For this year’s update of our ongoing Greatest Pop Star by Year project, Billboard is counting down our staff picks for the top 10 pop stars of 2022 all this week. At No. 10, we remember the year in Nicki Minaj — who topped the Hot 100, owned the VMAs, and generally reasserted her dominance in 2022.
The presence of women in hip-hop has surged over the last decade, but Nicki Minaj never lost her ‘Queen of Rap’ title. Throughout 2022, Billboard’s 2019 Game-Changer honoree skillfully demonstrated prestige in music, from occasional guest features to being lauded by MTV for her iconic evolution. Over a decade on from the release of her 2010 debut album Pink Friday, the 40-year-old remains a force to be reckoned with.
Four years after dropping her fourth LP Queen, 2022 kicked off the era of Minaj’s long-awaited comeback. Post-Queen, Minaj had spent the earlier part of the decade surprising her dedicated Barbz with standalone singles (“Megatron,” “Yikes”) and hit collaborations with Doja Cat, BIA, Ty Dolla $ign and others, while also re-releasing her fan favorite mixtape, 2009’s Beam Me Up Scotty, to DSPs. The Queens-raised artist – who continued her musical impact over the past three years without so much as a full-length solo project – powered into the new decade laser-focused on being a versatile rap mainstay.
In February of this year, Minaj and Atlanta rhymesayer Lil Baby teamed up for the ruthless trap anthem “Do We Have a Problem?” The track ruled Billboard‘s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, while also debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. After the birth of her son in 2020, Minaj’s re-emergence was sealed as she followed that up a week later with second Lil Baby collaboration “Bussin,” also reaching the chart’s top 20.
The following month, Minaj went deep into her fashion bag, becoming the face of Marc Jacobs’ Spring 2022 “Heaven” collection, donning edgy couture and colorful wigs reminiscent of her early mainstream career. Also in March, Minaj passed the rap torch to Trendsetter artist Coi Leray, featuring on Leray’s fiery “Blick Blick,” which reached No. 10 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. The “Blick Blick” rollout was slightly chaotic, as Leray’s father, rapper Benzino, prematurely revealed the collaboration on Clubhouse, sending Minaj to nearly pull her verse.
Keeping her appearance on “Blick” – even popping up in the technicolor music video – Minaj went full steam ahead, tapping Fivio Foreign for the one-off single “We Go Up.” The five-minute braggadocious drill rap cut would eventually receive a gritty music video filmed in Foreign and Minaj’s NYC hometown, and exclusively appeared on Minaj’s greatest hits compilation Queen Radio: Volume 1. “We Go Up,” which landed at No. 15 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, would be the fourth collaborative single under Minaj’s belt in 2022. The momentum she built on features resembled her 2010s phase, where the rapper could make any song her own with a knockout verse, and would later help her explode on her first solo Hot 100 chart-topper.
But before that, in May, Minaj appeared arm-in-arm with fashion designer and Burberry chief creative officer Ricardo Tisci at the 2022 MET Gala. After gracing the red carpet with a memorable all-black Burberry ensemble and body embellishments from British makeup artist Pat McGrath, Minaj would also embark on a new business deal that month, announcing her new role as creative director of Maxim. The venture would also place Minaj as MaximBet’s special advisor for licensed sports betting and iGaming. Burgeoning as a tastemaker in music and entrepreneurial moves, Minaj utilized 2022 as a year to flex her transcendent influence over the new generation of female rappers.
Billboard’s Greatest Pop Stars of 2022:
Introduction & Honorable Mentions | Rookie of the Year: Steve Lacy | Comeback of the Year: Sam Smith | No. 9: Future | No. 8: Jack Harlow | No. 7: Doja Cat | No. 6: Lizzo | No. 5: Drake | No. 4: Beyoncé | No. 3: Taylor Swift | No. 2: Harry Styles | No. 1: Bad Bunny
By July, the summer music festival season saw a Minaj takeover, as the artist headlined New Orleans’ Essence Music Festival and London’s Wireless Festival. Her return to festivals since making a surprise guest appearance during Ariana Grande’s Coachella set in 2019, Minaj hit the New Orleans’ Caesars Superdome as a seasoned virtuoso. 75,000 fans clamored over Minaj’s extensive catalog during an hour-long set, rapping along to classics both of her own (“Beez In the Trap,” “Super Bass,” “Chun-Li”) and in a supporting role (Beyoncé’s “Flawless (Remix),” BIA’s “Whole Lotta Money (Remix)”, A$AP Ferg’s “Plain Jane (Remix)”).
Although Barbz were disappointed that Essence Fest opted not to livestream Minaj’s set at the last minute, more festival pandemonium ensued as the rapper went across the pond for Wireless Festival. Coordinating multiple outfit changes for the show at London’s Finsbury Park – which experienced a 30-minute delay. Minaj closed out her energetic Wireless Festival set as rap royalty. The Queen of Rap even attempted to hold a meet and greet with fans at Camden’s Cafe Koko following her Sunday performance, but police officials shut down the event as crowds flooded nearby roads.
In the weeks following Minaj’s festival sets, she promised a six-part docuseries and new music under a “Nick James” alter ego, teasing lustful single “Super Freaky Girl,” which sampled Rick James’ 1981 funk smash “Super Freak.” “Super Freaky Girl” played as a near-spinoff to Minaj’s 2014 “Baby Got Back- sampling hit “Anaconda,” which made the song a viral sensation on TikTok. In August, Minaj, Drake and Lil Wayne held a triumphant Young Money reunion during the first “October World Weekend” of Toronto’s OVO Fest, where Minaj debuted “Super Freaky Girl” on the Budweiser Stage.
Contributing to the recent sample and interpolation trend in pop music, “Super Freaky Girl” made a massive debut atop the Billboard Hot 100 following its full August release , marking Minaj’s first No. 1 single as a solo artist. “Super Freaky Girl” was also just the second solo single by a female rap artist to top the chart, following Ms. Lauryn Hill’s 1998 song “Doo Wop (That Thing).” Accompanied by a Barbie and Ken-inspired music video directed by Joseph Kahn, Minaj continued to support the chart-topper by reviving her zany alter ego Roman Zolanski on “Super Freaky Girl (Roman Remix).”
Minaj kept the heat scorching near summer’s end, releasing Queen Radio Volume 1 and delivering a career-spanning Video Vanguard Award performance at the 2022 MTV Video Music Awards. The artist, who co-hosted the 2022 VMAs with fellow Queens native LL Cool J and Jack Harlow, made her telecast awards show comeback, offering a 10-minute set with self-referential easter egg nods for longtime Barbz. Minaj opened her set in a plastic box replica of her 2007 mixtape Playtime Is Over, while the Head Barb reimagined her dominatrix Roman Zolanski role in Kanye West’s 2010 “Monster” music video. The camera then panned out to reveal that Minaj was her own Barbie Dreamhouse, with one section resembling Queens nail salon Poly Nails, where Minaj filmed her 2007 music video for Playtime Is Over cut “Wuchoo Know.” Without missing a beat, Minaj ended her incandescent performance with “Super Freaky Girl” fun, turning the VMAs into a full-blown celebration of her legacy.
After accepting the Video Vanguard Award, Minaj was off to more “Super Freaky Girl” promotion, partnering with restaurant chain Chili’s in September for ‘Barbz Day’ and cranberry-flavored $5 Barbaritas. Minaj also curated a third “Super Freaky Girl” official remix, an all-star “Queen Mix” featuring JT of City Girls, BIA, Maliibu Miitch, Akbar V and Katie Got Bandz, where the femcees repped their respective cities. Also on the Queens Radio compilation was a remix to “Likkle Miss” by dancehall artist Skeng, and in late-September, Minaj would co-star in the song’s graffiti-music video. “Likkle Mix” would ultimately nab a “Fine Nine” remix to make the “Super Freaky Girl (Remix)” look modest by comparison. Minaj and Skeng recruited eight women from across dancehall and rap, including Spice, Lisa Mercedez, Lady Leshurr, London Hill, Patrice Roberts, Destra Garcia, Pamputtae, and Dovey Magnum.
Minaj continued to hop from one genre to the next, featuring on Yung Bleu’s “Love in the Way” and 2022 FIFA World Cup anthem “Tukoh Taka” with Colombian vocalist Maluma and Lebanese singer Myriam Fares. The rapper didn’t ease up on dominating festival stages, headlining New York’s Powerhouse and Rolling Loud New York at Queens stadium Citi Field. Minaj would also rack up additional awards, from MTV Europe Music Awards’ best hip hop artist and best song and the American Music Awards’ favorite female artist – rap/hip-hop. She would also later get into an all-out Twitter spat with Atlanta rapper Latto over the 2023 Grammy nominations – Minaj was upset that her own crossover hit was moved from the rap categories to the pop ones while Latto’s was allowed to stay. But it would be Latto’s Hot 100 top five hit “Big Energy” that scored a best melodic rap performance nomination, while “Super Freaky Girl” received none.
“Say So” collaborator Doja Cat protested the Grammy slight, but let 2022 show that Minaj can’t be phased. In separate features with Interview and i-D – conducted by actress Jada Pinkett Smith and City Girls’ JT, respectively – the year’s digital songs best-selling rap artist talked up her fifth solo album, teasing that her best work has yet to come. With her eyes on the future, Minaj’s year as a hip-hop luminary has positioned the artist back at the top of her game.