Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday, Debated

Growing pain or total disaster? One fan and one non-fan hash it out.

Nicki Minaj's <i>Pink Friday</i>, Debated
Howard Huang
The O. Henry of rap?

Rap is her game, but chatter is Nicki Minaj’s medium. It surrounds her (has there ever been a more talked-about female rapper?) and fuels her creativity (Nicki Minaj, Nicki Lewinsky, Roman Zolanski, and Onika Maraj are just a few of the voices in her head that she organizes into verse). In the week that her long-awaited debut, Pink Friday, finally sees release, adding to the din seems only appropriate. Below, Nicki fan Zach Baron and Nicki non-fan Rich Juzwiak hash (...tag) it out.

Zach: Will it ruin the suspense/debate if I admit right at the top here that Nicki Minaj made a bad record? Because, jeez, Pink Friday really is sort of difficult to listen to—the sound of one of rap’s world-class personalities having all her clever foibles and idiosyncrasies blasted away and replaced with . . . platitudes about the power of women? Worse, actually: badly sung platitudes about the power of women. But the question I want to ask you is this: In the grand scheme of rap in 2010, does the failure of this album even matter? Ultimately, at the end of the year, I’m rating Nicki like I rate one of her biggest fans, Kanye West: as a fascinating, exceedingly bonkers, total personality. The record to me is almost beside the point.

Rich: This, indeed, is pink garbage. I wouldn’t even give it as much credit as you—I don’t hear platitudes about the power of women so much as self-aggrandizement masquerading as empowerment via a few bones thrown to Nicki’s imaginary sisters. I mean, this woman doesn’t even quote Helen Reddy properly! Where’s the “U.N.I.T.Y.”? Regarding your question, I’ll answer with another question: Why are so many people so bent on defending Nicki Minaj at each underwhelming turn? She flubs a freestyle when put on the spot, and it’s, “Girls don’t freestyle!” She botches performances left and right with blatantly relied-on backing tracks, embarrassing dancing, and missed notes, and it’s, “Well, she’s just not a seasoned performer yet.” She releases weak pop single after weak pop single and it’s, “Well, she’s just trying to get her name out there.” She cuts an embarrassingly cheap-sounding, lazily hooked album and it’s, “Well, it doesn’t matter.” So why, Zach, why? Why can’t people face the fact that they were probably wrong about this girl? She’s given ample evidence. By the way, I’m not sure that her exceeding weirdness is anything beyond scowl-deep. Pink Friday is proof.

Zach: Well, yeah, let’s talk weirdness for a second: Nicki at her best really is weird! Her verse on “Monster,” which I will concede is not on Pink Friday, is maybe the most dazzlingly zany minute and a half of music I’ve heard in 2010. That song presents a fake Jamaican, '50s-era B-movie villain, big-blinking ingénue, gum-and-neck-snapping Valley Girl, and, of course, fire-breathing, dizzyingly technical rapper, all within a handful of bars. Her performance there—which also manages to humble, among others, a guy named Jay-Z—consists of way more than just a mere scowl. As for Pink Friday, I wonder mostly where that person went. Surely even you can enjoy the way she flat-foots Eminem on the track they share here, “Roman’s Revenge”—not just because he deserves to be shown up by someone like Nicki, but because she does it so deftly that she still has time to have a intra-persona, English-accented debate with herself on the track’s hallucinatory outro. If only Roman Zolanski, Nicki the Harajuku Barbie, and all her other demonstrably distinct incarnations were present pretty much anywhere else on this record!

Rich: I think there’s a difference between inherent weirdness and showmanship, and Nicki falls clearly on the side of the latter. What has she said that’s bested her scowls? How weird are her words, actually? And since you bring it up, “Roman’s Revenge,” while boasting the best Pink Friday production (Swizz’s snares are hypnotic, and the keys bringing the mood are a fucking trip), is extremely problematic—Nicki’s gay male character goes toe-to-toe with a homophobe (and not just a passive, anti-gay-epithet­-using one, but someone who’s actually said on record, “Hate fags? The answer’s yes”) and doesn’t even broach the subject? What kind of a gay dude is she? None that I’d fuck. That’s to say nothing to her playing host to Eminem’s “faggot” on this very record, as well as his piss-on-women misogyny. They say Nicki supports her gay fans and is pro-woman, and I say, “Surely, it gets better.”

Truth be told, I’ve never been very taken by this person. Nicki Minaj has regularly put on elaborate shows of not saying very much, but Pink Friday actually makes me appreciate her guest work a lot more—I see that even when she’s been random without much reason, when she’s selling nonsense not out of cleverness but out of no other choice, at least part of the reason is because she’s trying to pack in as much entertainment as possible, by hook or by British accent or by free association. One thing I never expected from Nicki Minaj is boring. And Pink Friday is full of boring. Like, if you’re going to do r&b, you best bring the hooks and make sure they’re catchy. She doesn’t. Is repeating two or three words ad nauseum entitlement or laziness? Or does she actually think this is how pop music works? Is the chorus of “Right Thru Me” that sounds like vaguely melodic snoring supposed to be impressive? The mind reels.

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