Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday, Debated

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

Zach: Now now, let’s give her some credit for her pneumatic asexuality—she is not a very convincing gay dude, sure, but she ain’t exactly heteronormative, either, Barbie doll on the cover notwithstanding. (You get the sense that Drake is going to have to wait an awful long while to get that marriage proposal accepted.) She’s clearly gotten some bad advice here, though: Rather than do what’s gotten her to this point—rapping on tracks with her betters, then besting them; rattling off the names of reindeer on Usher singles—she’s singing bad hooks on bad drum ’n’ bass records. (By my count, she handles a full half the sung choruses on this album—an awful ratio clearly inspired by her frequently crooning Young Money compatriots Drake and Lil Wayne, though even Wayne is a more versatile hookman than she is.)

Not for nothing, I think, does Minaj sound most comfortable on the rap songs here—“Roman’s Revenge,” “Did It on ’Em,” and especially “Blazin’,” featuring Kanye West, a man who not coincidentally recently told Funkmaster Flex that he forbid Minaj the use metaphors while working with him. “This album, we not even doing similes,” West bragged, and she seems to have heeded this advice: “Your game over, bitch—Gatorade, wet towel.” Do you agree with West that hashtag rap is the future of hip-hop, Rich Juzwiak?

Rich: I don’t know, I’ve heard her be plenty sexual (“Get more head than a ponytail,” “Maybe it’s time to put this pussy on your sideburns,” “How ’bout I come all on your dick and I lick it off”)—more so than, say Queen Latifah, Yo Yo, Monie Love, Lyte, and Missy were by this point in their careers. I’m not giving Minaj a cookie because she’s not as sexual as she could be. For one thing, I like sluts. And while this may make her unique, I still don’t think it’s weird per se—there have been a relatively small amount of girls playing pianos in pop music, but there is only one Kate Bush (no matter how hard others try to be her). You know, Rah Digga released an album this year devoid of sung choruses, which may be the first of its kind from a female rapper. That is weird. Why aren’t we rhapsodizing her? Because her weirdness is acting like actual weirdness—it’s repellant, not a marketing scheme.

I agree that the non-soft (would be inaccurate to call them “hard”) Nicki songs are so much better than anything else here. And “comfortable” is a great way to describe her on them, if only because it speaks to the warble on her voice in the several soft tracks. It may be intentional, but it’s so appropriate that Auto-Tune finds her shaky. She sounds like she’s uncertain she can pull this off, as well she should be. She’s not very good at faking it till she makes it (worst of all is ”Save Me,” on which she’s not supposed to sound Auto-Tuned, but does anyway).

If the album followed through with the setup of its first three songs (all of varying roughness, all investing in MCing, all boasting production that doesn’t sound too-dimestore-even-for-M.I.A.), it could have been a nice surprise. I even like “Here I Am,” Nicki-sung chorus and all. It reminds me of mid-’90s New York hip-hop. I can’t help but be nostalgic regarding female rappers because they were a big part of my childhood. And that’s another reason why Pink Friday sounds wrong to me—it’s the r&b crossover as the first album of her career. It makes me long for the days when selling out was something you resisted, not something you jumped to do. This is like Act Like You Know coming before Lyte as a Rock, like Nature of a Sista before All Hail the Queen, and Black Pearl before Make Way for the Motherlode. So to answer your question: I can’t worry so much about the future of rap when history isn’t being served. I know that hashtag rap already sounds stale, like everyone’s just copying each other. Smells like a fad to me. Hashtag rap is the future of hip-hop in that it is the new Auto-Tune.

That brings up the point of how underwhelming this album is lyrically. I can’t really wrap my head around “Go against me now/I dare you—Bambi,” provided that I’m hearing it right. A Bambi reference really shouldn’t be that ambiguous. “I am not fly, I am levitation?” Like just floating there is more impressive? Rihanna bleats a reality-show cliché (“I came to win”); Nicki lies (“Shout out to my haters, sorry you couldn’t faze me”) and explains needlessly (“Exclamation just for emphasis”). It’s just really, really lame.

Zach: Ah, but quoting her “Bambi” line without noting the inflection (“Go against me now-OW...”) is to deprive Minaj of her main asset, which is her outlandish voice. Is there a better pure enunciator in rap? One who has more variable and interlocking speeds? The sound alone of some of these “Did It on ’Em” couplets—“More talent in my motherfucking left thumb/She ain’t a Nicki fan that bitch deaf dumb,” or the delightful bit of microsurgery that is “All these bitches is my sons and I’mma go and get some bibs for ’em/A couple formulas, little pretty lids on 'em”—belies the underwhelming lyricist slander.
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