It’s only fair that expectations are so high for a rapper who showed up Soulja Boy, matched Lil Wayne line for line, and, on Kanye West’s “Monster,” famously growled that she commands “50k for a verse, no album out.” Now, we’ve finally heard Pink Friday. And, unfortunately, there’s no nice way to render our verdict: After years of contributing jaw-dropping guest verses to other rappers’ songs and releasing some pretty great mixtapes of her own, Nicki Minaj’s debut album is, well, not good.
As anyone with ears and a high-speed internet connection will tell you, the reason for this is because Minaj — who is, for heaven’s sake, a rapper — is barely rapping on Pink Friday. Instead, she’s using Auto-Tune (and God knows what else) to sing some fairly mushy love songs over cutesy, retro samples. So, what happened? Looks like someone figured out Nicki Minaj is female.
It was all well and good for Minaj to put out mixtapes for a small scene, and to lend hard, fast rhymes to her male buddies’ songs. But to put out a solo album as a female rapper? That’s something else altogether. Think about it: How many superstar lady rappers are out there today? Don’t say Missy Elliott — her long-awaited, supposedly forthcoming album has been delayed for years. Lil Mama is a novelty act who hasn’t done much for us since “Lip Gloss.” Lil Kim and Foxy Brown haven’t accomplished much since the ’90s. And, outside the indie-sphere (and, apparently, The New York Times), M.I.A. isn’t nearly as big a star as Yeezy or Weezy.
These days, when things look even worse for female rappers than they did 15 years ago, the ladies who hang with Kanye, Drake, and Jay-Z are pop/R&B stars: Rihanna, Alicia Keyes, and, of course, Beyoncé. They may occasionally flirt with rapping, but for the most part, they sing — and they’re good at it.
Nicki Minaj is not particularly good at it. On “Right Through Me,” she does some breathy sing-crying, bolstered by the force of a million heavy-handed synths. She intones, “This is my moment, I just feel so alive,” sounding practically dead, on “This Moment 4 Life” before turning rapping duties over to Drake. With its cheesy Celine Dion-style piano intro, “Dear Old Nicki” transforms her into a pitiable groupie. Then there’s the hit single “Your Love,” which, for all its stolen catchiness, sounds like it was sung by an Auto-Tuned cyborg — and not in the good, “Love Lockdown” way. Sure, Minaj gets in a few good rap verses: for instance, listen to her throw down at the beginning of “Blazin'” and think about how wonderful it would be to have a whole album like that.
There’s no way of knowing why Pink Friday turned out the way it did, but it seems likely this was a business decision, not an artistic one. The received wisdom is, and has long been, that men are the primary audience for hip hop and aren’t interested in buying records from strong women. Whether Minaj made the choice to go pop herself or under pressure from industry folks, Pink Friday is a sad reminder of how hard it is for talented women (who are already famous!) to put out great hip-hop albums.