Somebody had to cover “Queen” eventually. Usually it’s Jay Soul but five years ago he seemed underwhelmed with what Onika Tanya Maraj had to offer on “The Pinkprint“. It made little difference for Nicki though as the release went double platinum and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Album, although it lost to another album Jay reviewed — “To Pimp a Butterfly“. If you were alive in 2014 though you couldn’t have missed her “Anaconda” video whether you liked her (album) or not. With that much success she could certainly afford to take half a decade off — so she did.
“Aiyyo, look like I’m goin for a swim
Dunked on ’em, now I’m swingin off the rim
Bi**h ain’t comin off the bench
While I’m comin off the court fully drenched
Here go some haterade, get ya thirst quenched
Styled on ’em in this Burberry trench
These birds copy every word, every inch
But gang gang got the hammer and the wrench (brrrt!)”
The J. Reid and Minaj co-produced “Chun-Li” reintroduced Nicki Minaj successfully after her hiatus, although it also re-opened the debate about Nicki’s Asian cultural appropriation. It would be just as fair to say Nicki was inspired by Street Fighter so this one is a non-issue for me. What’s never a non-issue when it comes to Nicki is her sexuality. On one side of the debate is female empowerment, reclaiming the power of the pu**y and showing that women got game too. On the other side of the debate is whether Nicki flaunts her (surgically enhanced) assets as a way to sell records, demeaning female rappers who deserve to succeed on the strength of their lyrics and flow alone. Rather than shy away from this debate, she takes it head on in the opening track “Ganja Burn”:
“Yo, you can’t wear a Nicki wig and then be Nicki
That’s like a fat nigga thinkin he can be Biggie
One +Ruff Ryde+, now you DMX and Swizzy?
One hot video, you +Hype+? Nah, you just giddy
You made one dope beat, now you Kanye?
You got a nigga named Jay, now you ‘Yonce?
You got about +Three Stacks+, now you Andre?
You put a part in your fade, yeah you Nas, bae
You gotta have real skill, gotta work for that
If it’s really your passion, would you give the world for that?
Unlike a lot of these hoes whether wack or lit
at least I can say I wrote every rap I spit”
That’s exactly the answer that was called for. Nicki clarifies that you can flaunt your sexuality all you want as an artist, but you can’t write the rhymes she writes nor deliver them the way she does. Coincidentally it’s another J. Reid track, who seems to have the magic touch for Nicki on “Queen“. He also produces the chocolatey smooth “Thought I Knew You” featuring The Weeknd, the bonus track “Barbie Tingz” and her “Rich Sex” duet with Lil Wayne.
Weezy also makes a cameo in the video/remix version of “Good Form” produced by Mike Will Made It, but unfortunately for fans this version is not included on the standard version of “Queen” — better buy the deluxe.
There are no shortage of Nicki Minaj crossover tracks on this album, but my favorite is easily “Bed” featuring Ariana Grande. This is Nicki at her most sensual and sexual, but unlike “Anaconda” it’s not a vulgar display of power but a sultry one. She’s got a bed with YOUR name on it if you’ve got game.
What is a display of power is the length of “Queen“, clocking in at over 66 minutes on the standard edition BEFORE bonus tracks are tacked on. In an era where a lot of “albums” are 30 minutes or less I can respect that, but it’s also hard for Nicki to maintain a consistency of quality for that long. On “Coco Chanel” Minaj is trying to channel her Trini/Brooklyn roots, but it’s an entirely skippable track. “Come See About Me” is trying a little TOO hard to crossover, making the unique Onika easily mistakable for an average pop chanteuse. When she proclaims “I’m the realest b**ch, I’m the truest” on “Run & Hide” she’s not telling us anything we don’t already know. It’s on her cover of Biggie’s “Dreams” that we see just how real she really is.
The only two women alive today who can claim a share of Biggie’s legacy are Lil’ Kim and Faith Evans, yet without having ever been there Nicki seems like the ideal choice to flip the script and dream about which male rappers she’d like to get down with. Kim’s probably going to catch feelings about that if anyone does, but in terms of career trajectory Nicki is the more relevant of the two in 2019. That’s a remarkable accomplishment given she spent five years in self-imposed exile, but the baddest came back strong, with an album so long, and she’s still down to get the friction on.