Pink Friday.

I was content to ride out 2010 listening to nothing but Kanye West’s brilliant new release, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Being the patriotic American that I am, though, I felt obligated to make some sort of Black Friday purchase – so, appropriately enough, I scooped up Pink Friday (and yes, I tried for several minutes to work a “Blue Monday” reference into this sentence, to no avail).

Along with Fantasy and Drake’s Thank Me Later, Nicki Minaj’s debut rounded out a trio of the year’s most anticipated hip-hop albums. And though Pink Friday has been dwarfed by coverage of Fantasy – I’ve been genuinely shocked by how it’s held its own in my iPod rotation.

Despite all the hype surrounding Pink Friday, there were legitimate doubts that Minaj’s skills could translate into a quality album: In her superb guest verses, she showcases a confusing array of split personalities, each with its own odd tics, intonations and sound. They make for fun cameos, but when it comes to sustaining an entire album, that shtick would get old quickly.

Thankfully, Minaj seems hyper-aware of the fact that after transforming for each guest appearance, no one really understands yet who she is. Whereas Lil Wayne’s recent release is titled I Am Not a Human Being, Minaj’s might as well be named I Actually Am a Human Being and Not a Montage of Contrived Novelty Characters.

It’s fitting, then, that the best tracks on Friday are the ones where Minaj goes it alone. She may have blown West and Jay-Z out of the water with her stint on West’s “Monster,” declaring “You may be the king, but watch the queen conquer,” but on her own disc, she shows more vulnerability – following up with the caveat, “I’m alone on my thrown … baby I can feel myself giving up” on “Save Me.” Some might find that kind of revelation disappointing from a woman who’s supposed to keep pace with the big boys – but in fact, it’s a refreshingly humanizing admonition.

In other ways, Minaj does succeed in being one of the guys. She echoes Jay-Z and other hip-hop stalwarts in describing her crackhead father, her pride in being able to buy her mom a house, and her triumph over naysaying haters – and in doing so proves that none of those are acts reserved exclusively for male artists. She also enlists Rihanna and Natasha Bedingfield when she’s in need of girlier hooks – in the same way Drake bucked expectations by singing many of the softer refrains on his album himself, Minaj suggests that just because she’s a woman doesn’t mean she needs to waste time crooning.

The standout track is the opener, “I’m the Best,” where she combines West-level bravado with a touch of female savvy, admitting, “I hope they’re coming for me, because the top is lonely.” Just like Amy Poehler’s “SNL” version of Hillary Clinton hit the nail on the head when she declared, “I didn’t want to be the first female president; I wanted to be president, and I just happen to be female,” Minaj says “I’m the best bitch doing it” – and we know she means the best bitch of either gender.

Sara Libby is an editor at Politico. In addition to her blog, Ill Communication, she writes regularly about hip-hop for the Christian Science Monitor and Salon.

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  • Just want to co-sign about her turn on “Monster.” I have never liked Nicki Minaj in the slightest, and having heard her first few singles, i remained pretty unimpressed.

    But she completely murdered that verse. It reminded me of early Eminem. props where they’re due.

    • keke

      I feel you. I had been pretty indifferent about nikki minaj until “Monster”. She really stepped up and I had to give her props. After her guest spot on Monster, I started listening to some of earlier underground work and its cool and I do enjoy her verse on “Bottoms Up”. Having said that, I have been really unimpressed with the singles she has released from her debut album Pink Friday “Right Through Me”, “Your Love” & “Check It Out”.

      I don’t have a problem with pop music at all and I understand that she wants to crossover and have mass appeal and show a more vulnerable side of herself, and that is fine. But those songs just don’t do it for me and I don’t really care for her singing voice. So as of right now, I am still undecided if I even want to listen, let alone purchase this album.

      Who knows, at some point I may give it a listen. It is good to see a woman gaining this kind of traction in the rap industry and I do want to see how far she takes this.

    • Agreed, I’m pretty disappointed with this album (I kinda feel betrayed after advocating for Nicki all year, lol) but Monster is one of the verses of the year.

      • this surprises me, man. but yeah, a lot of people whose opinions I really respect were riding hard for her. clearly, her charms are lost on me. I’d stop taking her seriously after that “I want cheese/lots and lots of cheese” bit on the Hip-Hop Honors Cipher.

  • Steve

    I liked her special on MTV last night… but I wish she wouldn’t tread the line between pop and hip-hop but it probably suits her. I’d love a full album of “monster” like verses.

    The album is like a 3/5 to me. It certainly does what its SUPPOSED to do. But its not something that I’d really listen to.

    • Scipio Africanus

      My guess is it’ll probably be a few albums before she’s finished tried her hand at everything she’s capable of.

      She can do the straight-up spitting thing, she can do the hyper crossover pop thing, and she can mix them. She seems to have opted for the latter, here.

      Personally, I prefer her when she’s at her extremes, and I like this “mixture” album. I predict two more albums within a 12 – 18 month period of time soon; each exploring the two extremes more fully and singularly.

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  • What G.D. said.