Nicki Minaj is no stranger to reinventing herself over the years for different album cycles, whether that's through a plethora of hairstyles or completely shifting music genres. Minaj is doing it again with her new single, The Last Time I Saw You, released Friday, September 1st, on which Minaj is heard mostly singing over a slow R&B-inspired beat, a drastic shift from her most recent chart-topper, Super Freaky Girl. The song is the first official single from Minaj's upcoming fifth studio album, Pink Friday 2, the title being an ode to her first studio album, and keeps the nostalgia alive as fans recall her past genre shifts throughout the years.
Before 2010's Pink Friday, Minaj was simply a rapper from Queens, New York. Minaj had three mixtapes and gained stardom through a feature on Kanye West's Monster. The verse, which has formed an iconic identity of its own amongst fans, established Minaj as a female rapper in a male-led industry. With the song's popularity, listeners started to pay attention to Your Love, a single Minaj had released just months before her newfound fame. The song, which served as Pink Friday's lead single, went on to top Billboard's Hot Rap Songs chart, according to Vibe, in part thanks to its R&B and pop influences and Minaj's sultry vocals.
Minaj presumably shifted from her hip-hop-only mixtapes to a new pop/rap hybrid due to the landscape of popular music at the time. In 2010, the chart-toppers were songs like Lady Gaga's Bad Romance, and Minaj took the hint. A year earlier, in an interview with VladTV, Minaj said, "Whatever you're selling, you have to do your homework on the market." The market wanted pop, which eventually led her to release Super Bass as a single following the release of the album. The song peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, gaining Minaj her first solo Top 10 hit.
Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded
Minaj released her sophomore album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, in 2012. The lead single, Starships, became an instant hit upon its release, as the rapper leaned even deeper into the bubble-gum pop genre. Style became an important of Minaj's persona for this era. Minaj was often seen in outrageously colorful hair and over-the-top costumes to promote the album, keeping up with Perry and Lady Gaga's respective Teenage Dream and Born This Way eras. During this album cycle, Minaj tried not to lose her rap persona amidst pop-stardom with songs like Beez in The Trap and features from Lil Wayne and Eminem, but the songs failed to gain traction from mainstream audiences.
By 2014, Minaj switched out the costumes for The Pinkprint album, but found a different way to get the listener's attention. Anaconda, serving as the first single, strayed Minaj from bubblegum pop and into hypersexual rapstar status. Lyrics like, "My anaconda don't want none unless you got buns, hun," sampled from Sir Mix-A-Lot's 1992 hit, Baby Got Back, brought the surprise element back into Minaj's career. The music video was equally controversial, complete with sexual innuendos and lap dances, which went along with the single's cover art showing Minaj in a thong. The song went on to reach the #2 spot on the Billboard charts, blocked from the #1 spot by Taylor Swift's Shake It Off.
Even as Minaj focused on rap, "The Pinkprint" included singles like The Night is Still Young, and Side to Side, in collaboration with Ariana Grande, during the era. Minaj kept the pop influences in some of her music since songs like Shake It Off were at the top of the charts.
When the tides shifted in 2017 with Cardi B's Bodak Yellow topping the charts, a new generation of female rappers rose that didn't feel the need to conform to the declining pop genre to be successful. By 2018, rappers like Megan Thee Stallion broke through with no rhythmic or melodic tones in their music, relying heavily on rap.
By 2018, Minaj saw a decline in her popularity, due to the rise of newer female rappers and Remy Ma's infamous diss track, shETHER. In the diss track, Ma accused Minaj of not being a "real rapper," following which Minaj rolled out her fourth studio album, Queen. The album focused on Minaj's rap skills, once again switching genres to conform to the landscape of music. The album cycle included singles like Barbie Dreams, an homage to The Notorious B.I.G.'s Just Playin' (Dreams). Even then, she kept the pop genre in her back pocket with two more Ariana Grande collaborations.
After a hiatus following Queen, she returned to music in 2022 with Super Freaky Girl, a rap spin of Rick James' Super Freak from the 80s. Fortunately for Minaj, it earned her her first #1 hit on the Hot 100, but unfortunately for hip-hop, it was the last rap song to top the charts. This meant that Minaj's following single, Red Ruby Da Sleeze, a full-on rap song, failed to gain the attention of listeners, which brought turmoil to the roleout of Pink Friday 2.
Pink Friday 2
In a year when pop, country and R&B seem to be dominating the charts, The Last Time I Saw You is a yet another strategic genre swap for Minaj. Her vocals over a modern R&B/alternative beat work together with her rap skills, showcased in the song's second verse. An X user commented on the song, writing, "Listening to last time I saw you is gonna feel the exact same way I felt when I listened [to] Pills n potions and come see about me!! THE NOSTALGIA!!"
With the new single, the rapper hopes to "give the fans what they want," as she put it on her Amp radio show, Queen Radio. Minaj's ever-changing style of music has once against morphed into the scape of popular music of its time, as she says she's putting out her favorite music "of my career." This has only excited fans in anticipation for Pink Friday 2, for which she revealed the cover on Instagram.
Source: That Grape Juice
Over the years, Minaj has been somewhat of a chameleon, shifting as needed. The rapper's evolution, from bubble-gum pop of her earlier work to a rap persona to an R&B diva, has been a compelling one. Minaj continues to run herself as a business and market herself to younger audiences that most are incapable of attracting fifteen years into their career.