Kopitiam Bot

News · Lifestyle · Tech

First Listen: Nicki Minaj’s ‘Queen’ Is A Great 10-Song Album Hiding Inside A Messy 19-Song Album

(Source: forbes.com)

The past four months have been a test of patience and loyalty for Nicki Minaj fans. In April, the rapper debuted two new singles, “Barbie Tingz” and “Chun-Li,” the latter of which marked the lead single off her fourth studio album, Queen. Minaj originally announced a June 15 release for the album, but later pushed it to August 10, and eventually to August 17, citing a clearance issue with a Tracy Chapman sample. Evidently, her team cleared the sample, because Minaj announced last night on her new Apple Music Beats 1 radio show, “Queen Radio,” that the album would drop today.

Release date headaches aside, Minaj’s Queen rollout has been a whirlwind of chart gains and questionable PR stunts. She scored her first solo Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in four years with “Chun-Li,” which earned a platinum certification from the RIAA. She unleashed the wrath of her super-fans, the Barbz, on unsuspecting culture writer Wanna Thompson, who tweeted the mildest of criticism toward her. She collaborated with vile 22-year-old rapper 6ix9ine—who previously pled guilty to the use of a child in a sexual performance—on the equally vile “FEFE,” which nonetheless crashed onto the Hot 100 at No. 3.

Thankfully, “FEFE” is absent from Minaj’s overstuffed Queen, her first album since 2014’s The Pinkprint. Predictably, Minaj has a lot to say, and she spares no expense on the star-studded album. It’s a lyrically dense and musically diverse release that would have benefited from stricter quality control, but nonetheless gives Minaj the triumphant comeback she needed.

Minaj’s newfound sense of purpose is evident from Queen’s opening track, the slow-building “Ganja Burns.” She raps with dexterity and restraint over clean guitar chords that give way to crunchy, single-note leads, delivering a tastefully sung, steadily ascending hook in the chorus. It’s a low-key, counterintuitive opener that nonetheless makes for a powerful mission statement. Minaj is determined to reclaim her crown as the reigning queen of hip-hop from the newcomers she perceives as copycats, rapping, “You can’t wear a Nicki wig and then be Nicki.”

But as one of the most successful women in a male-dominated genre, Minaj has to grapple with more than just healthy competition. In “Barbie Dreams,” she rattles off a list of high-profile rappers who have tried and failed to bed her over the years. Of course, it’s not meant to be taken literally: it’s a scathing diss track first and foremost, but can also be read as a savagely hilarious indictment of music industry sexism, and a testament to Minaj’s enduring success within the field. Her clever punchlines and rapid-fire flow make up for the dated, pedestrian backing track, consisting of little more than a looped guitar riff and fat drums.

Sadly, that lyrical ability can’t salvage a track when Minaj cedes it to her collaborators, such as the Eminem-assisted “Majesty.” It’s fitting that Minaj, who’s cultivated one of the most fiercely protective musical fan bases, would share a track with the artist who pioneered the term “stan” with his 2000 hit of the same name. But Em overstays his welcome on the clunky pop-rap track that sinks under dated piano chords, melodramatic string swells and a grating vocal hook from British singer/rapper Labrinth. He toys with an awkward singsong flow before unleashing a string of light-speed, monotone bars—a trite formula that he’s milked since 2009’s Revival, scoring pop hits but sacrificing his artistry along the way. “Majesty” is doomed to be mediocre at best, but Minaj could’ve slashed Eminem’s verse altogether and made a more serviceable track at half the length.

Minaj also lets her collaborators get the better of her on “Chun Swae,” featuring Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee. The 23-year-old crooner renders the song’s chorus unlistenable with falsetto vocals that verge on self-parody, mumbling nonsense lyrics like “Fall off in the spot, every girl coming like a shark.” Add in Metro Boomin’s “If Young Metro don’t trust you I’m gon’ shoot ya” tag, and “Chun Swae” literally sounds like hip-hop madlibs for fifth graders. “You’re in the middle of Queen right now, thinking, ‘I see why she call this s**t Queen’,” Minaj boasts at the end of the six-minute track. A better question is: Who green-lit this self-indulgent mess?

Other partnerships on Queen prove more effective, such as the album’s first outright banger, “Rich Sex” featuring Lil Wayne. This is Minaj’s comfort zone: fat trap beats, hypnotic choruses and lots of braggadocio to spare. Minaj gets to flex as an MC without stretching herself too thin musically, and even Lil Wayne offers a respectable performance, despite getting less decipherable as his verse progresses. Minaj also finds her ideal partner in The Weeknd on “Thought I Knew You,” a sultry R&B/rap banger that sports some of Queen’s lushest production. The “Starboy” singer meets Minaj halfway, his buttery tenor serving as the perfect counterpoint to her clipped, Auto-Tuned raps and distorted vocals.

It’s no coincidence that most of Queen’s best tracks hover around the three-minute mark, giving Minaj enough time to develop a singular idea without veering into self-indulgence. She rides the hypnotic trap beat of “Hard White” and sings a delightfully Auto-Tuned chorus that takes cues from Migos’ tried-and-tested formula. Her slick double entendres are swathed in lush, tropical beats on “Bed,” the sex-positive pop banger featuring Ariana Grande that deserved to peak much higher than No. 43 on the Hot 100. “Chun-Li” takes on a new life in the context of the album as well, sounding positively explosive and nearly erasing the memory of the disastrous “Chun Swae” preceding it.

There are enough obvious standouts on Queen to constitute an airtight 10-song album. But artists increasingly love to overstuff their albums to rack up more streams, and Minaj is not immune to this trend. One can almost pinpoint the exact place at which she runs out of steam, as the opulent sex-and-money jaunt “Good Form” gives way to the perfunctory pop atmospherics of “Nip Tuck.” From there, Minaj winds through the needless, 55-second “2 Lit 2 Late Interlude” and the mawkish Pop2k throwback “Come See About Me.” She and Future undermine the playfully spooky instrumental of “Sir” with uninspired verses, doing little to drum up excitement for their upcoming NICKIHNDRXX co-headlining tour.

Fortunately, Minaj regains her footing at the end of Queen with the exhilarating one-two punch of “Coco Chanel” and “Inspirations Outro.” Fellow Trinidadian rapper Foxy Brown shows up for a downright filthy guest verse, usurping Minaj on her own track. That’s not an insult, either: Minaj delivers one of her most fiery performances on Queen, ending the album with a thunderous closing statement: “Bless up, Bob Marley, yes, king lion/ Marchin’ with Lauryn Hill to Zion/ Caribbean, tings what I am/ Me and Fox gettin’ paper like we ain’t tryin’.”

With Queen, Nicki Minaj has crafted an excellent 10-song album and hidden it inside a scattershot 19-song album. Still, she accomplished what she set out to do: prove to skeptics that she can still spit with the same vitriol she had at the beginning of her career, and give fans plenty to sink their teeth into without pandering to them. For those reasons alone, Queen is a success that warrants repeat spins to decipher all of Minaj’s multi-layered boasts and subtle potshots at other rappers. It’s a rewarding listen if you’re willing to dig. Thankfully, the Barbz have never been afraid to put in work.

More Info: forbes.com

%d bloggers like this: