On Dec. 13, 2013, Beyoncé ruined the idea of an album rollout. For the next 13 months, artists scrambled to compete with the release of BEYONCÉ, leaking their own albums early in an effort to match the frenzy caused by the surprise drop. And then there was Nicki Minaj, who opted for a teaser of a year, building anticipation for her new album throughout 2014 with a slower rollout of remixes, singles, and videos.
She started her year with a remix of a viral hit, Los Angeles-based crunk crew PTAF's single "Boss Ass Bitch." After that drop, Minaj set out to slay every guest verse or remix to a hit single she could, decimating any memories of that verse on Kanye West's "Monster," that all those "real hip-hop heads" love to bring up when we talk about Minaj. Fans hoped that the classic artist without a classic album would finally appease all of their rap fantasies with a straight hip-hop classic. But this is Nicki Minaj we're talking about, and she dangled that in their faces for months, teasing it with the line, "But on the real, I'm in album mode/Just dropped this freestyle before these files get old/When I lay low, bitches be safe and sound/When I come back they better not make a sound."
While in “album mode,” she undoubtedly killed a few remixes: Young Thug’s “Danny Glover,” Rae Sremmurd’s “No Flex Zone,” and, most notably, Beyoncé’s “Flawless.” She kicked things off with a verse on the star-studded remix to YG's "My N**," but it was on songs like Thug's that she actually revived the track itself, and her own credibility, with just a few bars. "No Flex Zone" went from a viral Internet banger to a serious hit once she tossed a verse on it. And after pushing the "Anaconda" video for a surprise remix of Bey's "Flawless," all within the same week of her guest appearance on Jessie J's "Bang Bang," fans knew this would be a monumental year for Minaj. Without even addressing her album singles, it was clear that Minaj became the nucleus of pop and rap crossover and that everything she cosigned turned to gold.
That’s all on top of her own tracks “Yasss Bish,” which brought Soulja Boy's name back into the conversation, “Chi-Raq,” the venomous track that lent a major co-sign to Lil Herb (and the rappers who remixed it, including Dreezy). But the street singles seemed to all culminate with the inimitable, cutthroat “Lookin’ Ass.” It was on that Detail-produced track, whose album art stirred up more than enough controversy, that Minaj tempestuously protected her throne, and proved that even on a loosie, she's still a threat.
This was hip-hop's "return to Mixtape Nicki," but as she told us during the Complex Dec. 2014/Jan. 2015 cover story, there is no "mixtape Nicki." "I’ve never stopped rapping; I’ve never stopped doing freestyles; I’ve never stopped doing remixes and features; I’ve never stopped raising the bar lyrically," she said. Minaj dominated freestyles and remixes reminiscent of a 2012 Drake, and a 2007 Lil Wayne, where fans anticipated Tha Carter 3 but got Da Drought 3 instead.
Then "Pills N Potions" dropped and the entire rap Internet was trolled after Minaj promised for more rap tracks and linked up with Dr. Luke for an ethereal, shimmering betrayal ballad. Where Drake croons about buying his girl snow tires as some sort of proof of his loyalty, the honesty and pain in the majority of Minaj's singles and the entirety of The Pinkprint album, makes her more relatable this year than in years past. It peaked at No. 24 on the Billboard charts. Then came the comically sexual “Anaconda”—both singles display a versatility that, by now, feels like signature Nicki. Unlike her first single, the Sir Mix-a-Lot-sampling viral track hit at No. 2 on the Hot 100, becoming Minaj's highest-charting single in the United States to date. That, and it broke the VEVO record for the most views in 24 hours, racking up 19.6 million clicks in the first day.
Her Skylar-Grey featuring "Bed of Lies" and the YM posse cut "Only" followed. And last Friday, the Drake, Lil Wayne, and Chris Brown-featuring single hit No. 1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart making it her fourth No. 1 single on the Hip-Hop Songs chart. Minaj is the only female rapper in the last 56 years who holds four No. 1 singles on that chart.
Besides the record-breaking singles, the ferocious guest verses, and the demanding freestyles, Minaj became a relatable artist this year; with the death of her alter egos (Bye, Roman), a much more au natural look, and a gut-wrenching, eye-opening album filled with hurt, betrayal and mistrust, she was no longer that character living in a fantasy. This was Onika, in the flesh, getting personal with listeners. No costumes, no fake accents, just her. She's in control more than ever before, and this was the year that people had to get over fitting her into one box. She proved herself as an MC long ago, but reiterated it over, and over again with half a year of street singles. 2014 will forever go down as Nicki's year because she finally gave us herself and left her talent with nothing to hide behind.
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