Nicki Minaj's new record displays the many sides of Onika Maraj, an imperfect but ultimately satisfying showing from one of rap's great talents.
After a few listens to Nicki Minaj's latest album, The Pinkprint, it is pretty clear that, to a certain extent, she does pay attention to critics. Her last album, 2012's Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, was universally panned in reviews for being disjointed, gimmicky and lackluster, among other things. There aren’t many traces of the over-the-top theatrics that were sprinkled all throughout her sophomore set on her latest offering. More reflective, more revealing and more focused of a project, The Pinkprint is a welcomed improvement from Roman Reloaded.
In a review of Roman Reloaded, Rolling Stone said this about Ms. Minaj: "She is a rapper's rapper, a master of flow and punch lines, with skills to please the most exacting gatekeepers of hip-hop street cred. But she's a bubblegum starlet as well, delivering confections to the nation's mall rats." That duality complicated her last album, and will probably continue to complicate Nicki albums, as it does on The Pinkprint, because she’s either being too much of a hardcore rap traditionalist or too much of a wannabe pop star for both sides to successfully coexist on one album.
After unveiling a more stripped down version of herself, stylistically, last year, she began taking a similar approach with her music. This resulted in Nicki rapping better than she had in years. Proving that she hadn’t completely lost herself in her attempts at crossover success, she unleashed a series of aggressively in-your-face verses on remixes to Young Thug’s “Danny Glover” and PTAF’s “Boss Ass Bitch” and a bevy of hard-hitting rap songs of her own like "Lookin Ass Nigga" and “Chiraq.”
When Nicki is in full on rapper's rapper mode she's at home. Mixtape Nicki – who is on full display at times throughout The Pinkprint – exudes a certain confidence that isn't rivaled by many. She is particularly skilled as a lyricist and has an arsenal of flows, which leaves her verses jam-packed with ill lines, wit and creativity, like on the standout “Four Door Aventador.” Competitive by nature, she is capable of going toe to toe with collaborators like Meek Mill (“Buy a Heart”), Drake and Lil Wayne ("Only"), Beyonce ("Feeling Myself") and hip hop’s current favorite hook-man, Jeremih (“Favorite” and “Want Some More") without ever being outshined.
Whether you're a fan of hers or not, you can at least admit that Nicki Minaj is one of a kind, but when she veers off on her uber pop adventures she tends to get lost in the shadows of pop’s leading ladies like Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. "The Night is Still Young" has Katy Perry written all over it, as does "Get On Your Knees", which isn’t much of a coincidence since Katy is credited as a co-writer on the record. Most of the swagger that Minaj attacks her rap records with is seemingly absent on the generic ballad, "Grand Piano." This sucks, because that same swagger is what makes her charmingly unique.
The Notorious B.I.G. warned us in 1997 that with the more money you come across, the more problems you’ll see. Nicki seems to have learned this first hand over the course of her career. On "All Things Go", she opens up about the toll her success has taken on her relationships and family life. She then alludes to fame and fortune causing the breakup between her and her longtime boyfriend, Safaree Samuels in “Bed of Lies.” During her recent sit down with Angie Martinez, Nicki further detailed her heartbreaking split with SB, saying, “If I wasn't a rapper we would have children, be married, and be living happily ever after." Tracks like "Pills N Potion", "All Things Go", “Bed of Lies” and “I Lied” find Nicki as honest and emotionally raw as she’s ever been on record.
Like in the case of many rap releases this year, The Pinkprint – which begins to really drag towards the end – could have benefitted from having fewer songs and less hype. Nicki Minaj is one of the biggest artists in the world, so expectations are, of course, going to be high for any projects she is attached to, but due to a few unfair comparisons, the bar was set slightly high for Nicki’s third solo album. In several interviews, Nicki was quoted calling The Pinkprint a "classic" and compared it to JAY Z's masterpiece, The Blueprint. Mike Will Made It even compared the track he produced, "I Lied" to the TLC classic, "Unpretty." The album is pretty good, but it certainly isn’t classic in any sense of the word.
Last year, Beyonce ignited a firestorm of debates surrounding the current state of feminism and what exactly classifies someone as a feminist. By definition, (according to Dictionary.com) a feminist is defined as someone advocating social, political, legal and economic rights for women equal to those of men. Since we're in the era of #NewRules, the term should be redefined, women like B and Nicki should be the poster children for this generation’s feminist movement and records like their collaborations, the remix to “Flawless” and “Feeling Myself” should be considered for the new era Feminist National Anthem. On “Feeling Myself” and on many of the other songs found throughout The Pinkprint, Nicki epitomizes just what the modern face of feminism should look like. She exudes talent, confidence, independence, growth, maturity, ambition, fearlessness, strength, vulnerability, comfort with sexuality and the ability to be a fan of herself while also a supporter of other women.
“I’m still getting plaques from my records that’s urban / Ain’t gotta rely on Top 40 / I am a rap legend / Just go ask the kings of rap,” Nicki spits on the Beyonce-assisted “Feeling Myself.” She needs to focus more on this fact, because it’s like I said earlier this year: Nicki Minaj is the King of New York. That shouldn’t be debated. She’s one of the current kings of all of hip hop. That also shouldn’t be debated. Even with the album’s few mishaps, are many moments throughout The Pinkprint that make a case for why King Nicki reigns supreme. She out-raps and out-bosses almost all of the competition, proving that she’s not only a rap king, but also the perfect role model for young girls all around the world.