Nicki Minaj’s ‘The Pinkprint’: Album Review

Christina Lee | December 15, 2014 6:07 am
Let’s get one thing straight: Nicki Minaj has yet to release a bad album. 2010’s Pink Friday reintroduced the firebrand as a role model and best friend, with featherlight pop-rap songs about real love and hard work, particularly as a female. With 2012’s Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, she made us take notice yet again, kickstarting the release with some of the most high-octane rap of her career, and then speeding off with Eurodance hooks louder and messier than LMFAO‘s. Both releases were overlong and at times repetitive. What angered most detractors, though, was that each time she committed herself to yet another full-length, she refused to do what others wanted of her: a big-budget version of her 2009 breakout mixtape Beam Me Up Scotty, or whimsically explicit songs that often referenced rap classics by males.

With that out of the way, and with hopes of a straightforward rap album mostly dashed, The Pinkprint (out today, ) isn’t a dud, either. In fact, it’s Nicki’s best album. Rap and pop are no longer how she relays her bipolar tendencies. Instead, somewhat miraculously, the now-comatose Nicki shows that these two genres, with their warring gendered expectations (pop scanning as “feminine,” rap as “masculine”) can peacefully co-exist in this lonely, gently whirring universe that exists here, her first breakup album. That works in her favor. As unexciting as her first two introspective singles (the Dr. Luke-produced “Pills N Potions,” the Skylar Grey-featuring “Bed of Lies”) were, The Pinkprint shines because it forces us to reckon with an emotion not often associated with the cagey Queen of Rap: vulnerability.

Nicki has touched on heartbreak before, though now, particularly in The Pinkprint‘s opening three-song stretch, such details are more pronounced. As she showed in her Saturday Night Live performance of the harrowing “All Things Go,” her unborn child with Aaron is still an unspeakable moment of her past. There’s “I Lied,” drenched in reverb, where Nicki’s pained cries still manage to cut through. (For that, I’ll forgive her for this lyrical rim shot: “Miss my jump shot, miss my free throw / miss the way we kiss, miss the d, yo.”) She has also rapped of slamming doors and dishes before, though with optimism that’s nowhere to be found in “Crying Game;” there, a weepy (and uncredited) Jessie Ware pipes in as if she couldn’t bear to finish the hook herself. The moments where Nicki reflects on her increasingly fraught relationships – when she seems most ready to pop some pills – are The Pinkprint‘s most brutal.

Soon, while setting her personal troubles aside, Nicki gets back to work as reigning rap champion. The disorienting “Feelin’ Myself” has her and Beyonce getting drunk off multiple flows and with power (“I stopped the world! World, stop.” Pause. “Carry on”) – you are now watching the throne. Nicki stretches out each verse in “Want Some More” like gum, before she snaps to rapping in triple-time with childlike glee.

Bonus track “Truffle Butter,” sampling Maya Jane Coles‘ 2010 house smash “What They Say,” is the true Young Money team-up of our dreams; it’s “Only” without the leering. Yet by the end of the standard edition, when the operatic and sung-through “Grand Piano” suddenly feels like the likely Oscar winner for Best Original Song, The Pinkprint doesn’t feel so much like a blueprint for female rappers, as Nicki’s described it, but rather a personal breakthrough. Closer “Win Again” makes it impossible not to feel for Nicki, one of two lonely pop rappers in existence, as her braggadocio eventually lowers to sad, breathy singing: “Let’s kill, kill, everything in / everything in my way.”

This past summer, after Nicki was crowned Best Female Hip Hop Artist at the BET Hip Hop Awards for the fifth year in a row, her acceptance speech raised eyebrows for allegedly shading Iggy Azalea‘s reported use of ghostwriters (“No, no, no shade. No, no, no shade”). That tidbit made headlines, when a confession the other day, that she thought she was going to die – that was largely ignored. Fortunately, The Pinkprint won’t allow you to ignore its displays of au-then-ti-ci-ty, not even for a second.

Idolator Rating: 4/5

Christina Lee

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