Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday
Anyway I think I met him in the sky
When I was a geisha he was a samurai
Somehow I understood him when he spoke Thai
Never spoke lies and he never broke fly
Who is Nicki Minaj? Her marketers can’t seem to decide. Sometimes she’s bubblegum, sometimes she styles herself as “Barbie [, bitches],” one month she’s singing a duet with Rihanna, the next she’s released a graphic, schizophrenic rap single with Eminem. The best way to find out – and it is worth finding out – is to listen to her new album.
Pink Friday is a motley agglomeration of styles – Eve-esque gangsta rap, “soul beats” a la Kanye West, cloying pop samples – but mostly it falls under the ambiguous categorization of “hip-hop.” This is the best way to approach the album, as there is both something for everyone to like, and something for everyone to cringe at. There is more than an ample helping of bubblegum pop: Nicki duets with Rihanna, Drake – who sounds particularly juvenile compared with Minaj, and Natasha Bedingfield, and it’s about what you would expect. If you’re not a seventeen year old girl or a fan of soft rock, you’ll most likely skip these tracks after a listen or two. They’re fairly generic, especially when Nicki sings. That’s not to say she’s got a bad voice – she’s got a fine set of pipes – but with the notable exceptions of “Your Love” and “Right Thru Me,” she shines best when she’s rapping.
And what an MC she is. Having already blown the competition – and yes, this does include Jay-Z – on Kanye West’s “Monster” out of the water, expectations are high for the flow on Pink Friday, and Minaj does not disappoint. Really there’s more than one Nicki on this album – a confrontational twentysomething getting used to her fame, a regular girl, and a woman who’s batshit out of her mind (you can guess which is my favorite). Her rhymes sometimes occupy the realm of the semi-vulnerable confession, as on “Right Thru Me,” and it works fine enough. “Check it Out” is addictive, and will.i.am deserves credit for an excellent take on the background to “Video Killed the Radio Star.” (One can’t say the same thing about his job as an MC, though: let’s just say you won’t be surprised that the lyrics of “My Humps” sprung from this man)
What really stands out is the psycho schizoid “Roman Zolanski” persona she uses for the album’s standout track, “Roman’s Revenge.” An only slightly veiled takedown of Lil Kim, Nicki works perfectly with Eminem’s Slim Shady character, and actually manages to outshine a Mathers verse that is his best work since The Marshall Mathers LP. I can’t say enough good things about “Roman’s Revenge.” It is the most innovative, aggressive flow you’ll hear all year, and Nicki’s chameleon rhymes and voices are entirely unique.
As an album, Pink Friday has a mild trend towards “introducing” Nicki as a pop star, and, yes, an icon. This works more in terms of holding the arc of the LP together than it does musically, but what I really want to see more of is the woman we heard in “Roman’s Revenge” and “Monster.” There is absolutely nothing in the world like Minaj on those tracks: she outshines every other MC on the planet, if only for a few minutes. The only thing I hope for in future releases is that the crazy psycho we’re briefly treated to has twice as much to say next time.
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