Album review: Nicki Minaj’s ‘Pink Friday’
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On her breakout slow jam “Your Love,” Nicki Minaj raps, almost as if she’s speaking to herself, “Anyway, I think I met him in the sky. When I was a geisha, he was a samurai / Somehow I understood him when he spoke Thai.” It’s just another fantasy clattering around the head of this Queens-bred imagineer of urban music whose sense of identity is so whimsically schizoid that she makes Lady Gaga seem as fixed as Barbara Bush.
Switching accents, hair colors and musical styles, Minaj has absorbed a little something from most every bombastic female in the last 30 years of pop on her debut album, “Pink Friday.” Remember the Spice Girls and all their manufactured personas? Minaj rifles through all of them at warp speed — and it’s that very quality that makes her an electrifying talent and at risk for permanent disassociation from herself.
When she lands on a style, Minaj stays committed to it for the course of the song, even when it sounds awkward. The dis track, “Roman’s Revenge,” finds Minaj huffing and puffing with a hoary-sounding Eminem, slinging insults over a stagnant club-tech track. “Did It on ’Em” is aggressively scatological but with “A Milli” producer Bangladesh onboard, it at least fares better musically.
The fact that those songs are front-loaded on “Pink Friday” suggests that the lone female MC of Lil Wayne’s Young Money crew wants to keep credit with the crowd that followed her mix tapes but the tracks lack free-wheeling energy. They feel premeditated and, at worst, as mere pandering to a male demographic. It might be a failure of the format as much as Minaj’s — the most exciting rap and hip-hop isn’t captured in the smothering confines of the album; it’s in the tossed-off mix tape, the ultimate underground pass-around.
Even though her roots are elsewhere, Minaj sounds better on the “Pink Friday” tracks that are more squarely in the club R&B vein, which she almost always spikes with enough rap to remind anyone that she isn’t another Beyonce or even Sasha Fierce, not by any stretch. “Fly” makes good work out of its Rihanna cameo — while the dark glamour bird soars, Minaj skitters around her with her vulnerable but choppy rhymes, equal parts tough woman and big softie.
“Pink Friday” shows Minaj is on the cusp — considering her facility with accents, she could be the perfect person to find a new patois, one that’s built of separate musical languages but without breaking any of them down. Or she could get caught in the net, punished by the relentless category police or her own doubt of how far she can roam. But one thing is for certain: she’s got the fight and the imagination on her side — and a good neon wig never hurt a girl either.