It's hard to believe but Nicki Minaj actually made a POP album…and it's really good.

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I resisted the Nicki Minaj bandwagon for a really, really long time.  At first, I thought she was a Young Money puppet– a female extension of Lil Wayne.  Her clothes and image seemed overly sexual and I thought they were designed to be a distraction from a lack of true artistry.  I HATED her verse on Bedrock and most of the other cameos she dropped.  I thought she wilted on the Letterman show during her performance with Robin Thicke (watch at the 4:00 mark), and I thought Massive Attack was a complete brick (I still do).  I also thought the whole Barbies thing was completely derivative of Lady GaGa and her Little Monsters (they are).  Most of all, I could NOT get with all the funny voices.

Somewhere along the way, though, things started to change.  I can’t pinpoint exactly when it was.  Maybe it was when Your Love dropped and she used the dope Annie Lenox sample.  Soon after that, stories started circling that she had not wanted to drop Massive Attack as her single and it was others who had pushed her into it.  At the same time, rumors swirled that Diddy was her manager and she was putting some distance between her and Young Money–at least for her management.  These stories started to make a strong case that Ms. Minaj was truly her own person (even if the Diddy story turned out not to be true).  But that wasn’t enough to sway me.

My ears did perk up however when Kanye West (someone who I think is one of the dopest ARTTISTS out there) said that Nicki had the potential to be the 2nd biggest MC ever, only to Eminem.  Huh?!  Kanye has always been a visionary, but FOR REAL??!!  But then I heard her voice on Monster…and I didn’t like it.  Many others I know and respect did though.  I made a mental note.

Soon after that, Right Through Me dropped and you could hear that the pop influences that had surfaced on Your Love were not a one-off.  It came complete with a catchy melody and an even catchier hook.  Hmm.  That one was a guilty pleasure.  A lot of heads weren’t feeling that one, so it was more something to be appreciated on the low than drawing me to the bandwagon.  Still, the seed was starting to grow.

Then Check It Out dropped.  Again, she had jumped on an ill POP 8o’s sample completely from left field.  It was weird.  But I liked it.  The weirder thing was there was nary a protest from the hip-hop community.  None of the blogs (of note) called it wack or disparaged it in anyway.  And, of course her fan base was down with it.

That got me thinking.  Maybe I need to hit refresh and listen to Nicki Minaj as Nicki Minaj and not who I was predisposed to think she was.  And then a funny thing happened.  I stopped hearing the voices (no, not voices in my head).  Instead of hearing the “woof woof, like a dungeon dragon” rah rah, I listened to the lyrics.  First up was Monster, and when I heard the words…I got it.  Ill, ill verse.  Then I started listening to the verses of her other joints instead of the (super catchy) hooks.  Again, the lyrics were ill and surprisingly broader in range than the sexed up lyrics of say…Lil Kim.  Ahem.

What may have truly sealed the deal though was when I saw her at Lil Wayne’s homecoming party in Miami.  She wasn’t getting caught up in the revelry and she also wasn’t checked out.  Instead, she seemed very introspective.  There was an intense stillness about her that suggested she was anchored and none of the madness around her (not just at the party, but generally) could sway her.  That was the beginning of bandwagon status for me.

When I heard the whole album though, it sealed the deal.  The subject matter was vast (everything from how to slay an MC to how to maintain your self esteem as a woman in a world that can be unkind to women) and the beats were even more varied.  Again, instead of being straight hip-hop, it features 80s samples and other pop fare, along with some straight up joints.   It takes chances.   And that is HIP-HOP.

Pink Friday is in stores now.  Here are a couple of songs you may not have heard if you don’t have the album (yet):

Moment 4 Life ft Drake

Save Me

And if you read this far, here’s a bonus cut that’s only available on the Best Buy version of the album.  It’s called Wave Your HandClick here to download.  Warning:  there’s a reason why it’s a bonus cut….