Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday, Debated

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

But let’s play psychologist for a second: Is it possible that Nicki Minaj, contrary to all public indications, is having kind of a bad year? After the “I won!” bombast of the first three tracks here, the thing that strikes me about Pink Friday is that it’s a depressive’s record. I detect heavy melancholy even on the singles, “Right Thru Me” and “Your Love,” to say nothing of the weird wrist-cutting quintet that is “Fly” (“I wish today it would rain all day”), “Save Me” (“All these screams, all these voices in my head”), “Moment 4 Life” (“To live doesn’t mean you’re alive”), “Here I Am” (“Why is it you can only see the worst in me?”), and “Dear Nicki” (“Maybe you died because everyone asking where you at”). Maybe the problem is that she’s just fundamentally bummed out. Wayne was in jail when she made this record. Drake was on tour. She was getting big checks for guest verses and then having to go back to a deserted studio and try and figure out on her own what a debut rap record from an up-and-coming young female star was supposed to sound like, without the people who’d been helping her sort through fame and the game. Wild speculation, obviously, but can you deny that she sounds oddly downbeat, given the winning streak she’s otherwise been on?

Rich: But including her inflection doesn’t make that line make any more sense! I guess my point about Nicki, to map it out and sound completely trite in the process, is that style is chosen over substance at every turn. OK, she’s capable of wordsmithing, but playing with rhyme and meter is only part of her public-speaking job. I don’t expect pseudo-CNN commentary from today’s rappers, but even at his most scattered, Wayne has flashes of insight on how the world works (“Repetition is the father of insight”) and how hip-hop operates, too (“Fuck the Police” twisted into a song about fucking a female police officer). Contrast the genre mastery within the latter example with “Roman’s Revenge,” with “I’m startin’ to feel like a Dungeon Dragon,” which exists only so she can go on to reference “Scenario,” no more no less. Maybe she was wearing a green wig when she spit that. MAYBE. The best nonsense is based on reality. Wayne is no Lewis Carroll, but Nicki isn’t even Sifl & Olly. You can marvel at the precision with which Nicki spits her blah, blah, blahs, but at the end of the day, blah, blah, blah is just blah, blah, blah.

And that’s not to say she doesn’t have decent lines. I like “Tell ’em bitches get a stick/I’m done leading the blind,” but her bad ones stick out much farther. “You ain’t my son, you my motherfuckin’ stepson?” “If you could turn back time—Cher/You used to be here now you’re gone—Nair”? “And yes I call the shots, I am the umpire/I sprinkle holy water upon the vampire.” And that’s not even mentioning the extreme tedium of “Right Thru Me”: “And you say, ‘Nicki?’ And I say, ‘Who, me?’ And you say, ‘No, you.’ And I say, ‘Screw you.’“ Petty bickering is insufferable, it turns out! (In addition to not being Sifl or Olly, she’s no Edward Albee, either.) Without any investment in her success (not even for my own enjoyment), I’m embarrassed for her. She sounds truly labored, her rhymes too often forced. I wonder if this is a result of the sheer amount of material she’s released this year—it sounds like her sass is running on fumes.

Many of the depressive songs that you named are full of bravado, as well. A lot of the lyrics you mentioned are flashes of pathos (she can “Dear Old Nicki” herself all she wants, but she’s responsible for the choices that she’s made to allow her to cut that song in the first place). Does this make her complicated? Perhaps! I’ll concede that she’s a multidimensional character. But I’m not sure how much of that is calculated and how much is a result of chronic inconsistency (look at the conflicting statements she’s made on record and in public about getting along with other female rappers, and I hate to sound like Queen Crybaby, but her stance on her own sexuality, as well as other people’s, has flip-flopped all over the place like a flamboyant wrist). For better or worse, she’s turned this into an ADHD aesthetic on her guest verses. It’s much harder to give ’em whiplash when you’re rolling that out slowly in a long-form format.

Zach: And yet style is a form of substance. Form is its own kind of content. One thing we probably agree on here is that the most confounding thing about Pink Friday is that it lacks style, lacks weirdness, whatever your opinions of how deeply that weirdness goes. Without a foil, be it Trey Songz, Robin Thicke, Mariah Carey, Ludacris, or whoever, she’s forced to play her own straight woman—not a look. My guess is she’s about to be absolutely clobbered by Kanye West in the upcoming sales week. But since we’re talking about it, allow me to ask you to imagine your own best Nicki Minaj, untethered by Pink Friday’s humdrum realities and bleary lack of focus.

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