In an age of surprise albums and lengthy hype-building mixtapes, Nicki Minaj embarked on a slow-burning campaign for her third album, The Pinkprint, which ended up encompassing nearly the entirety of 2014. From her first "album mode" surprise track in the final hours of 2013 forward, everything she released carried the purposeful air of an elite MC coming for the top spot. The Pinkprint was released December 15th and three of its four official singles have hit the Top 40 (a fifth, "Feeling Myself," should be well on its way) — but there was so much more: freestyles over bubbling Southern rap hits, aggressive street singles and crossover collaborations that maintained her spot in the pop firmament. Here's a rundown of 19 tracks that promoted the album's release without ever appearing on it.
December 30th, 2013
Just before the calendar flipped over to 2014, Nicki got her big year rolling much in the style of her labelmate Drake: commandeering a buzzing single by an up-and-coming act and making it her own. Taking only the skeletal beat and sassy hook from L.A. girl group PTAF's original "Boss Ass Bitch," Nicki ran rampant over the track for over four minutes in one of her most relentless performances since "Monster."
January 28th, 2014
The closing spot on the posse-cut remix to a major hit is usually reserved for the biggest star (think Biggie on "It's All About the Benjamins"). Nicki was an obvious choice to bat cleanup on the remix to YG's breakthrough hit, even with her mentor Lil Wayne also on the track. Nicki manages to upstage even herself with a 50 Cent-style shit talking outro after her verse ends.
January 28th, 2014
When Drake was seen turning up to Young Thug's underground Atlanta hit "Danny Glover" in the club, there was rampant speculation that he'd hop on the song. Instead, he urged an old friend to remix it. Her version, which features both a new verse and her own twist on the chorus, ultimately became the mix embraced by national radio after it peaked in spins over the summer.
February 12th, 2014
Nicki Minaj announced The Pinkprint's title and officially kicked off the promo cycle with a single for the Young Money: Rise of an Empire label compilation. Ultimately the song and its video didn't generate as much publicity as an unofficial single cover, which stirred controversy for featuring the song's provocative title alongside an iconic picture of Malcolm X.
February 24th, 2014
Nicki Minaj's other appearance on Young Money: Rise of an Empire was a reunion with the same trio from the 2010 single "Roger That" alongside Tyga and Lil Wayne. And given Tyga and Wayne's issues with Cash Money later in the year, it may be the last. The song's hard-knocking, creative production by David D.A. Doman and surreal, entertaining video foregrounded one of Nicki's best verses of the year.
February 24th, 2014
A promo single from bachata superstar Romeo Santos' album Formula, Vol. 2, "Aminales" reached Number 13 on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart. In her brief verse, Nicki flexes a little bilingual ability, rapping several lines in Spanish.
April 7th, 2014
Shortly after Chicago rapper Lil Herb released his breakthrough mixtape Welcome to Fazoland, he got a major co-sign from Nicki Minaj, lending Chi-Town credibility to her street single "Chi-Raq." The track's beat went viral, spawning dozens of freestyles from stars including Meek Mill and The Game. And in July, Nicki released her own remix featuring more Chicago rappers: Katie Got Bandz, Famous Kels and Dreezy.
May 2nd, 2014
After Drake's appearance on a remix of "We Made It" got Soulja Boy his biggest buzz in years, Nicki Minaj continued the Young Money co-signs by featuring him on another one of her street singles. She made it clear, however, that "Yasss Bish!!" wasn't meant for The Pinkprint, however, teasing in the lyrics that the release of the official single, which turned out to be "Pills N Potions," was just two weeks away. However, her Meek Mill flows on the track do, in retrospect, foreshadow Meek's multiple appearances on The Pinkprint.
July 1st, 2014
Trey Songz scored his biggest hit with the Minaj-assisted 2010 single "Bottoms Up," and the duo reunited for his sixth album, Trigga. The track premiered over the summer along with the rest of Trigga, but its "interactive" video appeared in December.
July 8th, 2014
Usher linked up with Pharrell to get a "Blurred Lines" of his own for the upcoming UR, with Nicki filling in T.I.'s guest rapper role. But the song is probably best remembered for a VMA performance where Usher played bass and bounced his head off of Minaj's famous posterior.
July 9th, 2014
Nicki Minaj was seemingly one of the only major stars who didn't guest on Future's sophomore album, Honest. A few months after the record's April release, Future leaked their collaboration, "Rock Star," and the reason for her absence became apparent: His label was unable to clear a sample of Wham!'s "Careless Whisper."
July 16th, 2014
Nicki's run of freestyles over other artists' songs continued with a playful verse over the debut single by the Atlanta-via-Mississippi duo Rae Sremmurd. And like her "Danny Glover" verse, it ultimately became part of the official remix of the track, combined with new Rae Sremmurd bars and another "No Flex Zone" freestyle by Pusha T.
July 21st, 2014
"I swear this is my favorite song," Nicki Minaj says at the beginning of this remix to "No Love," a standout track from August Alsina's debut, Testimony. Half-singing and half-rapping her verse, Nicki added some sensual star power to the single and video version of the song, which had originally been an Alsina solo performance.
July 29th, 2014
After spending the first half of the year catering to hip-hop heads, Nicki Minaj returned to the pop crowd, hitting the upper reaches of the Hot 100 with the summer release of "Anaconda" and a guest verse on Jessie J's blockbuster single "Bang Bang." The latter served as Nicki's first collaboration with Ariana Grande, who'd appear on The Pinkprint's "Get on Your Knees."
August 2nd, 2014
Beyoncé, by this time a pro at surprise releases, shocked the pop world by collaborating with Nicki Minaj for the first time on a remix to "***Flawless," one of the most beloved tracks from her self-titled album. Bey returned the favor by appearing on The Pinkprint, and Nicki playfully took advantage of their new friendship by doing a hilarious Beyoncé impression on Saturday Night Live.
August 7th, 2014
Having already been in the studio this year with pop super producer Dr. Luke for "Pills N Potions," Nicki jumped on a significantly harder Luke beat for the lead single to Juicy J's forthcoming Pure THC: The Hustle Continues. The inclusion of Lil Bibby added him to a growing list of up-and-coming Chicago rappers that Nicki has worked with.
August 18th, 2014
The Kane Beatz-produced album closer to Wiz Khalifa's Blacc Hollywood showcases a softer, more melodic side of both rappers. Wiz namechecks several colors in the song, but Nicki, obviously, focuses on pink.
November 21st, 2014
French EDM superstar David Guetta previously featured Nicki on two platinum singles, "Turn Me On" and "Where Them Girls At." And while she hadn't been showcasing that side of her sound as much in 2014, she made time to reunite with Guetta on a melodic deep cut from his latest album, Listen.
December 8th, 2014
After hopping on singles by both Rae Sremmurd and Young Thug earlier in the year, Nicki got in the studio with both fast rising ATL acts for a proper collaboration. However, she only performs the hook on this advance single for Rae Sremmurd's January album Sremmlife.