Album Review

Nicki Minaj: Pink Friday (Album Review)

I first discovered Nicki Minaj back in December of 2009 through a promotional video for “Itty Bitty Piggy,” one of the tracks off of Minaj’s 2009 mixtape, Beam Me Up Scotty.

Gum snapping, eyes rolling, breasticles ready to burst from her tight blouse at any given moment–I knew it was love at first sight.

I was not the only one to take notice. As the new year begun, Minaj’s popularity soon skyrocketed at breakneck speed. Much as Gaga ascended to overnight super stardom in 2009, so too did Nicki in 2010.

Turning on the radio was a near guarantee that you’d encounter Minaj at some point, who provided a verse to no less than ten major songs in 2010, including Ludacris‘ “My Chick Bad,” Usher‘s “Lil’ Freak” and Trey Songz‘ “Bottoms Up.”

In a world where male electro-R&B superstars dominate much of today’s US radio charts, Minaj’s playfully insane inflection and bright pink wigs provided some much-needed color to shake up the recycled radio productions–not to mention some incredible lyrics to boot.

Truly, Minaj’s verses just kept getting better as the year went on. By the time Kanye West‘s “Monster” arrived, it was clear that Nicki was unstoppable.

Aside from ‘Ye, the track plays host to an impressive collection of talent, including Jay-Z and Rick Ross, as well as indie-rocker Bon Iver. But by the time Minaj’s verse comes in around three minutes into the track, it’s clear who shined brightest: “First things first, I’ll eat your brains / Then I’mma start rockin’ gold teeth and fangs,” Minaj taunts, growling her way through truly one of her most cutting, clever verses yet–simultaneously shaking off haters while (rightfully) bragging about her recent successes: “So let me get this straight, wait–I’m the rookie? / But my features and my shows ten times your pay!”

With only a few months left until Pink Friday‘s release, Minaj was seemingly unstoppable.

On November 22, Minaj’s long-awaited debut album Pink Friday was finally unleashed onto the world. For fans of anything the femcee’s done over the past three years, know this now: You won’t actually find that on Pink Friday.

Nowhere will you find the naughty rhymes displayed on cuts like “Cuchi Shop” and “Wanna Minaj” found on 2008’s Sucka Free. Nor will you find the incredibly unstoppably explosive lyrics and catchy beats of “I Get Crazy” and “Go Hard” off of 2009’s Beam Me Up Scotty. The maniacal laughter, the playful chatter about picking fruit, keeping a bad bitch and signing boobs, the ridiculous pop culture-infused rhymes–for the most part, these things are non-existent.

What we have in Pink Friday is a collection of pop-tinged, inoffensive pseudo-inspirational numbers, devoid of fun and almost entirely stale from the first play.

HONESTLY: Where’s the fun? Where’s the energy? And what’s with all this singing? I get that Nicki wants to be diverse–she’s always been adamant about proving that she’s more than just a rapper–but there’s so much singing on this album! “Right Thru Me,” “Save Me,” and “Your Love.” It’s overkill!

Worse yet, when Minaj does go for fun, the results are painful. Case in point: “Check It Out,” a electro-pop collaboration with one of pop’s most loathsome producers, the Black Eyed PeasWill.I.Am–the same man responsible for inflicting “Boom Boom Pow” upon the world. “Haters, you can kill yourselves,” Minaj offers above the song’s bouncy, irritating beats.

Whether I’m a hater or merely a taste-haver, “Check It Out” remains a solidly un-listenable Bar Mitzvah banger that will forever grate.

The major issue with Pink Friday is its relentless samey-ness. Halfway through the record, everything starts to congeal into one plodding mid-tempo as the same central themes are repeated over and over again on top of same-sounding beats lifted from obvious ’80’s samples and unoriginal hip-hop beats: With “Fly (feat. Rihanna),” she fights to win. In “Moment 4 Life (feat. Drake),” she seizes the moment. And in “Blazin’ (feat. Kanye West),” Minaj speaks of blazing her own trails.

All of these songs tell the same tale: Of Minaj’s rise to fame, of slaying haters and cherishing of the moment–which is fine (and deserved to a degree), but certainly not very engaging after two or three tracks.

Of all the introspective and inspirational tracks however, “Dear Old Nicki” is perhaps the most offensively bad of the bunch, featuring a terribly overwrought chorus with the lyrical depth of a 12-year old’s diary confessional: “You told me you’d come when I needed you / And you said it so sweetly, I really knew / But I’m standing here calling, I can’t see you / But I’m holding you, holding you, holding you to that.” WHAT?

If Nicki wanted to include a track that addressed the haters, the fame and everything in between, she should have just re-recorded “Still I Rise,” the incredibly self-aware, clever cut from Beam Me Up Scotty featuring lyrics that paints a vivid picture of a young woman standing up against all the hate that’s ever been hurled at her.

The album does have a few exceptions.

“I’m The Best,” the album’s opener, is a misleadingly loyal companion to Minaj’s older work: “It was back in ’07, did a couple of tapes / Did a couple DVDs, made a couple mistakes / Didn’t know what I was doing, but I put on a cape / Now it’s which world tour should I go on and take,” she recounts of her meteoric rise to fame.

If she wasn’t about to dwell on the matter for the duration of the album in a ceaseless flood of songs about making it big, the track would shine brightly.

“Roman’s Revenge (feat. Eminem),” on the other hand, finds Minaj at her most spittin’ mad yet: “I’m a bad bitch. I’m a cunt. And I’ll kick that ho…PUNT!” she tears into the slapping beat of the song; her voice quivering with rage before allowing Eminem to go in for the kill. Like “Massive Attack” (which remains unjustly cut from the album tracklisting), “Roman’s Revenge” is a brilliantly left-of-center number–vastly more revolutionary and interesting than the bulk of Pink Friday.

Yet as far as authenticity to the forward-thinking Nicki Minaj I know and love, nothing comes close to the perfection that is “Did It On’em.” On top of a “Video Phone”-esque Bangladesh beat, Minaj deadpans one of the best choruses of the year: “Shitted on ’em. Man, I just shitted on ’em.” Later on, she sizes up her competition with that signature wit that I’ve come to love and adore: “All these bitches is my sons, and I’mma go and get some bibs for ’em / A couple formulas, little pretty lids on ’em / If I had a dick, I would pull it out and piss on ’em.” Brilliant.

After spending over 3 years hyping this debut–building up a cheeky, fun-loving persona, a band of fiercely loyal followers (Barbies) and even her own concocted vocabulary (the Nictionary), Nicki Minaj has seemingly taken the winning formula that turned her into an overnight major label superstar and effectively…well, SHITTED ON ‘EM.

My suspicion is that the hype simply grew too great. With so much riding on this debut as the first female MC to top the charts in years, Minaj could do nothing but put down the pink mangoes featured on her mixtapes and guest verses, stand her ground and bare her teeth. She’s not playing around on this record–she’s marking her territory (and ultimately trying too hard in the process).

The result is a sloppy, samey and distinctly un-fun debut, leading up to what has proven to be the most disappointing releases of the year.

In the end, Pink Friday ends up feeling and sounding more like a solid streak of grey.