Earlier this year, Nicki Minaj shocked by doing something rather simple: She underwent a makeover.
The rapper who used biting rhymes, whimsical wigs and eye-popping costumes to catapult herself across the rap and pop worlds ditched most of the grandiose artifice.
No more pink (or green or yellow or leopard-print) wigs. No more 50 shades of the rainbow makeup. No more costumes better suited for Lady Gaga and Katy Perry.
Minaj went au natural, even going so far as to post pictures of her real tresses, in all of their lusciously black glory, and of her face free of makeup on Instagram.
And then she started delivering the fiery rhymes that packed her early mixtapes.
It was a salve for rap fans who had grown tired of the crossover reach she opted for on her dance-pop heavy sophomore album, “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded.”
For months, Minaj has teased her earlier underground days with a handful of gritty, brazen buzz singles, including "Looking Ass" and "Chi-Raq."
And now she’s issued “Pills N Potions,” the official first single from her forthcoming album, “The Pink Print.”
On the Dr. Luke-produced single, Minaj shows she’s learned how to better straddle the two worlds.
“Pills N Potions” is a slow-burner verging on the edge of a ballad.
Minaj shows off her airy vocal chops on the booming chorus, which feels plucked from a Rihanna arena stomper (those chants of "I still love" feel like something you’ve heard before). But the sparsely produced track -- a rarity for a Dr. Luke single -- allows her rhymes to pack a bite, without getting muddled in an overwrought beat.
“Ayo, they could never make me hate you / Even though what you was doin’ wasn’t tasteful / Even though you out here lookin’ so ungrateful / I'mma keep it movin’ be classy and graceful,” she raps toward her adversaries.
“I told 'em it’s no friends in the game, you ain’t learned that yet / All the bridges you came over, don’t burn that yet,” she continued.
“Pills N Potions” is certainly a departure from the material she’s offered this year. It doesn’t have the venom of "Lookin Ass" and “Chi-Raq” or the bounce of “Yasss Bish!!,” which might not sate hard-core fans, but the single shows she’s closed the gap between her rap core and crossover appeal.
And that’s what fans really wanted.
Listen to "Pills N Potions" here.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times