It doesn’t take long to notice that Nicki Minaj isn’t quite happy with the respect she’s getting as a rapper. Four verses into her debut set Pink Friday, on the merciless “Roman’s Revenge,” she asks as Roman Zolanski, one of her several much-loved alter egos, “Is this the thanks that I get for putting you b—— on? Is it my fault that all of you b—— gone? Should’ve sent a thank you note, you little h-. Now I’mma wrap your coffin with a bow. Nicki, she’s just mad ‘cause you took the spot…”
Though we do have a hunch, “she” could be anyone. For more than a year now Minaj has earned her place among rap’s elite by track-hopping—stealing the show on big records with fierce verses on Ludacris’ “My Chick Bad” and Kanye West’s “Monster” while branding herself as more than just a girl who can rap. Now she’s simply a great rapper. The predictable byproduct has been a mob of salty rapstresses buzzing about the new queen bee. Nicki addresses them often—whether she’s ordering her Barbies to put up two fingers if they’re crapping on their competition on “Did It On ‘Em” or threatening to iron the face on an “old wrinkled b—-” on the will.i.am-produced, Buggles-sampling “Check It Out.”
Oddly enough, the accented voices and self-assured rhymes that propelled Nicki to stardom are hardly what make this a solid album. It’s those moments when the eccentric wigs are off and aliases put away that the best songs are revealed. Like when she steps off of her throne, vulnerable and helpless on “Save Me,” uncovering a talent she kept hidden throughout her sidekick days: She sings. Well, if I might add. Minaj may not blow like Pink, but her voice is strong enough that aside from one Rihanna-assisted cut, hers is the lone voice carrying a tune. The triumphant “Moment 4 Life,” along with the album’s two lead singles, all showcase her knack for melody while boasting lyrics chronicling her struggles–be they professional or intimate ones of love and hurt. All of which are way more poignant than raps about how dope she is.
She’s often compared with a laundry list of washed-up female emcees. And sure, there’s a little Kim in there. Really though, she reminds me most of her labelmate Drake—fully aware of how amazing she is, but also how fragile. Rap’s first lady may never get the appreciation brashly expected from the aforementioned “she.” But Minaj has certainly earned it here. B+
(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)