Written by Marisa Carpico
Nicki Minaj burst onto the scene in 2010, not as a solo artist, but as a guest rapper whose verses elevated every track on which she appeared. Her sections on Ludacris’s “My Chick Bad” are the only reason to listen to the song. Her best work (then and perhaps of her career to date) was on Kanye West’s “Monster.” Despite having “no album out” (untrue by the time My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy came out, which dropped three days after Minaj’s) she out-rhymed industry veteran Jay-Z and West in his prime.
Her first album, Pink Friday, delivered on all the hype. Lead single “Super Bass” was the song everyone knew, but every track on that record was just as good if not better. 2012’s Roman Reloaded, however, was a disappointment by comparison. Minaj took an amusing affectation from her first album, a British alter-ego named Roman (who first appeared on the track “Roman’s Revenge,”) and essentially made a whole album of weird characters. It’s messy, over-produced, and heavy on EDM and light on rapping. Sure it gave us “Starships,” but that and most of the tracks sound like they could have been released by any other current pop/hip-hop artist. That album, coupled with a disastrous, insane performance during the 2012 Grammy’s made that early hype seem like a fluke.
So, with The Pinkprint, Nicki Minaj had something to prove — and she mostly does. While lead single “Anaconda” (which is maybe the best example of sampling in the last five years) might not suggest it, the rest of the album is surprisingly introspective. “All Things Go” is an emotionally raw start with lyrics like “As long as seven years from now I’m taking my daughter to preschool” or when she talks about a cousin’s murder saying, “He ain’t even call me/and that’s the reflection of me/yes I get/I get it/It was all me.” That vulnerability continues on break-up tracks like “The Crying Game” and “Grand Piano,” the latter serving as a reminder that Minaj learned about structure and instrumentation at LaGuardia High School, famous for its music and performing arts education. Her voice has never sounded better and the music, both strings and piano, is simple and heartbreaking.
The whole album isn’t a downer, though. Minaj can still do sexy and energetic. “Get On Your Knees” is a great slow-burn sex jam about making men beg that soars when Ariana Grande (who made this year’s other great sex jam, “Love Me Harder”) belts the chorus. Minaj also reminds us what fine a lyricist she is in songs like “Only,” the opening lines of which are unfit to print, but directly address relationship rumors with Drake and Lil’ Wayne. Both rappers appear again on the much better final track “Truffle Butter” where Minaj mentions the rumors again. In fact, there’s a lot of repetition on The Pinkprint – about alleged relationships, about critics, about Minaj’s supremacy as a female rapper–and it’s symptomatic of a larger problem: the album is simply too long—even the non-deluxe version.
What made something like Beyoncé’s game-changing self-titled album last year so good was that it felt focused. It was a 14-track statement of who the artist is at this moment and, in a larger sense, the state of pop music. It was stripped down and sexy and obsessed with the idea of celebrity. The Pinkprint shares those traits, but it doesn’t have as many strong tracks. It drags in the middle shortly after Queen Bey herself appears on “Feeling Myself” and doesn’t pick up until a few tracks later when “Trini Dem Girls” kicks up the tempo. The sound is almost too stripped down, most of the tracks seemingly driven by the same kick-drum rhythm without much other production around it.
The deluxe version, at 20 tracks long, is overwhelming. Surely Minaj could have cut one or both of the Meek Mill-featuring tracks, for instance, with “Big Daddy” being slightly more disposable than “Buy a Heart.” As it stands, The Pinkprint seems to be Nicki Minaj trying to prove she’s an artist of worth and while the album certainly achieves that, the sheer amount of tracks makes that point less-effective. While Minaj may have learned that sometimes less is more when it comes to production, she hasn’t when it comes to construction. It’s the kind of mistake a young artist makes and Minaj is still very early in her career. So, more than anything, the album leaves you with one thought: what is she going to do with the next album?
Put up Nicki Minaj’s Pinkprint on iTunes.