A weekend New York Times editorial piece describes Trinidad-born, and self-proclaimed Barbie, Nicki Minaj as the most influential female emcee in history. Minaj is also one of this year's nominees in The 2012 TIME 100 Poll, which chooses the leaders, artistes, innovators, icons and heroes who readers think are the most influential people in the world.
Official voting for the Time poll on their website ends tomorrow, and the poll winner will be included in the TIME 100 issue. The complete TIME 100 list will be chosen by editors and revealed on TIME.com on April 17. Here is an excerpt of the New York Times article:
BARELY a year and a half has passed since the release of Pink Friday, the platinum debut album by Nicki Minaj, but her style is well honed. She's a sparkling rapper with a gift for comic accents and unexpected turns of phrase. She's a walking exaggeration, outsized in sound, personality and look. And she's a rapid evolver, discarding old modes as easily as adopting new ones. This hard and complex work has paid off: when she releases her second album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, this week (the album was released on Tuesday), it will be as the most influential female rapper of all time.
What's even more striking is how far her reach extends beyond hip-hop. When Madonna needed to tether her current comeback to the young female transgressors of the day, she chose Nicki Minaj and MIA (savvy Nicki would never be the one to throw up a middle finger.)
At the Grammys in February, she gave the most shocking performance, part exorcism and part Broadway spectacle. And in the lead-up to her new album... her new songs have shown that she has no intention of being hemmed in by the expectations of genre, dabbling in slithery R&B on "Right by My Side" and outright giddy dance-pop on "Starships".
When rapping on the songs of others, she's often the most capable MC around—take Birdman's "Y U Mad?"—but on her own material she's often straddling a line between hip-hop and pop that no other rapper is capable of, or would even dare.
A few years ago, before her rise began, there were hardly any female rappers of note; now, a new generation—including Azealia Banks, Brianna Perry and Angel Haze—is rising quickly, working territory that she carved out. This is a story about influence, to be sure, but also about the weakening of old walls, and the reshaping of the gates that the gatekeepers keep. Thanks to Nicki Minaj and the possibilities she has laid bare, and to hip-hop's stasis of masculinity it is, outrageously and unprecedentedly, a more exciting time to be a female rapper than a male one.
As much as anything, this reflects what a barren playing field Nicki Minaj, 29, arrived onto. She signed with Lil Wayne's Young Money Records in 2009 on the strength of a couple of years' worth of mixtapes and street DVD appearances. The Nicki of that era was brassy and coarse, and intermittently clever. She had no real competition, and when she signed with Lil Wayne, there was little indication she would drastically rewrite the rules for female rappers.
She did the obvious, and then more. She became a nimble, evocative rapper. She became an intricate lyricist. She became a thoughtful singer. She became a risky performer. She invented new personae. More than any other rapper in the mainstream, she pushed hard against expectations, and won. Only rarely did she allow herself to appear secondary to her male counterparts—even on songs like "Monster", alongside Kanye West and Jay-Z, she more than held her ground. That was part of the blessing of being singular: with no one around to compare herself to, or for others to compare her to, she became her own watermark.
While that was happening, she morphed into the most eclectic black-music style idol since Grace Jones, and certainly the one with the quickest ascent to the style elite, with a look that's loud, cartoonish and edging toward avant-garde.
She's been on the covers of Vibe, XXL and the Fader, sure, but also of Cosmopolitan, Black Book, Elle and V. The current issue of Paper magazine features a modest Minaj on the cover: salmon blazer, lemon yellow top, Oscar-the-Grouch-green tangle of curls. Inside is a 16-page fashion spread full of models (sprinkled amongst commoners) wearing Nicki-inspired fashion: multicoloured Afros, top-volume animal prints, neon make-up and shimmering fabrics, on both men and women.
In short, emulating Nicki Minaj isn't hard, because there's so much to play with. It's possible to take just a part of what she's done and come off as refreshing. And that's just what a new wave of female rappers has done.
Flexible in a different way is the Miami rapper Brianna Perry, who recently signed to Atlantic. Perry most resembles the main earlier model of female rap success, the sex kitten and gangster's moll poses honed by Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown in the mid-1990s.
But in the last year, as evinced on YouTube, Perry has evolved her style significantly, both aesthetically and musically. She unfurls her syllables in a deliberate, distinctive fashion and adapts her delivery well to the beat, evident especially on a string of freestyles over other people's songs: Rick Ross's "Stay Schemin'", Wale's "Slight Work" and, most impressive, Tyga's "Rack City".
What Perry is missing, though, is some of Nicki Minaj's effortlessness: she often appears to be scowling, even when the song calls for something softer. In a similar way Iggy Azalea, a white Australian woman, is stuck on one mood. She sounds as if she learned to rap for a part in a Movie of the Week: she's studied and awkward, an able imitator but not yet capable of more than that. Some of her rap moves come from Nicki Minaj, particularly the ways in which she tries to bend her voice into different shapes.
And Iggy Azalea, who signed with Interscope, has fully inhaled Nicki Minaj's skewed-Barbie aesthetic. Her videos are like small fashion shows, and Iggy Azalea, with her bottle-blonde hair and Jessica Rabbit manner, is inhabiting her character fully.
Iggy Azalea's look is a reminder that for all of Nicki Minaj's achievements, she's still done little to upend the traditional weight of masculinity in hip-hop. And traditional masculine rules still hold sway. Women are still mostly sex objects, and men mostly think of them in commodity terms. Nicki Minaj's music is full of reposts to this idea, but her image still often works within that old framework. Take as a counterexample Drake, Nicki Minaj's label mate, who offers a more emotionally complicate palate. But there has not been a flood of rappers looking to ride his coattails. His subtle challenges to the masculine ideal are more vexing to rap than Nicki Minaj's almost-complete rebranding of the female's potential.
But where Nicki Minaj's influence may be most vital is on artistes who ordinarily have no business rapping, but who see in Nicki a relatable role model. Certainly Amy Heidemann of the grim cutesy-covers duo Karmin has some of Nicki's looseness in her approach.
The actress Michelle Trachtenberg was a viral star when she posted video of herself rapping a Nicki song. Last year Taylor Swift was pronouncing Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass" as one of her favourite songs and rapping it for people. And most egregiously there's Katy Perry's recent butchering of "Paris", the neutered title of the Kanye West and Jay-Z hit.
At this point, Nicki Minaj is responsible for many children; some of them are bound to misbehave.