More than a few hip-hop fans will point to Kanye West’s single “Monster” as a defining moment in Nicki Minaj’s rap career. The newcomer from Queens, New York, managed to one-up Jay-Z on the track, with arguably one of the best verses of 2010, but it wasn’t until this year that the Trinidad-born firecracker broke through the noise and took pop culture by storm, catapulting her career to new heights.
Fresh off a stint alongside Lil Wayne on the I Am Still Music Tour, which grossed $47 million in the U.S., Minaj — #6 on MTV News’ Top Newsmakers of 2011 list — made one of her biggest career leaps when she scored a spot opening for Britney Spears’ Femme Fatale Tour . Before the cross-country jaunt kicked off, the world got a chance to see the two take the stage together at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards, where Minaj joined the pop icon for her “Till the World Ends (Remix).”
An increased fanbase was the result of that tour, but Minaj’s Pink Friday single “Super Bass” also had plenty to do with her rising profile. The catchy tune, with its colorful video, caught the attention of pop audiences thanks to glowing endorsements from stars like Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez. After Swift professed her love for “Super Bass” in a radio interview, the song took on a life of its own, climbing the music charts, although it was just a bonus track on Minaj’s debut album. Minaj performed the track with Swift at the L.A. Staples Center this past summer, and she also scooped up a Moonman for Best Hip-Hop Video at the MTV Video Music Awards.
With a touring spot next to Spears and the success of “Super Bass,” the doors were wide open for Minaj to dominate the spotlight for the remainder of 2011. After making a quick and successful leap from hip-hop notoriety to pop-star fame, it was inevitable that the beauty and fashion world would be next to take notice. Minaj’s off-the-wall style attracted promotional deals from cosmetic companies such as MAC and OPI, as well as a few new well-heeled fans.
In November, the Young Money rapper teamed up with Versace to debut the Italian fashion house’s new collection for H&M. At the request of Donatella Versace herself, Nicki shared a performance bill with Prince to unveil the new line in New York City. Less than 24 hours later, she joined Kanye West and Jay-Z as one of the performers at the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show .
After making so much noise across hip-hop, pop and fashion this year, it was impossible for awards shows to ignore the Barbie princess. In addition to her wins at the VMAs and the 2011 American Music Awards, Minaj also nabbed a coveted nomination for Best New Artist at the 2012 Grammy Awards.
Minaj’s sophomore album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, is due February 14, 2012.
MTV continues our Best of 2011 coverage by looking back at the biggest pop-culture stories of the year. As we count down the newsmakers that mattered to you most, also check out our Best Artists , Best Songs , Best MTV Live Performances and Best EDM Artists of 2011.