Review Summary: Queen Nicki dominant?
Ultimately, The Pinkprint
isn’t the Nicki Minaj Show that we might have expected. Obviously, Minaj can rap with the best of them (cue inevitable reference to her still-jaw-dropping verse on “Monster”), but on her latest full-length she’s going ham significantly less of the time than most listeners would want. For every “Feeling Myself,” there’s a “Grand Piano.” For every “Only,” there’s a “Pills N Potions.” She’s brash, arrogant, and vicious (the Nicki we know and love) about as often as she’s morose and introspective (the Nicki we don’t). Frankly, it’s a pretty bold move to deviate so sharply from her tried-and-true format of demolishing anyone she goes up against in favor of spending a large chunk of her album singing over shattering piano.
Then again, Minaj has made it pretty clear that she’s done being, for what it’s worth, “fake.” The Pinkprint
comes in the wake of a rough breakup between Minaj and her long-time boyfriend (incidentally, the two had been going out since before she blew up), and, as the rapper puts it herself on the opening line of the album, “Yo, I had to reinvent.” If anything, it’d make sense to call this evidence of Minaj maturing as an artist: no longer is she hiding behind the facade of her robotic pink-wigged Barbie, her Roman Zolanski counterpart, her countless other alter egos. She’s destroying the wall between Minaj the rapper and Minaj the human in a Borges-y-yo
-esque move, and finding she has a lot to catch up on.
This seems to be the easiest (and most likely correct) explanation for her uncharacteristically emotionally-in-touch moments here. Minaj is obviously not going to abandon her swagger that
easily, and it shows on self-embracing tunes like “Feeling Myself,” where Minaj’s ultra-competent flow matches up with ultra-confident lyrics over a killer Mustard-styled beat. Similarly, if “Anaconda” wasn’t overt enough in its grrl-power message, Minaj has roped in Ariana Grande for “Get On Your Knees” (incidentally Grande’s most powerful song to date), a song in which the two women sexually dominate their partner(s), revelling in their power. That said, despite the message she’s sent over pretty much her entire career, Minaj isn’t invincible, and The Pinkprint
is the first place she seems comfortable expressing anything other than total control. The overload of the album’s beginning - “All Things Go,” “I Lied,” and “The Crying Game” - is initially a bit off-putting: obviously, Minaj has insecurities and doubts (she’s human, after all), and it’s a little bit weird to have them all shoved in our faces right away before she abruptly drops the introspection in favor of some caustic, assertive bangers. I want to say that after half a dozen listens her admittance of flaws has gotten less odd, but it’s difficult to pull a hard 180 after five years of fighting tooth and nail against any sort of uncertainty and make it sound like a progression that makes sense.
Maybe that’s the point, though. In a sense, The Pinkprint
is what happened when Minaj realized she’s “not into fake industry parties and fake agendas.” It’s a realization that she doesn’t have to put up the same facade she once did to be successful because, well, she’s Nicki Minaj. There are a lot of weird ambiguities revealed in conjunction with Minaj’s newfound openness, including how much others’ words actually affect her and her complex relationship with her family, but one of the most prominent dualities found here is her treatment of the relationships she has with her potential romantic and/or sexual interests. In the past, Minaj was always in the driver’s seat, in total control of the boys she fu
cked, but on The Pinkprint
we find that she’s not immune to her own callousness. As she says on “The Crying Game,” “Welcome to the crying game, where you lose your soul...Ain’t no cruise control, you ‘bout to lose control.” Minaj, as opposed to her appearance on previous work, actually feels human emotions
- who’da thunk? She gets pissed! She gets lonely! She even gets sad sometimes!
I’m hesitant to ascribe the ever-self-important title of Important Album to The Pinkprint
, since there’s a lot of weirdness here which doesn’t seem to have a positive resolution (see: Drake’s and Lil Wayne’s out-of-place, oddly sexist verses on “Only,” lyrical clunkers like “I’m throwing shade like it’s sunny!,” some Ariana-Grande-esque sappiness on “Grand Piano,” complete with campy strings and, you guessed it, a piano!). However, if nothing else, The Pinkprint
is at least a human album, a marked change from Queen Nicki’s previous attitude. It’s tough to say whether this is a good thing or not because a) “human” isn’t necessarily good or bad and b) despite my rambling acclamations, I still kind of wish Minaj had gone hard over an entire album’s worth of material. However, at least now that the fallout has settled a little bit, it feels like The Pinkprint
is a success - a look inside the inner machinations of an absolute beast, complete with some prime examples of said beast killin’ it and some of the best production on a major-label hip-hop record this year. Minaj’s latest release is a complicated being, one that might never sit easy, but the layers she provides for the listener to peel through provide for an engaging and ultimately satisfying experience.