Here’s what I love most about Nicki Minaj: Her crass, brash, no-holds-barred, pissed off youngster with the skills to back her swagger without pandering to the masses- style. Here’s what’s missing from the large majority of Nicki’s debut: Her crass, brash, no-holds-barred, pissed off youngster with the skills to back her swagger without pandering to the masses- stylee. The first three tracks of Pink Friday, are exactly what we wanted from Nicki Minaj. The next ten are exactly what we feared.
It’s not fair to expect a finished product from Minaj, a mixtape-proven rapper making her label debut. That’s a fool’s errand and only sets up disappointment. But after mounting buzz peaked with a song-stealing verse on Kanye’s “Monster” that stood out next to Jay-Z and Rick Ross, it was all but inevitable. I expected the most dynamic female in rap to release an album that justified the hype.
The first three tracks of the album, while not devoid of rough patches, live up to that expectation. Featuring beats from three of the more high profile producers on Pink Friday – Kane Beatz, Swizz Beatz, and Bangladesh – the songs are a nice little Nicki Minaj primer to the unfamiliar listener. The album starts off with a pop-laced, braggadocio-soaked oral history on “I’m The Best,” and follows with “Roman’s Revenge,” a high-profile duet with Eminem that treats listeners to Nicki’s fascinating psychosis. The third track, “Did It On ‘Em,” showcases the engrossingly simple coarseness of Minaj via her perfected (if over-used) hashtag rap style.
Indeed, the leading threesome gives the album a solid start; if Pink Friday continued in the same varied but impressive vein, we would be talking about this as one of the best hip hop albums of the year. Except, that’s not what happens. Ambitions to transcend rap rise to the surface, and charisma sinks out of sight. Minaj spends the rest of the album proving that anyone with a decent voice and talented writers can make a passably good radiopop record.
To be fair, Minaj does a fine job of mimicking Rihanna. “Right Thru Me” and “Save Me” are catchy and decent enough, although they could really be sung by anyone from Willow Smith to Robyn without any noticeable difference. But the fact of the matter is that listening to Minaj sing these faux-emotional songs is a bit like watching LeBron James shoot free throws; she does a decent job, but it’s not what I came for.
The sad thing is, I’m pretty sure that a passably good radiopop record is the right career move for Nicki Minaj, if she wants to make a big splash; this is exactly the type of album that will sell well, get tons of airplay, and turn Nicki Minaj from an up-and-coming female rapper into a recognizable pop star. Pink Friday is just the type of toned-down, anonymous pop that is impossible to stop on the charts. But it’s this type of crap that signals the death of artistry, no matter how catchy the result is. This feels less like an album and more like a product, and that hollowness leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth.
It seems like Nicki tastes it, too. In “Dear Old Nicki,” a singsong, self-addressed tune, Minaj implores her raw former self, “Tell me you ain’t six feet under. And tell me that you coming back and you just took a break.” It almost seems like Minaj knows she’s pulled a fast one on her die-hard fans. But that self-awareness isn’t enough to rescue Pink Friday from the mediocre mainstream middle ground. “Did I chase the glitz and glamor, money, fame, and power?” she asks, before judging the reality of that wayward path. “Cause if so, that will forever go down my lamest hour.” I sincerely hope that’s true, and Pink Friday is just a necessary first salvo in a barrage of sick Nicki to come. But, unfortunately, I’m not so sure. Dear old Nicki, please come back.