Have you ever heard a record that made you reevaluate your opinions on an artist?
I used to always think of Nicki Minaj just as a fairly standard pop rapper. Sure, she can go hard sometimes, but in general, songs like “Super Bass” seemed more in line with her general oeuvre than, say, her striking verse on Kanye West’s “Monster.”
And Nicki’s albums in the past sort of always reinforced this idea for me. I mean, sure, I always understood Nicki’s popularity; she can craft great pop rap hits. But I never really understood why so many people seem to think she’s one of the greatest of all times.
This past weekend, though, I threw on Nicki’s newest record, “Queen,” while I was waiting for a train. For the first time, as I was standing on the platform, caught in a rainstorm, I began to finally realize why people put Nicki on the pedestal she’s on, why she’s deserving of the title she gives herself in the album’s title.
That’s not to say that the record isn’t without issues, because it’s certainly not. But we’ll get into those.
The album opens strong with “Ganja Burns.” Nicki sounds positively dreamy on this track. She comes out of the haze of the dancehall-inspired instrumental to deliver an almost ghostly chorus that has been stuck in my head for days now. It’s a laid-back intro to the record, eschewing both the “go-hard” and the “cutesy pop” sounds Nicki often vacillates between.
It doesn’t take long for Nicki to arrive at what is undoubtedly the album’s biggest standout track, “Barbie Dreams.” Essentially a remix of Biggie Smalls’ “Just Playing (Dreams)” from his classic album “Ready to Die,” “Barbie Dreams” serves as Nicki’s ways of taking nearly every big-name rapper out there to task right now.
The track’s general conceit centers around Nicki turning down various rappers for sex, and getting really, really personal with her insults of them. The track’s lyrics are, in general, too explicit for me to share here and still be confident that I’ll be allowed to write a column next week, but I just have to share this line due to my personal crusade against Drake:
“Drake worth a hundred milli, he always buyin’ me (explitive),/ But I don’t know if the (explitive) wet or if he cryin’ and (explitive).”
The track really hearkens back to the way hip-hop used to be back in the 90s: hyper lyrical, and pulling no punches. It’s not really clear if this song is supposed to just be a joke or if these are legitimate criticisms of these rappers, but either way, Nicki shows absolutely no concern for their feelings. And if you’re the kind of hip-hop fan who can get all the jokes Nicki makes, it’s amazing.
And while I know I’m making it seem like this track alone is worth the price of admission — which it is — it’s hardly the only quality track on “Queen.”
Nicki shows an undeniable chemistry with featured artists like Lil Wayne, The Weeknd and Swae Lee, but she shows off her best bars on her solo tracks like “Chun-Li” and “LLC.” She shows off an incredible flow on these likely soon-t0-be-huge club tracks.
(An exception to this rule is late album cut “Coco Chanel” with Foxy Brown. The two emcees simply crush this track.)
She also continues a strong aptitude for pop tracks, like “Come See About Me,” where Nicki displays a much better singing voice than your average emcee — she could easily put other songstresses to shame with more tracks like these.
However, “Queen” isn’t all amazing tracks. Like so many hip-hop albums coming out these days, it’s overly bloated with throwaway tracks. If this album were trimmed down from an hour to a slimmer 40 minutes, Nicki could’ve had a great album. Instead, she just ended up with a pretty good one that’s bogged down with filler.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan
Artist: Nicki Minaj
Label: Young Money Cash Money
Best Track: ‘Barbie Dreams’