In terms of running things in hip-hop, 2010 can be safely dubbed the year of Young Money. Even though YM general Lil Wayne was locked up for much of the final year of the decade, his protégés carried the camp's flag all the way to the top of charts, with Drake turning out major first-week sales and Lil Twist making his presence known on Twitter and on mixtapes.
But perhaps one of the biggest weapons in the YMCMB arsenal is their bewigged femcee Nicki Minaj, who not only changed the face of the female lyricist but proved she could more than hold her own with the big boys of rap -- no matter what some MCs may say.
2010 Highlights: This time last year, she was a Queens spitter being groomed by Weezy for mainstream dominance, but months later, she was lending her rollicking flow to records by everyone from Usher to Mariah Carey and building monster buzz for her forthcoming debut.
The rap diva entered the year with one of the most coveted co-signs in the game: a stamp of approval from Jay-Z. Hov suggested she drop some lyrics on crooner Robin Thicke's "Shakin' It 4 Daddy," and by February, she was vamping it up with pop superstar Mariah Carey in her crimson-themed romp of a video "Up Out My Face."
Minaj continued to build her presence on R&B joints, lacing Usher's "Lil Freak" with some bi-curious bars and turned up in the video in a two-toned wig and catsuit to seduce a pouty model.
Although the spitter spent much of 2010 cruising along the road to success, there were a few speed bumps, notably when her mentor Weezy headed to jail and when she decided to ditch Rihanna's Last Girl on Earth Tour. But the most high-profile drama erupted when Brooklyn MC Lil' Kim began accusing the Young Money Barbie of jacking her style without lavishing the appropriate props. While the "How Many Licks?" lyricist was kind of on her own in the Nicki bashing, Minaj handled the smack talk gracefully, calling for "positive energy" among women when she accepted her BET Award for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist.
After batting away rumors that she lip-synched her way through several energetic guest-spot performances at the BET Awards, Minaj proved her solo hitmaking prowess when the Annie Lennox-sampling jam "Your Love" shot to #1. The award nods kept coming, as Minaj picked up a Best New Artist nomination at the MTV Video Music Awards and she didn't let up with the scene-stealing collabos either, pretty much owning Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Friday joint "Monster," despite verses from heavy-hitters Jigga and Rick Ross.
As the drop date for Pink Friday neared, Minaj ramped up her big-deal status, turning out a colorful appearance at the VMA pre-show in September, and assailing the charts with hits like "Right Thru Me" and "Check It Out," which were each accompanied by inventive visuals.
When Friday finally rolled around in November, which featured a rowdy collabo with rap kingpin Eminem and a sexy-girl anthem with Rihanna, Minaj caused a level of consumer pandemonium that rivaled the blowout shopping date, taking over New York City and moving a robust 375,000 units.
We'll be rolling out our Top Five Men and Women of 2010 all week, until we unveil MTV News' Man and Woman of the Year on Friday. As always, we want to know what you think, so share your picks in the comments below!