Track Meet: Nicki Minaj Made Hip-Hop History With "Pink Friday"
Updated: Jan 26
In the "Track Meet" series, we break down albums or projects track by track to show where sports and hip-hop meet.
It has been 10 years since Nicki Minaj dropped her debut album, "Pink Friday." Yes, a whole decade. In November of 2010, the Queens rapper officially crossed over from being the mysterious spitter in the staircase to pop culture sensation.
Minaj captivated the hearts of fans, endearing girls — and guys — of all backgrounds, ethnicities and ages. The popularity of "Pink Friday" was boosted by nine Hot 100 songs, a perfume deal, stadium shows and "Ellen" sensations Sophia Grace and Rosie whose precious rendition of "Super Bass" was inescapable.
“Pink Friday” was the first album from a female rapper to reach the top of the Billboard 200 in over a decade when it climbed to No.1 in 2011. Minaj was only the fourth female rapper to accomplish such a feat. Eve and Foxy Brown were the last to do so in 1999, which followed in line with Minaj's hero, Lauryn Hill, and her success reaching the No.1 spot in 1998 with “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”
“I’m excited that people use the word ‘revive’ in association with me and female emcees. I never thought I would be such an instrumental part of anything,” Minaj said to the LA Times around "Pink Friday"'s release. “I just pictured myself coming in and rapping. But of course, it’s like, the best thing to hear because not only am I doing this for me but I’m doing it for so many other girls.”
As explained in hip-hop journalist Kathy Iandoli's book "God Save The Queens," this 10-year gap for women reaching that mark is largely based on the major hit the music industry took with the establishment of Napster. The piracy platform robbed the music industry of an estimated $55 billion. Some of the first resources that record labels cut from budgets included those for female artists, including hair, makeup and dancers that their male counterparts largely didn’t need.
While this was unfolding, Minaj established herself as a certified spitter in the streets, signing with Lil Wayne's Young Money label and releasing her "Beam Me Up Scotty" mixtape. She was a workhorse and a true wordsmith as she penned her own lyrics and stood her own among the guys. By the time “Pink Friday” came around, the industry — and Nicki — were ready for her to shine.
While Harajuku Barbie was the leading lady throughout this time period (breaking Aretha Franklin’s record for most Hot 100 songs), it gave room for Cardi B to blossom and she became the fifth woman to have an album at the top of the Billboard 200 with “Invasion of Privacy” in 2018. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” is currently taking over pop culture, which is another controversial assertion of female sexual empowerment in line with Minaj’s 2014 hit “Anaconda.”
We look at eras of dominance — Tom Brady and the New England Patriots winning six Super Bowls, Pat Summitt and the Tennessee Lady Vols going to the NCAA Tournament 31 consecutive times, Lewis Hamilton recently winning his seventh F1 championship — and we can't do anything but agree with Minaj's assertion that she's worthy of being in these conversations of greatness.
"I'm the Best"
"Got the 'Eye of the Tiger,' the Lion of Judah"
"Pink Friday" opens with Nicki Minaj's snappy declaration "I'm the Best." The entire track is full of bravado as she prepares to go to war. The "Eye of the Tiger" is of course a reference to the "Rocky" theme performed by Survivor. This is the queen's entrance as she's walking into the ring. Pink robe to go with her pink boxing gloves, of course.
"I'll kick that hoe, punt"
"I call the play, now do you see why?/These bitches calling me Manning, Eli"
One of Nicki Minaj's alter egos is the sinister little boy Roman. "Roman's Revenge" is no holds bar as Minaj, I mean Roman, asserts herself as a leader in the rap game in the same vein as quarterback Eli Manning. Just a few years before the release of "Pink Friday," Manning led the New York Giants and won the 2008 Super Bowl. This one was extra historic because it dashed the New England Patriots' dreams of becoming only the second team ever to go undefeated.
"Did It On 'Em"
"All these bitches is my sons/And I ain't talking about Phoenix"
On the ultra grimy "Did It On 'Em," Nicki Minaj fiercely asserts her dominance. On one of the intricate bars, she claims that all the wannabes, other female rappers, haters, whoever, are her children. It's a wordplay referencing the Phoenix Suns. At the time, Steve Nash was toward the end of his career, but still made the All-Star team in 2010. That was actually the last season the Suns made the playoffs after being consistent postseason contenders since the '80s. A decade ago, no one could have imagined the resurrection of the team as favorites of the NBA Bubble, going undefeated in the special circumstances. With the recent addition of Chris Paul, the Suns are bound to be exciting once again.
"Right Thru Me"
"You could turn a free throw to a goal"
The ultra smooth "Right Thru Me" shows Nicki Minaj's incredible range. The melodies melt like butter over Drew Money's sample of the iconic bassline on Joe Satriani's "Always With Me, Always With You." But even this love song has a sports reference as Minaj claims that as much as she gets frustrated with her lover, his charm gets him more points than the shoots for.
"Crying my eyes out for days upon days/Such a heavy burden placed upon me/But when you go hard, your nays become yays/Yankee Stadium with Jays and Kanyes"
This inspirational song is all about Nicki Minaj overcoming her self-doubts and insecurities. A key line is where she sees the transformation of herself going from crying and hopeless, working through the pain and being able to share the stage with Jay-Z and Kanye West at Yankee Stadium. In September of 2010, she did indeed perform "Monster," the Yeezy song that many consider her breakout verse, alongside 'Ye and Hov. This was at the new Yankees Stadium, which opened in 2009 and carries on the legacy of the original venue, which stood for nearly 90 years and witnessed 37 World Series matchups. Historic.
There's actually no sports references on the ethereal "Save Me." But it's such a lovely, heartfelt song, we had to list it so that you can enjoy it. It's really the soul of the album.
"Moment 4 Life" ft. Drake
"Yes, I call the shots, I am the umpire"
"Put it on everything, that I will retire with the ring"
"Clap for the heavyweight champ, me"
Nicki packed three sports references in the first 45 seconds of the megahit "Moment 4 Life." The motivational T-Minus creation is certified platinum and reached the No.13 slot on the Hot 100. It's a perfect blend of anthemic and emotive.
"I'm in the Dominican, Big Papi Ortiz"
"Shoutout to the OVO, Red Wings and fatigues"
Remember when we all wanted Drake and Nicki to just get together already?? It never happened, but the dynamic duo was basically hip-hop's Prom King and Queen of the 2010s and the "Moment 4 Life" video solidified their reign. Drizzy spits a few bars, comparing himself to Red Sox slugger and Dominican Republic native David Ortiz aka Big Papi. He also gives a shoutout to the Detroit Red Wings as he draws parallels between the championship hockey team and his OVO crew.
"Blazin'" ft. Kanye West
"Hope you can take the Heat like LeBron"
"Soccer moms need to organize a pep ral'/Your game over, bitch, Gatorade, wet towel"
"Blazin" is surprisingly not one of those eight Hot 100 songs, but it's definitely a gem. Minaj effortlessly balances airy melodies with fierce power in her verses. Here, she sends her best wishes to her competition, assuring them she's putting the pressure on. The summer before "Pink Friday" dropped was "The Decision." Minaj's wordplay is exquisite in how she references LeBron James' move to take his talents to South Beach and join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat but also acknowledges the criticism of the bold announcement, leaving his status as hometown hero to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Minaj also gives a shoutout to soccer moms who are the best cheerleaders. Once her takeover is complete, the losers will have to watch her and her Young Money crew celebrate by pouring Gatorade over Lil Wayne's head.
"This is a moment, grab your Kodak while I'm flying with a flow that is the greatest throwback since that Nolan Ryan"
Here's where Kanye West got his fingers on "Pink Friday." After Minaj totally stole the show on the aforementioned "Monster," West gifted her with a witty verse for "Blazin" where he asserts his own greatness, comparing himself to star pitcher Nolan Ryan. The Hall of Famer gained much of the momentum for his career with the then-California Angels. But he broke a lot of hearts when he went home to the Houston Astros in 1980 and then finished his career with the Texas Rangers.
Again, there's no clear sports references on "Pink Friday"'s first single, "Your Love." But the Pop & Oak produced banger is a fluid love song with a video as equally enjoyable as the 808s over the smooth Annie Lennox sample. And there are martial arts references in the visual, so that kind of counts, right?
"I coulda been had fame/Jump-shot with a stupid-ass aim/'Cause you couldn't get around the last name/So my cross-over wins the last game"
"You could bring it any day/Natural badass, NBA/That's my initials/That's why officials don't blow the whistle"
"Nobody that I could just depend on, until I touched down in the end zone"
The closing track of "Pink Friday" is Nicki Minaj's victory lap. On "Last Chance," she ties together all the themes from the album, moving from her loneliness to the elation of victory. She explains her journey using a basketball metaphor, saying that despite her natural sharpshooting talent, people stood in her way. But her hustle and determination led to a legendary crossover of Allen Iverson status. She comes up with her own acronym for NBA that doesn't really have anything to do with basketball, but shows that she's so dominant the referees let her play by her own rules. It's clear the queen's ascent has taken a toll on her, but her ability to keep scoring is what's led her to her status as an elite artist and cemented her place in music and pop culture history.
Needs no explanation.