Album Review: Nicki Minaj’s ‘Queen’

Nicki & Ariana's Sexy 'Bed' Video
Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande travel to a tropical paradise for their 'Bed' video.

What delays? Despite rumors that Nicki Minaj’s Queen had been pushed back one week, the rap legend’s fourth LP arrived on schedule today (August 10). It may have been a race to the finish line – the “Anaconda” rapper said she finished the project last night and was still arranging the final tracklist this morning – but it was mostly worth the effort. On it, she reasserts her dominance and repeatedly, sometimes incessantly, reminds the public of her status.

A lot has changed since the 35-year-old dropped her critically acclaimed The Pinkprint in 2014. Over the last four years, the market has undergone multiple shifts as a new class of hitmakers flexed their creative wings. Cardi B, in particular, made history as she climbed to the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 twice, sparking countless comparisons. The stakes were high, but her latest is undeniably ambitious if sometimes problematic.

“It is the best album that I’ve ever done,” she boasted on Queen Radio, her Apple Music radio station, less than an hour before the project was slated to arrive. Considering her impressive track record, this was a lofty promise. But she somewhat stays true to her word. Comprised of a lengthy 19 tracks, the standard edition clocks in with just over an hour of content. Buoyed by Nicki’s clever lyrics, enviable flow and undeniable charisma, most of it is particularly strong. However, there are several glaring missteps that almost bring the whole project shattering down.

The “Monster” icon kicked off the new era with “Chun-Li” and “Barbie Tingz” back in April. After the former soared into the Top 10 on the Hot 100, she gradually shifted her attention to the banger while the latter disappeared from the tracklist. The winning streak continued as she reclaimed the top spot on US iTunes alongside Young Money collaborator, Lil Wayne, on the hard but forgettable “Rich Sex.” She switched things up by reuniting with Ariana Grande on the trop-bop “Bed.” Although it isn’t their strongest collaboration (that honor likely belongs to “Side To Side” or “Get On Your Knees”), the pair still enjoyed another run on the charts.

The trio of official buzz tracks have performed respectably, but they pale in comparison to some of the album’s true highlights. This is evident from the very get-go. Queen’s opener, “Ganga Burns” is a more reflective moment that examines the hitmaker’s frame of mind and the state of music. “As the world turns, the blunt burns,” she claims on the opening lines.

Addressing the work that has gone into the project, she makes it clear she will not be coasting on her name. “At least I can say I wrote every rap I spit. Put my blood, sweat and tears in perfecting my craft. Still every team’s number one pick in the draft.” Built around a melancholic chorus, the track is an immediate favorite.

The same could be said for the follow-up, “Majesty.” Here, featured voices Eminem and Labrinth pay tribute to Nicki’s status. “Whatever you say, Mrs. Majesty. Whatever you want, you can have from me,” the crooner sings on the chorus. Meanwhile, the Recovery rapper speeds through his rapid-fire verse. “The queen and her husband, last thing you’re gonna wanna be is our subjects,” he states. The rap powerhouses established their chemistry on “Roman’s Revenge,” but this is another strong offering (barring some questionable lines).

As is “Hard White,” which sees her contemplate the difficulties of making it as a female rapper. “Work hard, just to get half back. Used to work hard, just to get half back,” she growls over a trap beat. Despite the setbacks she faced, “LLC” makes it very clear that nothing will get in Nicki’s way. “It’s two girls gettin’ more money, and they don’t rap, they sing songs,” she brags about being a top earner. “I just took her name and made that bitch a LLC,” she adds on the chorus.

Instead of filling the tracklist with a bevy of superstar collaborators, Nicki rides solo on more than half of the songs. However, there are several well-developed collaborations. The Weeknd’s moody aesthetic is all over “Thought I Knew You,” where the pair find themselves in a very conflicted romance. “I thought I knew you, I guess I didn’t,” Nic stutters on the chorus. Tourmate Future hopped on “Sir,” but one of the most exciting duets for rap fans is with Foxy Brown. The twosome trade off fierce verses on “Coco Chanel” in a moment of solidarity between two of the genre’s most acclaimed women.

One of Queen’s greatest strengths is the varied pacing and emotional delivery. “Run & Hide” is a particularly honest moment. “‘Cause it’s been a minute since I trusted somebody. ‘Cause I don’t ever put my trust in nobody. I hate to picture you out fuckin’ somebody. So I don’t ever put my trust in nobody,” she mournfully laments over a somber beat. “Nip Tuck” lands in a similar wheelhouse, and “Come See About Me” is the closest Nicki gets to a ballad.

“Know it can’t always be about me, just come, come see about me. Come, come see about me,” she delicately croons to a lover. Meanwhile, “Good Form” is a hard-hitting moment as the hitmaker brags about a partner capable of loving her down. “Miami” follows in a similarly larger-than-life vein. Clocking in at over 6 minutes, the Swae Lee-assisted “Chun Swae” is the longest track on the LP by more than a minute. On it they trade off verses over an eerie beat.

Both deliver some strong lines. However, the track lingers a bit too long. In comparison, the project’s interlude and outro probably could have been left on the cutting room floor or interpolated into other tracks. The sheer amount of content in and of itself is somewhat problematic. Instead of tailoring things down to highlight her best material, she took a more-is-more approach. And that doesn’t always pay off. Instead, it results in a handful of forgettable moments and some more serious issues.

One of the most glaring problems emerges on the LP’s third track, “Barbie Dreams.” Interpolating the beat from Notorious B.I.G.’s “Just Playing (Dreams),” it sees her dragging various male counterparts who have allegedly tried to get with her. “Dreams of fucking one of these little rappers I’m just playing, but I’m saying,” she brazenly coos on the chorus. It would have been an innovative concept had Lil Kim not done the same thing on 1996’s “Dreams.” It still could have been a good idea had she not opted to include homophobic and generally unsavory lyrics.

No one is safe from her wrath, including frequent collaborator Drake. “Drake worth a hundred milli, always buying me shit, but I don’t know if the pussy wet or if he’s crying and shit,” she spits in a particularly icy moment. “Shoutout Desiigner, ’cause he made it out of special ed,” she adds in one of the more unforgivable lines. In today’s climate, the old-school diss track aesthetic feels drastically out of place and tasteless. No matter how playful her intention was, it just doesn’t carry though.

Despite being plagued by a series of delays and confusing if not downright polarizing decisions (like that 6ix9ine collab), the final product offers a moment to remind fans of everything she is capable of. Bouncing from track to track, she vibrates with a boundless energy that helps her compete with her peers. Critics may have doubted her, but it turns out that there is certainly a place at the table for Nicki in 2018.

Score: 3/5

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