If there’s anything as wildly dichotomous as Nicki Minaj‘s rapping personalities, it’s her career. On one hand you have the Monster-slaying, Anaconda-baiting rapper who can make a song like Flawless even better. On the other hand you have the cartoon debacle that’s responsible for Starships. We know which one we’d prefer any day of the week.
Mercifully it’s the former we get on The Pinkprint, essentially Her Minajesty’s answer to Jay Z‘s Blueprint. It’s a bold challenge, not quite met but certainly flying reasonably close. All Things Go is an appropriate opener, as she jettisons the bombast of her pop outings for some serious soul-baring: “I lost my little cousin to a senseless act of violence / His sister said he wanted to stay with me, but I didn’t invite him / Why didn’t he ask, or am I just buggin’?” Surprisingly confessional from the woman who pretty much reinvented the ass-clap.
It’s clear that, for the most part, the bubblegum pop sounds have been consigned to the wheelie-bins along with the wigs. I Lied maintains a similarly dark vibe on a Mike WiLL beat, with Minaj sticking to her lower registers to address a self-sabotaged affair before tripping out on a perfect R&B bridge; The Crying Game employs Jessie Ware‘s doleful soul to continue that astonishing triple-header of melancholy.
The way The Pinkprint unfurls is endlessly exciting. Ariana Grande is reined in superbly on Get On Your Knees, while even Beyoncé herself gets a solid, playful outing on ode-to-masturbation Feeling Myself. And, of course, Barbie is at her spiky best throughout, with killer lines on tracks like Want Some More (I’m popping tags everyday, it look like my B-Day/ These bitches suck, so I nick name these bitches BJ”).
As always, however, Minaj is at her weakest on the most pop and chart-friendly cuts. The final stretch descends into a never-ending stream of this: The Night Is Still Young, Pills N Potions, and Bed of Lies all listless efforts to detract from the work gone before, and the inevitable setback for a big-budget album. Still, while it might not quite be the Blueprint-esque masterpiece, it’s certainly a career centrepiece and in any case we can all be thankful for one thing: thank God there’s someone showing the world that mainstream female rap doesn’t need a thing called Iggy Azalea.