From The Ledger:
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, outsize 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, 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 M.I.A. (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, out Tuesday from Young Money/Cash Money/Universal Republic, 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 emcee 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.
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. (Deep down, she’s too much of a populist truly to go there.)
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