, and while things luckily never turned violent, the writing was on the wall. By the end of the season, both divas had decided to go back to their day jobs.
April 25, 2014: Minaj makes her live-action big-screen debut. Having previously lent her voice to the 2012 animated feature Ice Age: Continental Drift, Minaj made her proper acting debut with The Other Woman, a romantic comedy starring Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann. Critics panned the flick, but Nicki’s supporting performance wasn’t the problem — and it didn’t end of her Hollywood career. In 2016, she’ll appear alongside Ice Cube and Cedric the Entertainer in Barbershop 3.
August 19, 2014: Nicki’s “Anaconda” video sets a Vevo record. On the day it was released, Nicki’s super-hyper-bootylicious “Anaconda” video wracked up 19.6 million views, breaking a record held by Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.” While Taylor Swift set a new record in May 2015 with “Bad Blood,” which garnered 20.1 million first-day streams, T-Swizzy used a whole mess of guest stars and special effects, so it’s apples and oranges — or pineapples and bananas, to borrow a bit of “Anaconda” imagery.
December 15, 2014: Minaj strikes again with third album The Pinkprint. Billed as a return to her hip-hop roots, Nicki’s third album peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. It was her first LP to fall short of the top slot, but it did yield her biggest pop hit to date, “Anaconda,” which also reached No. 2.
January 2015: Nicki notches 60th Hot 100 hit. With “Truffle Butter,” featuring Drake and Lil Wayne, Nicki glided into the history books as only the 15th artist (and the third female) to land 60 songs on the Billboard Hot 100. Among women, she trails only Aretha Franklin and Taylor Swift. Since neither of them is a rapper, Minaj reigns supreme as the most-charted female MC of all time.
June 28, 2015: Nicki wins 6th straight BET Award for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist. By pulling off her six-peat, Minaj surpassed Missy Elliott as the artist who’s won this coveted prize the most times. The previous year, when Minaj collected her fifth award, she made headlines for pointing out that she writes her own rhymes — a comment that many heard as an attack on Iggy Azalea. This time, there was no drama — just shout-outs to fellow nominee DeJ Loaf, who she’s touring with this summer, and boyfriend Meek Mill.
Buy tickets for Billbaord’s Hot 100 Fest, featuring Nicki Minaj and more, at ticketmaster.com.