CASH MONEY RECORDS
In theory, the mission of “Pink Friday” was to answer any existing doubts about Nicki Minaj since her rise to popularity, about a year ago, via mixtapes and dozens of cameos and collaborations on some of the key records on the recent urban scene. On one hand, a creative MC emerged, original and personal, as on her appearance on “Monster” (Kanye West), where the diva was able to stand aside, and even surpass, Rick Ross and Jay-Z; on the other hand, she was a future pop star with massive ambition who knew how to push the mainstream’s buttons; you could even sense her possibilities as a new R&B icon, ready to take over from Rihanna. The three main aspects of her artistic hand had been emerging randomly over time, but it was necessary to confirm how the New York artist could tame them with order and coherence within the frame of one of the most awaited debuts of the season.
On first hearing, “Pink Friday” contains those varieties and elements of her style, maybe pieced together in a less solid and convincing way than we might have expected. For example: her most schizoid and streetwise instinct comes to light as the great expressive cornerstone of her formula and is there on the best moments of the album. First, that turbulent and fascinating “Roman’s Revenge”, with beats by Swizz Beatz, on which, like “Monster”, the unfolding of her personality on the mic, or that ability to create alter egos in the flow, vocabulary and lyrics as well, clearly inspired by Busta Rhymes and RZA, shows her song partner up, in this case Eminem himself. Her verse is possibly the greatest highlight of the album, and that is a pretty defining fact. Another highlight: “Did It On ‘Em”, produced by Bangladesh –author of Lil Wayne’s “A Milli”–, recovers that idea, somewhat blurred nowadays, of bringing hip-hop and R&B in line with more complex and experimental sound –something that can also be heard on “Roman’s Revenge”, by the way–, and makes it clear that when Minaj shows her most hip-hoppy side and nods to the streets, her style becomes brilliant and intimidating. And on a lower level, this is also the case on “Here I Am”, backed by a strange and melancholic production of Swizz Beatz, once more, highlighting the most rap contribution of the lot.
Less brilliant and attractive and undoubtedly more kitsch, predictable and vulgar is the Nicki Minaj super star who wants to deliver total hits. “Check It Out”, a will.i.am production based on a sample of The Buggles’ “Video Kill The Radio Star”; and “Your Love”, with a beat by Papi Justifi over a sample of Annie Lenox’s “No More I Love You’s”, has all the right papers to work well on the charts, but they are born from a creative idea that Diddy already patented when he was still Puff Daddy and, in the mid and late nineties, intoxicated commercial hip-hop with rapified old songs from the eighties. It sounds coarse, like uninventive pop-rap, trite and sensationalist, and it breaks with that more intricate and challenging line of other productions on the album. For example, “Blazin’”, by Kanye West, also revisits the eighties in a hip-hop way, but with a Simple Minds sample treated and manipulated to create a new song with a personality of its own, without the need to apply a cut-n-paste as primary and rudimentary.
And lastly, when she enters a more R&B territory, the results are pretty disparate: “Right Thru Me” and “Fly”, here with the help of Rihanna, work really well as sugarsweet mid-tempo tunes aimed at the female audience, but “Dear Old Nicki” and “Save Me” merely sound like fillers, as if they were leftovers. In general, the impression we get is that Nicki Minaj tries to do too many things at the same time and she doesn’t get away with all of them, or at least she doesn’t pull of the trio of creativity, novelty and personality we could feel on previous outings. Minaj shows her sense of humour, inventiveness and talent for constructing her rhymes, as when she invents new personalities and adjusts her resources to them, but her drive and power are somewhat hindered by the general idea of the record, and also of her style, that isn’t completely focussed. Musically, she chooses well and with overwhelming attitude when she turns to the masculine audience, but she doesn’t shine nor fascinate when she sings to the female part, where her style becomes far more standard. Has a star been born? It looks like it, but her record doesn’t really answer an important question: what kind of star?