There are three sides of Nicki Minaj.
The first is the hard-core rapper, the one who artfully spits out lyrics that have music writers at family newspapers giving the parentheses keys a workout. (Sample, from 2014 single “Lookin A--”: “(Expletive), you tried, (expletive) (expletive) (expletive) you lie/(Expletive) (expletive) (expletive), you high”...)
The second is the sultry songstress who can put on a floor-length dress and belt out rap-free, feminist power ballads like “Grand Piano” and “Save Me.”
And the third side of Nicki Minaj is her backside.
Three songs into her 90-minute concert at PNC Music Pavilion on Tuesday night, the hip-hop star – dressed in the type of underthings typically reserved for Victoria’s Secret models – turned away from the crowd, and all was revealed.
Frankly, I have no problem with this side of her, which might be more embarrassing to admit if I was in the minority. But close to 20,000 people roared with approval as she held the pose, showing off a booty so plump and round that it surely must give J.Lo an inferiority complex.
Minaj showed it off again while performing the biggest hit of her career, 2014’s “Anaconda,” the song that spawned an insanely popular, insanely racy music video celebrating curvy women.
At 32, the rapper still only has three albums under her belt, and just a handful of mega-hits that truly transcend the rap genre. (Those would be “Anaconda,” “Super Bass” and “Starships,” the latter of which marked Tuesday night’s finale.)
But there’s something about Minaj’s physicality that turns good rhymes into great performance art, something that has nothing to do with her rear. Nope. It’s her face that you can’t take your eyes off of.
It’s a face that – throughout “Super Bass” – mimicked an expression you might find on the world’s sunniest cheerleader, beaming with a selfie-ready grin, eyelashes fluttering in a flirty yet almost robotic way.
It’s a face that can be filled with lust, as hers was when opener/boyfriend Meek Mill joined her late in the evening for “Buy a Heart,” “Bad for You” and “All Eyes on You.” (Their series of duets was capped by Minaj’s face meeting Meek’s for a big, wet kiss.)
It’s also a face, though, that can summon an intimidating ferocity; in the man-hating “Lookin A--,” for instance, she ended her searing rap by glaring angrily at the crowd for what seemed like two minutes. Then she flashed a blink-and-you’d-miss-it smile.
That’s Minaj in a nutshell: She can turn on a dime.
One minute, she wears a sweet and demure expression; the next, she looks like someone just made a highly offensive joke about her mother. One minute, she’s rapping about male organs and having simulated sex with her backup dancers; the next, she’s crooning heart-wrenching ballads fit for Jennifer Hudson.
She’s just kind of all over the place. And – entertaining as she may be – her segues can be a bit abrupt. Take this speech Minaj gave to fans at Tuesday’s show:
“Where my girls that’s in school? Where my girls that’s gonna stay in school until they have a career? These fellas is out there treating us like (expletive), because they think we don’t got nothing to fall back on. Fellas, if you ain’t treating your girl like a queen, it just makes you look weak (expletive). Ladies, don’t you go around feeling bad about yourself none. Because honey child, they insecure. That’s why they try to make you feel bad. Because they’re inse-(expletive)-cure. Anyway, are you an a-- man or a breast man?”
Even if you appreciate both her feminist side and her booty-licious side, you had to wonder: What the (expletive)?