Her influence — whether it's through her music and the many lyrical characters she embodies, her fashion sense or speaking out about important issues like child abuse and discrimination — is now strong enough that the MTV News Hip-Hop Brain Trust voted her the #6 Hottest MC in the Game. And, like the true pioneer she is, she's the first woman to make the list.
"She showed that not only is she the most talented female right now, she's one of the most talented rappers," MTV News' Shaheem Reid said during the Hottest MCs roundtable discussion. "This girl has star power. She took a little bit of [Lil] Wayne's blueprint ... and she just jumped on records."
Indeed, aside from the fact that Nicki had a radio staple this summer with the Annie Lennox-sampling single "Your Love" — which hit #1 on Billboard's Rap Songs chart — where she really made her presence felt was in the company of others, outshining the best of them. Witness her standout verses on songs with Kanye West, Rick Ross and Jay-Z ('Ye's "Monster") and Ludacris ("My Chick Bad") and her show-stealing appearance on DJ Khaled's star-studded "All I Do Is Win" remix. She also stood out among her crew on Young Money's "Bedrock," while arguably out-spitting Drake on his own song, "Up All Night."
But Nicki's appeal wasn't just limited to hip-hop. Christina Aguilera called on her for "Woohoo," Sean Kingston recruited her for the reggae-tinged "Letting Go," Usher tapped her for "Lil Freak," and labelmate Jay Sean did the same for his pop hit "2012." And to further cement her status as the top feature artist of 2010, Trey Songz's "Bottoms Up" is currently #2 on Billboard's R&B Songs chart. On top of all that, her debut album, Pink Friday, doesn't even drop until next month.
Nicki's not without her critics, though. At first glance, with her provocative name and image, she could be written off as just another female MC looking to flaunt her sexuality. But when people actually hear her, the talent is undeniable.
"I know a lot of women who don't like her because of her characters," MTV Jams' Sheila Grullon said. "But for me, it's entertainment. If you're gonna come in this game, you gotta entertain me."
RapFix editor Hillary Crosley agreed: "The cool thing about Nicki is ... she tapped into that Lady Gaga format, where she has that same sort of swag. That's why she's on Out magazine, and she's got her gay fanbase. People are really looking to her, like, 'What does Nicki have to say?' "
MTV News associate producer Steven Roberts acknowledged that some of these theatrics aren't necessarily new, but they're definitely not commonplace in hip-hop these days. "Anything she does now may look foreign, but it's only [because] no one's really tackled that female MC," he said. "We haven't seen that in a while."
What really sets Nicki apart is that she's carving out her own identity, not playing second fiddle to an already popular male rapper.
"She's not trying to be the sidekick," said MTV News senior writer Jayson Rodriguez. "She's not trying to be the Foxy Brown to Jay-Z, the Lil' Kim to Biggie. She has her own language, with like the Nicktionary, all these Barbiez. She's trying to be a leader herself, and I think she's sort of amplifying her own star power with these things she's creating. She doesn't have to lean on Drake, she doesn't lean on Lil Wayne. She has her own foundation she can lean on. And I don't think we've seen that from a female MC in a long time."
The 2010 Hottest MCs in the Game rollout is now complete! As in 2008 and 2009, the criteria is based on a combination of rhyme skill, flow, buzz, commercial success, business ventures, Web presence and cultural influence. Upload your comments, reactions, arguments and/or your own list to Your.MTV.com or send tweets with the hashtag #hottestmcs — the best responses could be on TV or our hip-hop blog, RapFix!