Rap’s New It Girl Begins To Falter

Nicki Minaj
Pink Friday
Young Money

At this point, it’s impossible to talk about Nicki Minaj without mentioning her verse on Kanye West’s “Monster.” Rhyming “Sri Lanka” with “Tonka” and “Willy Wonka” in violently cartoonish form, Minaj eclipsed appearances by Jay-Z, Rick Ross and Kanye himself. It was undoubtedly one of the greatest things to happen to rap this year and almost singlehandedly cemented Minaj’s position among the legacy of sexually aggressive, socially conscious female rappers like Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliot. But unfortunately, Minaj’s highly anticipated debut album, Pink Friday, fails to match the manic genius of “Monster,” which is disappointing, especially since she seems capable of so much more than this unremarkable album.

The album’s most significant flaw is that, although Minaj is a superb rapper, she is at best a mediocre singer. And much of the album consists of traditional R&B tracks like “Right Thru Me,” “Save Me” and “Your Love.” While they’re all decent songs, they pale in comparison to Minaj’s unhinged rap work. But that’s the best of them — some of the songs here cross the line into unlistenable territory. The will.i.am-produced “Check It Out,” based on a sample of “Video Killed The Radio Star” by The Buggles, is cringe-worthy in its cheesiness.

But when Minaj raps, she’s totally on top. Eminem collaboration “Roman’s Revenge” has hints of the insane genius that made Minaj’s early work so refreshing: seemingly random vocal and character changes, off-beat rhymes, an undeniable commitment to her sheer lunacy. “I’m startin’ to feel like a dungeon dragon/ Raah, raah, like a dungeon dragon,” she barks. Her raps are even good enough to upstage Eminem’s clumsy attempt at reprising his Slim Shady persona; Minaj just does crazy so much better.

The album’s best track “Did It On ‘Em” — which contains a booming, Bangladesh-produced beat — is equally absurd, with Minaj
gleefully asserting that, “If I had a dick, I would pull it out and piss on ‘em.”

It’s these moments that prove Minaj still has a lot more in store for us. While Pink Friday certainly has its lows, it still proves that Minaj is one of the most promising rappers — male or female — around. (6/10)

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