Dear Nicki, Almighty Savior… fine, I’ll pray later. Ok, I don’t actually pray to Nicki Minaj, but the woman has taken on the role of a deity in my rap-centered life. While she lacks the lyricism of Nas or political consciousness of Mos Def or the production skills of Kanye, she masters two things crucial to the rap game: (1) flow and (2) throwing shade.
Originally trained as an actress at the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts, Nicki takes on a variety of characters and corresponding voices in her raps – Harajuku Barbie, Roman Zolanski, Martha, Onika, etc. – switching effortlessly from one to another. And while I enjoy her solo albums and mixtapes, where Nicki truly shines is on someone else’s track. The below tracks range from killer to horrendous, but they are united in that each showcases Nicki at her finest. Below each blurb, I’ve included where Nicki’s verse begins so that you don’t have to waste any time listening to Trey Songz…. Leggo!
10. “Till The World Ends (Femme Fatale Remix)” – Britney Spears ft. Nicki Minaj & Ke$ha
[Nicki’s verse begins at .09]
Sniff, sniff, criiiies / I done slayed your entire fucking liiiiife
In including the Femme Fatale remix in its top 100 tracks of 2011, Pitchfork explained that the addition of Nicki’s verse made even better Britney’s best song since “Toxic,” calling it a “45-second evisceration.” Pitchfork also took this opportunity to recognize something I’ve long considered obvious – that “pretty much any song in the world could be made infinitely better by the addition of a Nicki Minaj verse.”
9. “Letting Go (Dutty Love)” – Sean Kingston ft. Nicki Minaj
[Nicki’s verse begins at 2:29]
It’s YSL daddy I ain’t gotta spell it
I’m a sucker for anything Jafaican, and this track is no exception. While the song could probably hold its own with its catchy chorus cooed by babyfaced Kingston, Nicki’s verse unsurprisingly takes it to the next level. “Ayo Sean, youuuu Mr. Kingston,” she calls out before each verse, accent ostensibly drawing from her Trinidadian routes. She finishes her verse in full cartoonish posture — “Sighhhhhhhh / Rastafarri” — tilting her head back, and topping it off with: “Dutty (pronounced “DOTTY”), Dutty, D-d-d-d-dutty!” Watch the video for maximum effect.
8. “Hello Good Morning” – P Diddy ft. Rick Ross & Nicki Minaj
[Nicki’s verse begins at 1:30]
Nicki brings this otherwise bland track to life, making running out of breath sound truly fierce as she flawlessly vacillates her tempo, transforming from Nicki to Roman and back again.
7. “Touchin, Lovin” – Trey Songz ft. Nicki Minaj
[Nicki’s verse begins at 2:34]
Sometimes I tell ‘em I love ‘em because I just wanna fuck ‘em
I’ve really only listened to Trey Songz in the context of scrolling to a Nicki verse. Maybe his lack of originality inspires her, who knows, but Nicki has no trouble slaying Mr. Songz on the regular. Here, Nicki, as she often does, turns on its head the notion that only men feign feelings to get in someone’s pants when she opens with the above line. She continues, espousing the classically male notion of “hit it and quit it”: “I never love ‘em, or cuff ‘em and when we done I’mma duck ‘em.” Beneath the vulgarity (“pussy wetter than puddles / I ride his dick like a shuttle”) underlies a strong message of female sexual empowerment: “I said real niggas let real bitches cum first.”
6. “Low” – Juicy J ft. Nicki Minaj, Lil Bibby, Young Thug
[Nicki’s verse begins at 1:26]
I pull up with the n*gga with the real big dick
Juicy J opens on this minimalist trap beat boasting of his player ways: “Me, Juicy J, I got too many hoes.” Nicki counters by explaining that women can be players too, pulling up with the best-endowed of them, ending with yet another vulgar message of female sexual empowerment: “I’m with some flawless girls, they’re pretty and they’re thick / Bust it open quick, put that pussy on his lips, bitch.”
5. “My Chick Bad” – Ludacris ft. Nicki Minaj
[Nicki’s verse begins at 2:14]
Now all these bitches wanna try and be my besty /
But I take a left and leave them hangin’ like a testy
Who better to feature on a song called “My Chick Bad” than Nicki Minaj? Accordingly, we see Nicki at her most ferocious, ultimately comparing herself to Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddie Krueger. The track, which dropped in February of 2010, was among the first establish Nicki Minaj as the ideal featuring artist. XXL said Nicki’s verse “proves she’s got the goods to be the perfect playmate to any of rap’s leading men.”
4. “Five Star Chick Remix” – Yo Gotti ft. Gucci Mane, Trina, Nicki Minaj
[Nicki’s verse begins at 3:15]
I ain’t sleepin when I say I’m in my dream car
Nicki’s verse on Yo Gotti’s Five Star Chick Remix has special significance for me because it represents my first introduction to Ms. Minaj. Later that year, Nicki’s verse also played a starring role in my friend’s mental breakdown; he reminded our friends repeatedly to remain “five star chicks” as he was rolled away on a stretcher, but that is neither here nor there. The track dropped in November of 2009, just a few months after Nicki was discovered by Lil Wayne and recruited to Young Money Entertainment (“Ask Lil’ Wayne who the 5 star bitch is!!!”). At that point Minaj had been making mixtapes for years – Playtime is Over in 2007, Sucka Free in 2008, and Beam Me Up Scotty in early 2009, each garnering underground praise – but her verse on Five Star Chick represented her entrance into the mainstream. She comes out hard, dissing Lil Mama (“little mama you a 3 star”), referencing the 2009 VMA’s in which Lil’ Mama crashed Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ performance of “Empire State of Mind” (“when you hit the stage / they was booin and leavin’”). Nicki evidences an early mastery of the rap practice of shitting on one’s contemporaries with aplomb. Although now Nicki has far surpassed Lil’ Mama’s talent and stature, everyone has to start somewhere.
3. “Danny Glover” – Young Thug ft. Nicki Minaj
[Nicki’s verse begins at 1:54]
I am not gay, but lesbi precise
Cause if she pretty, then watch it cause I’mma be fuckin yo wife
I’m a fan of almost anyone who attempts to tackle the complicated mess that is human sexuality, as opposed to acting as though it is as simple as a genetic pre-disposition or a sinful choice. Nicki has always kept her sexuality ambiguous, but on this track she really nails it. She comes back to the brilliant line above a few lines before spitting: “Girls is plottin, what more could they steal? / Tell Justin Timberlake that I am coming from Jessica Biel.” While fans speculate that Nicki has a longtime boyfriend in producer Safaree Samuels, part of me hopes that one day Nicki will be coming from me.
2. “Bottom’s Up” – Trey Songz ft. Nicki Minaj
[Nicki’s verse begins at 2:40]
I’m with a bad girl, he’s with his friends
I don’t say hi, I say keys to the benz
Again, poor Trey. Not like he cares what I think – I’m sure he has loads of nice fans throughout the middle schools of suburban Illinois. But I digress. Again, Nicki shows us here that women can be just as bad as men. Trey spends several yawn-inducing verses explaining his clubbing style (“Tell security we bout to tear this club up / bottoms up bottoms up / pocket full of green”) and asserting his heterosexuality (“Girl you know I love the way you shake it in them jeans”). And just when you think the song can’t get any more boring, Nicki comes in double-time with: “Could I get that Tron? Could I get that Remy? Could I get that Coke? Could I get that Henny? Could I get that margarita on the rock rock rock rocks? Could I get that salt all around that rim rim rim rim?” When she arrives to the club, bad bitch in tow, she doesn’t say hello, she simply demands the Benz. Billboard aptly wrote that Songz “fades into the background” while Nicki “steals the spotlight with a layered, almost cartoonish 16-bar verse that injects the track with much-needed liveliness and creativity,” showing “more personality in 45 seconds than most rappers do in an entire song, balancing an aggressive attitude with her gentler side.” (She calls herself a lady in one line and references “doing donuts while  waiving the .380” in the next.) In discussing the song on a Ustream webcast in July 2010, Trey confesses that he “fell in love” with Nicki when he heard the verse.
1. “Monster” – Kanye West ft. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Bon Iver, Nicki Minaj
[Nicki’s verse begins at 3:35]
Pink wig, thick ass, give em whiplash
I think big, get cash, make them blink fast
I will never forget the first time I heard Nicki’s verse “Monster.” It was a sunny Saturday and naturally I was sitting alone in my studio apartment in a grey leisure suit, working a law school paper in leggings and blasting hype machine. I recognized a new Kanye Song and turned it up. The song didn’t grab me at first – I found it was abrasive and not a good way. And then Nicki enters and I immediately call my best friend (see mental breakdown story above). “Can we talk about Nicki’s verse on ‘Monster’?” I say, sans introduction. “Iiiiiii know,” he responds, “She is on this track with Kanye and Rick Ross and Jay-Z and she LIT-TRA-LEE slays every single one of them.” Nicki addresses her own impressiveness when she raps: “So let me get this straight, wait, I’m the rookie?” NME describes Nicki’s verse as “fire-breathing, raga-inflected,” Pitchfork’s Ryan Dombal calls it the “schizoid verse of her life,” and The A.V. Club explains that Nicki “single-handedly justifies her deafening buzz with her verse on this song.” Rick Ross, also on the track, described watching Nicki record the verse “a moment in history.” But perhaps most significantly are the words of world-renowned narcissist and track creator Kanye West himself. During a 2013 radio interview, he said in the midst of a classic Kanye rant about Nike that I can’t say I follow: “It was like that moment, you know, when I thought of taking Nicki’s verse off of Monster, because I knew people would say that was the best verse on the best hip hop album of all time.”