Nicki Minaj :: Pink Friday
Cash Money/Universal Motown
Author: Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania
You know what the problem with hip hop is? There are just so many WORDS and CONCEPTS. It's annoying sometimes how much attention you have to pay just to keep up with what's going on. It hurts my brain. So thank goodness for artists such a Nicki Minaj that come along with the express intention of condensing everything into easy-to-remember formulas. Such as:
a + b + c = 25% (for males where a talks about autobiographical travails; b secures high profile guest; c quirky Bangladesh number)
Obviously, such a formula has been derived from "Tha Carter III" with the 25% being an approximation of the opening quarter of "Pink Friday." Unfortunately, the law of diminishing returns also applies, with: "I'm the Best" + "Roman's Revenge" + "Did It On Em" < "3 Peat" + "Mr Carter" + "A Milli." That is to be expected, however, since Lil Wayne was pretty much at the peak of his powers, whilst Minaj is but a brash Young Money debutante. "I'm the Best" is exactly what you think it will be (blah positive opener); Eminem's first verse on RR is excellent, and he is slowly feeling his way back to his best, but the poor beat undermines the potential; Bangladesh's beat is okay, but surprisingly timid by his normally raucous standards. So the first excessively masculine quarter having been addressed, presumably to provide intrigue, inspiration, credibility and muscle, it's time to move on to the next portion. Ladies, you can wake up now:
d + e + f = 25% (for females where d is a heartstring puller with teeth; e is a wishy-washy motivational anthem; f displays vulnerability)
"Right Thru Me" is a decent, breezy R&B/pop number with some solid verses, almost written directly for video. It works well, simply because Minaj's raps provide an element of unpredictability. "Fly" is a mind-numbing, watered-down version of any Rihanna featurette from the last 2 years: it will probably gain traction at some point, but it fails to work on any level. "Save Me" is notable for the random snippets of Drum n' Bass (presumably to prove she's "edgy") and also because she doesn't rap at all: it's also one of the most satisfying and identifiable album tracks, a nice, understated pop moment. We need some male guests, NOW!!
g + h + i = 25% (broad spectrum of male guests where g is the prerequisite in-house collaboration; h is a direct chart assault; i provides INSERT NAME HERE as another big-time rapper to equal)
A Nicki Minaj/Drake duet was a cast-iron certainty for this album. The only question was whether "Moment 4 Life" would be: both of them singing; one sings/the other raps; or both rapping. Surprisingly, they both rap, whilst Minaj delivers a half-hearted chorus. Whilst the beat is slightly above average, the song doesn't entirely work, perhaps because they play it too safe. It's a shame, as they both drop decent enough verses. "Check It Out" is a joint single with will.i.am, and samples "Video Killed the Radio Star." It has "car-crash" written all over it, especially since it almost entirely hijacks Usher's "OMG." Saying all that, I have to admit to absolutely loving it it is a DJ's dream floor-filler and a million times better than the god awful new Black Eyed Peas single "The Time (Dirty Bit)." Then, Kanye West pops up on "Blazin'" whilst both Minaj and West drop supersized verses of solid enough quality, the beat (sampling "Don't You Forget About Me") is absolutely atrocious. It is an entirely wasted opportunity. Ladies, WAKE UP AGAIN.
j + k + l = 25% (where j displays her grit; k is targeted at teenagers and women alike; l provides men and women with a template of what the ideal partner should be)
"Here I Am" is, along with "Save Me," one of the more successful album tracks, with an intriguing beat, excellent lyrics and an impressive feel. "Dear Old Nicki" is one of those potentially cringe-worthy concepts writing to yourself as a teenager which could have gone horribly wrong, but Minaj just about pulls it off. It's followed up by her version of "21 Questions" in this case, the excellent "Your Love." It features a clever Annie Lennox sample, a smoothed out beat, and lashings of reverb. Propelled by a brilliant video, it's no wonder that the song was a good old-fashioned summer smash.
You may be wondering if my maths has gone awry yes, there is one track left. The random "Last Chance" features (even more randomly) Natasha Bedingfield, and the song serves absolutely no purpose. I can only think that the label tacked it on to further impress upon the listener that Nicki Minaj can do it all. And that is the point of "Pink Friday." There is no unifying concept; it's just pure numbers, culminating in one of the most formulaic albums in history. That's said objectively, not to pass moral judgement. They want her to be a versatile performer, and prove that she can rap, sing, write, do rap, R&B, pop. You know exactly what I'm going to say next, don't you, dear Reader?
"Pink Friday" is a debut that has relative successes, but ends up casting Nicki Minaj in the role of "jack of all trades, master of none." Her label couldn't care less, as it will barely affect her numbers "Massive Attack" dropped and flopped, and they probably decided to play it ultra-safe from thereon in. If you look at the three singles, each one is an unqualified success (although I fail to see if any other songs from the album will be a real hit). She has an "Army of Barbies" and this album should connect with your average female teenager, starting Minaj well on her journey. As for the music: sadly, Nicki Minaj has been severely let down by the substandard production on "Pink Friday." There are a couple of decent beats but nothing special, not to mention a couple of high-profile stinkers. It's certainly not befitting of an artist that has, almost single-handedly, whirled up expectation to insane levels through a series of singles and countless guest spots.
Speaking of which, it's a shame but the worst thing to happen to "Pink Friday" was her scene-stealing verse on Kanye West's "Monster" because once you know how good an artist can be, you naturally expect more. There is nothing on here that compares to that verse, and the best thing to do if you actually want to enjoy the album is to forget about "Monster" and let "Pink Friday" wash over you, as it is a mindlessly entertaining album. As for Minaj herself, I'd argue that she may, eventually, be a more interesting artist than Drake and (a big "perhaps") Lil Wayne the potential is there, and, although we sometimes feel that hip hop has reached a creative full stop, she could mine it deeper and further. Nicki is an artist of great promise, and she should be around for a while, not to mention on an upwards trajectory. It's just a shame that a lack of scope, combined with some $20 beats, undermines her grand ambition.
Music Vibes: 5 of 10
Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 6 of 10
Originally posted: November 22, 2010