Monday, December 15, 2014

The Pinkprint | Nicki Minaj


★★★☆☆

This summer was definitely an Iggy season, but female rap veteran Nicki Minaj has tried to regain control over the fall and spring of this year. After throwing on countless bizarre wigs and quickly pulling a stunt as a RedOne-fueled pop act ("Starships," "Pound The Alarm"), Minaj decided to regroup and restart at square one: the core rap and R&B. She debuted an au naturel appearance earlier this year with "Pills n Potions," the lead cut from The Pinkprint that fell flat of commercial expectations. Even after huge hits with pop vocal sirens Jessie J and Ariana Grande on "Bang Bang" and the outrageous, Sir Mix-a-Lot-sampling "Anaconda," she still managed to upkeep the natural hairdo and only put on a few faux Lady Gaga outfits.

Her image reinvention may have seemed solely external, but she sure did prove us all wrong there. Minaj greets listeners on the album's opener at her most intimate and genuine yet: "All Things Go" delivers a heavy R&B beat with a sprawling rap about the death of her cousin and her strained family ties after her success as a recording artist. It also reveals that Minaj lost a child (it is not specified whether it was via miscarriage or abortion) sixteen years ago. Other tracks, such as the Mike WiLL Made-It track "I Lied" and the aforementioned "Pills n Potions," just find Minaj in a clearly vulnerable state. R&B isn't just used to convey a string of sob stories, though. While "Anaconda" oozes the crazy '90s hip-hop sounds of the song it samples, it remains an outlier against modern, yet stale, productions tactics on tracks like "Trini Dem Girls" and "Four Door Aventador."

Despite the R&B tracks holding this album up and the multiple hints that she was done toying with pop anthem production, she invited alleged rapist Dr. Luke back in on multiple production credits and handed vocal credits to new friends Ariana Grande, Beyoncé, and Skylar Grey. Queen Bey's presence is quite minimal on "Feeling Myself" compared to Grande's appearance on the Katy Perry-penned "Get on Your Knees" and Grey's understated chorus in "Bed of Lies," but just having Beyoncé's name appear in the credits is quite an accomplishment. Minaj also embraces the pop ballad format in the album's finale, "Grand Piano," and a rough synthpop feel on "The Night is Young" (a lot of Dr. Luke's influence can be heard on the latter track specifically).

Nicki Minaj does a sufficient job at finding her own path in this forest of 16 tracks. Her nearest competitors each went their own ways. With Azealia Banks leaning towards heavy house and Iggy Azalea catering to a combination of pop and trap audiences, Minaj slid right back to home plate sonically as a rap artist. She may veer a little off-course in terms of cohesion (still looking at you, Sir Mix-a-Lot booty-bouncing re-work), but she has a consistent vision for the album overall. Sadly, while she may have left her personal fingerprint smudges all over these tracks, the album eventually become one big smudge of R&B beats and Minaj's signature rap accent; nothing really separates some of these songs from one another. Yet, for leaving the genre that gave her the most success and going back to her roots, I give Nicki Minaj some credit.

The Pinkprint is out now under Cash Money Records. An exclusive version can be found at Target department stores.

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