When Nicki Minaj released the album Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded in spring 2012, it was a bold experiment, one-half slick dance-pop songs like “Pound the Alarm” and one-half killer-rhyme workouts like “Come on a Cone” and “Beez in the Trap.” It was a peculiar time for mainstream hip-hop: Billboard was just starting to tabulate streaming data, Black music’s grip on the charts seemed to be slipping, and elsewhere, big-tent EDM was ascending. This sent savvy commercial artists like Usher and Rihanna lurching for club hits. Nicki’s glossy lead single, “Starships,” charted globally, though not without complaint from hip-hop fans, who felt she was pandering.
Nicki would never push that far again on a studio album, but others who followed have taken cues from what she learned. Pop, rap, R&B, and dance music get along much better now thanks to the work of performers like Drake, the Weeknd, and Ariana Grande; on songs like “Passionfruit,” “Can’t Feel My Face,” and “7 rings,” the cutting-edge production of contemporary hip-hop and R&B meets pop’s market-tested pliability. The artists coming up in their wake are even more versatile. Lil Nas X turned the tables on the country singers cribbing from rap with “Old Town Road,” then flirted with the sounds of flamenco and pop-rock in subsequent hits. Saweetie is on songs with everyone from Little Mix to Gwen Stefani this year. And then there’s Doja Cat—the always entertaining, occasionally frustrating star who is piecing together a body of work that feels like the logical conclusion to what Pink Friday first attempted.
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