Eight years and three albums in to her mainstream Rap career, we’ve learned about Nicki Minaj that there’s absolutely nothing as an artist that she can’t do. From rapping to singing to dancing to incorporating EDM to crossing over and being maybe the best branded artist of the current era, she’s arguably done it all. However, on 2014’s just-released The Pinkprint, she finally proves that she can do it all extremely well.
In 1988, Miami bass-rap duo L’Trimm had Top 40 success with “Cars That Go Boom,” a Pop-Rap ditty by two fashion-obsessed post-teens who loved boys who were as obsessed as they were about the “boom.” Fast forward 25 years and here’s Nicki Minaj exploding that then lightly-regarded style into a sound and concept uniquely able to both seize the global zeitgeist as feminism’s third wave takes over the globe, as well as be the cradle of what is likely to be mainstream culture’s most significant trend of 2015.
Next year’s “big pop moment” has already happened as the “Flawless” remix pair Minaj and Beyonce unite for “Feeling Myself,” a track featuring a unique bottom-end cadence that shows Hit-Boy hasn’t lost a step. Feeling “[herself]” enough to let us know that she switched flows four times on the same track, when pop culture queen ‘yonce knows that she needs to stand back and let Minaj take over three-quarters of the record for herself, that says it all.
Honesty is in vogue on this recording, too. If you haven’t paid attention to the media cycle prior to the album’s release, we learn the following about Nicki Minaj on The Pinkprint.
- Contrary to popular belief, she’s never had sex with Drake or Lil Wayne (“Only”)
- She’s currently very much in a relationship with… Meek Mill? (“Buy A Heart”)
- She aborted a pregnancy at the age of 15 (“All Things Go”)
The honesty bug bites every artist that contributes to the album, too. Arguably Pop’s top songwriter Ester Dean contributes to “All Things Go,” and there’s UK pop star Jessie Ware’s heartbroken stunner “The Crying Game” as well as Katy Perry back on her songwriting grind for the ode to passionfruit “Get On Your Knees.” Insofar as performers go, Drake confesses his love for “thick” women, and Meek Mill practically rips his heart out of his chest and shows it off to the world on “Buy A Heart.” The thing is, the wildly expansive Nicki Minaj has grown taut here, and careful. On The Pinkprint she weaves bars in with pop sensibilities fluttering around her. It creates a totality of sound that, frankly, was missing on her previous efforts. On the aforementioned “All Things Go,” she spits her real worries on wax, and it’s the kind of confessional we haven’t heard from her in a long while.
The production is, well, superlative, as Pinkprint is a moment for some of the music industry’s modern legends and up and comers. Boi-1da, Mike WILL Made It, Polow da Don, Zaytoven, Parker Ighile, Darhyl Camper, Jr. (note the slick, deft touch he applies to the Jeremih-featuring “Favorite,” giving it the feel of the “whistling nurse” theme from Kill Bill Vol. 1) are all here. Polow contributed Sir Mix-a-Lot “Baby Got Back” flip “Anaconda,” which, depending on the listen is either 2014’s most ear-worming or ire-inducing single. The flip is so well done and Nicki’s storytelling raps so reminiscent of the work on Lil Kim’s 2001 mainstream hit “How Many Licks” that you eventually have to acquiesce and just not care.
Pop production titan Dr. Luke handles the lion’s share of the work here with five tracks that showcase the nexus of EDM, Rap and Pop in mainstream sounds. Luke’s ersatz Pop grows tiresome at times. It just doesn’t feel as in touch with Minaj’s organically Hip Hop creativity that hugs the rest of the release.
YMCMB’s platinum-selling production icon Kane Beatz gets behind the boards for the album’s two most poignant moments. The Skylar Grey-assisted single “Bed of Lies,” a frank talking and lovelorn anthem, as well as Minaj’s return to (non-autotuned) vocals on he instantaneously jaw-dropping ballad “Grand Piano.” Being aided by the likes of Alex da Kid on the former and yes, will i.am on the latter shows that both Minaj and her team desired to execute not just songs but anthems that would re-define Minaj’s place as not just a great rapper, but a great artist overall.
Either Nicki Minaj succeeded at making an album that was for Hip Hop, her “Barbz,” Pop radio and the everyday mainstream fan or, maybe, in putting what “Nicki” had become on the back-burner and instead allowing “Onika” to access all her career had become, her style and essence permeated into all of these sounds, allowing for truly personal material to be created. The Pinkprint runs a middle path between pop over exertion and real lyricism, creating an everything for someone aesthetic that Nicki doesn’t allow to shift into wastefullness. As such, it is an ambitious undertaking Nicki has wrangled in highly entertaining fashion.