By Rathan Paul Harshavardan
Released Monday December 15th, 2014 - Republic Records
2014 is a big year for female rappers. In a year that was ruled by AussieIggy Azalea's Southern drawl, two New York femcees dropped their albums Beyonce-style right at the end of the year, in a bid to take back the throne that some might argue is rightfully theirs. Azealia Banks, the fiery and absolutely awesome rapstress from the underground scene finally made her proper mainstream debut with Broke With Expensive Taste, but it is the self-proclaimed "baddest bitch in the game," Nicki Minaj's The Pinkprint that is grabbing all the headlines.
An ode to Jay Z's magnum opus, The Blueprint, Minaj's album is distinctively feminine. Apart from features with the leading ladies in pop and her bevy of rappers from the Young Money empire, Minaj keeps the album quite personal for the most part. Not over the top and a mix of bubblegum pop and rap like The Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, this third full length album reminds listeners of why the Trinidadian rapstress is here to stay, despite no Grammys to her credit.
Minaj starts the album with a raw track, All Things Go, reflecting on heartbreak, loss, regret, and identity setting the tone for the rest, displaying an orotund lyricism that is visible in parts all over the album.
I Lied, assisted by Mike WiLL Made-It is Minaj's foray into R&B and addresses her breakup. The song is quite good, but knowing Minaj's limited vocal range, the rap makes up for the lack of depth. Minaj has learned to exercise a level of creative control and forgoes the vocal exercise in singing, handing over the reins to Jessie Ware on The Crying Game. Reminiscent of Right Thru Me, this song with its snare infused rhythms dissects relationships that are violent and abusive; ones that most of us allows ourselves into.
Sex sells. An unashamed celebration of sex has always been Minaj's selling point, whether it is on her features with lyrical twists that imply it or implicit tracks that have her rapping about it. Sexy Nicki comes out to play with Ariana Grande, nonetheless, on Get On Your Knees. Grande's coos balance the aggressive and sexually dominating verses from Nicki who wants her man to get on his knees for some of the action only available down south.
When the Queen of R&B and the Queen of Rap collaborate, it has to be a moment in history. Is Feeling Myself, a moment? I don't really know. Beyonce raps/sings about how she redefined music, dropping her album out of nowhere, while Minaj retreats to a few of her previous punch lines in an old-school West Coast loop, that with stunning visuals will probably be the moment it wants to be.
With an assist from Drake, Lil Wayne and Chris Brown, Only reveals Nicki's dominatrix persona. A minimal beat, xylophonic chimes and a hook, Nicki's multiple feature is a club banger if it wasn't for the imagery associated with it. Famous for her alter-egos, Minaj has ditched them in favour of a stripped down persona and a dominatrix that comes out to play now and then.
Yung "Hitmaka" Berg, Zaytoven and Metro Boomin produce the beats for the acid-laced bars on Wants Some More. Minaj samples Nelly and Spandau Ballet, with Jeremih singing the verses. Haters get antagonistically called out, but as she points out, she is the Jasmine earning all that moolah in the closed club of hip-hop moguls.
Nicki's nostalgic mixtape days are revisited on Four Door Aventador. The femcee reinforces the Queen in herself, discussing how she clawed her way up to the throne.
Favorite, her second song with Jeremih is flavored pop to an acceptable level. She's learned that certain songs are best suited for a voice like Jeremih's with sex oozing out without even really trying hard. The theme is the same though - be someone's one and only, no matter what. This is one of Nicki's strong features and is a must buy.
Meek Mill on the first of two features on the album tugs at the heartstrings with Minaj relying heavily on autotune to get the desired effect on Buy a Heart. If released, this is a redemptive track for the artists who face challenges in their personal and public lives.
No Minaj album is complete without a reference to her Caribbean roots. Trini Girls Dem, with Lunchmoney Lewis is a Caribbean ode to girls on the islands and pretty much everywhere who like to serve it up hot for the boys. Playfully lyrical yet sexually suggestive, Minaj reminds girls that they can be players too, provided the men match up to them.
Anaconda is the Stupid Hoe on this album. How and why this song is popular is beyond my understanding. Whether nominating this song as the rap single of the year is a joke or not, the less I say about that the better. The song is crap, the video distasteful and the whole mocking charade is annoying, but that's just me.
The Night Is Still Young is no reinvention of the wheel here, but it is another auto-tuned effort at recreating the unexpected success Starships achieved.
Just when the dominatrix in Nicki switches to the Harajuku Barbie, Nicki switches back to her vulnerable self on Pills N Potions and the Bed Of Lies ft. Skylar Grey. Although the first single gave us a glimpse of what Nicki offered with The Pinkprint, the lack of emotion failed to do anything stellar on the charts. Assisted by singer/songwriter Grey's passionate vocals, Minaj does a good job of mixing passive aggression with heartbreak. Worth a listen, if you're a fan of great collaborations.
Grand Piano, Nicki's only song with some singing on it borrows heavily from Lana Del Rey's orchestrations and visuals. Included in the almost 17 minute long The Pinkprint video, Grand Piano, reminds you of Lana's visuals for Bel Air from Tropico.
The second feature with Meek Mill, Big Daddy isn't worth talking about. It's the usual boasting we've come to expect from Nicki with Meek's help this time.
Shanghai, is Nicki's blasting replacement to Lookin' Ass Nigga that never made the cut on the final album. It's not bad, but it isn't great either. The verses don't seem to have the sharp sting the earlier version had.
She's not here to lose and that's clear on Win Again. There's been a little regurgitating on this track, the melody and rhyme reminiscent of an earlier feature True Colors.
If 19 songs weren't enough, three more are included on the deluxe version, starting with Mona Lisa. Nicki has already turned to Marilyn Monroe for inspiration earlier and now turns to La Jaconde for some more. The auto-tuned effort talks about being someone's one and only, turning down anyone else who wants to take your heart.
Put You In A Room, finds Nicki contemplating on the effects of being a loser in love. She contemplates the sacrifices she's made to keep his love, yet the sense that she's the loser is burned into her mind despite a chorus that talks about his loss instead of hers.
Minaj ends the album with a feature from Young Money's Lil Wayne and Drake called Truffle Butter. The club banger is better than Only, it's got a beat that's infectious; the tune to 2010's What They Say by Maya Jane Coles, and takes you to a sound Nicki should explore on her future albums.
It is hard for me to say if this Nicki's best work yet, but the lack of stellar features is visible. I miss having Rick Ross, Cam'ron, Jadakiss, 2 Chainz and some really good rappers that could've made it a celebration of the original Onika Tanya Maraj. She's ditched the alter egos and put her true self out on the third album, but isn't that what someone does the other way around. Now I'm no expert, but I'm just going by what is popular public opinion. (I've never put an album out, so I wouldn't know what the norm is.)
Minaj's maturity, personal anguish, influence on rap, and improved flow is what dominates the feminist interpretation of hip-hop from the artist the third time around.
Heartbreak sells. Break-ups are pure musical gold and Minaj has taken the road most travelled to smile her way to the bank, if the record sells. Either way, The Pinkprint has me hooked. Honest songwriting and swaying between the fierce femcee (love her to death) and the auto-tuned songstress (umm.. not so much) has me interested in Maraj and not Minaj. For the first time, I'm actually interested in knowing what is going on behind the wigs, outfits and the whole Barbie persona. If you want to acquaint yourself with the Trinidadian fire spitter, or in this case reacquaint, make sure to pick up a copy. She's put some hard work into it and you will definitely love some parts of it.