By Gili Malinsky
By Bob Ruggiero
By Hilary Hughes
By Peter Gerstenzang
By David R. Adler
By Devon Maloney
By Brian McManus
By Jessica Hopper
Rap is her game, but chatter is Nicki Minajs 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 tothe sound of one of raps 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, Im 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 wouldnt even give it as much credit as youI dont hear platitudes about the power of women so much as self-aggrandizement masquerading as empowerment via a few bones thrown to Nickis imaginary sisters. I mean, this woman doesnt even quote Helen Reddy properly! Wheres the U.N.I.T.Y.? Regarding your question, Ill 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 its, Girls dont freestyle! She botches performances left and right with blatantly relied-on backing tracks, embarrassing dancing, and missed notes, and its, Well, shes just not a seasoned performer yet. She releases weak pop single after weak pop single and its, Well, shes just trying to get her name out there. She cuts an embarrassingly cheap-sounding, lazily hooked album and its, Well, it doesnt matter. So why, Zach, why? Why cant people face the fact that they were probably wrong about this girl? Shes given ample evidence. By the way, Im not sure that her exceeding weirdness is anything beyond scowl-deep. Pink Friday is proof.
Zach: Well, yeah, lets 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 Ive 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 therewhich also manages to humble, among others, a guy named Jay-Zconsists 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, Romans Revengenot 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 tracks 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 theres a difference between inherent weirdness and showmanship, and Nicki falls clearly on the side of the latter. What has she said thats bested her scowls? How weird are her words, actually? And since you bring it up, Romans Revenge, while boasting the best Pink Friday production (Swizzs snares are hypnotic, and the keys bringing the mood are a fucking trip), is extremely problematicNickis gay male character goes toe-to-toe with a homophobe (and not just a passive, anti-gay-epithet-using one, but someone whos actually said on record, Hate fags? The answers yes) and doesnt even broach the subject? What kind of a gay dude is she? None that Id fuck. Thats to say nothing to her playing host to Eminems 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, Ive 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 moreI see that even when shes been random without much reason, when shes selling nonsense not out of cleverness but out of no other choice, at least part of the reason is because shes 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 youre going to do r&b, you best bring the hooks and make sure theyre catchy. She doesnt. 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.