Album Review: Nicki Minaj's 'Pink Friday' has a personality disorder
Do Kanye West, Eminem, Rihanna or will.i.am ground this live wire?
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You could do a lot with Nicki Minaj. She looks like a million bucks, does well with the press, guests with Mariah Carey to all the boys in her Young Money crew, can hold a tune, do a couple dance moves, hold it down solo and -- most importantly – set fire to a rap verse. She seems pretty bright and funny as hell. She can do everything. That doesn’t mean she should try to do it all on one album.
Whether it was by Universal or by the 25-year-old performer’s own hand, her debut “Pink Friday” bows to what a major label commercial urban album should sound like.
But for either, it’s fairly new territory. A female rapper hadn’t topped the hip-hop songs chart in almost a decade, and here comes Nicki with her Crayola colored hair and a back pocket full of ferocious mixtapes. Lady MCs like Foxy, Kim and Missy have been laying in wait to see what would come of their trailblazing, even if it wasn’t born of -- or as a response to – gansta rap or strictly East Coast/West Coast style.
And she came in swinging. And apparently singing?
“Pink Friday” has some songs aimed directly at the top 40, and some that would have her banned. “Check It Out” (regrettably) features will.i.am, la-la-“Last Chance” has Natasha Bedingfield and grounded “Fly” boasts Rihanna; those pop-oriented jams are buttressed by Minaj literally threatening to piss on or sh*t on her haters, “kick them hos” and for the naysayers to just “kill yourself.”
She intends to romance with the line “You see right through me / how do you do that sh*t?”, from “Right Thru Me,” but something tells me it won’t end up in the next Nicholas Sparks novel. Minaj does her best with R&B/hip-hop straddling like this, dulling her razor sharp to the point of honest perspective as opposed to the generic hip-hop braggadocio.
But still, it’s jarring, moving between the fluff and the fight, particularly when she lays it down like a true pro on “Roman’s Revenge” and “Just Blazin’” (featuring Kanye West and a Simple Minds sample). On the former, she insists she’s a hip-hop star who just happens to be a “she” and not some cosmic mistake that allowed a girl into the boys’ club. “I’m not Jasmine / I am Aladdin” she says, referencing a Disney film right before she rips you a new assh*le. “That bitch is mad cause I took the spot? / Well, bitch if you ain’t shittin’ then get off the pot” she rawr-rawrs “like a Dungeon Dragon,” quoting Busta Rhymes from A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario.” Then Eminem steps up for an f-you to sluts because why else would you have Eminem on an album. The pair boast their wares over a nasty snare and drone beat, a perfect fit for Em who could’ve used more of these on “Recovery.”
On opener “I’m the Best,” she skips the subtlety and goes straight to the talking points. “I’m the best b*tch doin’ it… all the girls will applaud / all the girls will come in / as long they understand / that I’m fightin’ for the girls / that never thought they could win… I’m here to reverse / the curse they live in.” Throughout the set, sShe takes a feminist stance while appropriating derogatory vocab, slipping in “b*tch,” “slut,” “cunt” and even “nappy headed hos” for her own use.
It’s not particularly eloquent, to be sure. But the way she delivers – whether delicately as Harajuku Barbie, in that crap cockney accent, the Islands raga or best as the crazy-eyed, hardnosed Queens native -- is like shooting a little thrill up your spine right after she blows you a kiss or calms her feathers for “Moment 4 Life” or “Save Me.”
It’s fine to have range, but having multiple personalities doesn’t mean you can’t have one at all. “Your Love,” the breakout single that sizzled in cars all summer, is an example of pushing for a commercial sound while still retaining those clever, slick idiosyncrasies, but on this set (and on its original mixtape) it proved to be an exception, not the rule. Minaj should just devote her tracks to rapping her ass off – she doesn’t keep those nails long just because they look good.