November 25, 2010
Better Than: Awkward Post-Dinner Small Talk
Because the purpose of the Fabolous and Nicki Minaj’s Thanksgiving double-billing was, according to the promotion, to give thanks to two of the most talented rappers in New York City (or perhaps for them to give thanks to us), it was in a way fitting that MTA difficulties prevented us from arriving on time. This made for a remarkable entrance, however, as we came through the doors of Hammerstein Ballroom just as Lloyd Banks arrived on stage to join Fabolous for “Beamer, Benz, or Bentley,” a favorite in these pages and across the city. And then, as if this pairing wasn’t enough, Harlem’s Juelz Santana appeared to contribute his own verse. Thanks Fab!
Still, the building belonged to Minaj. All the evening’s performers emerged amid towers of pink balloons opposite balconies covered with drapery of the same color. (This seemed like a homecoming for Juelz, as one could imagine mid-aughts Cam’ron pulling such a stunt.) When it was her turn, Minaj took the stage to the nervous strings that begin “Roman’s Revenge,” moving back and forth, half acting out the lyrics and half spazzing, as though all of her many different personalities were competing for control of her body. She bypassed Eminem’s verse, opting instead for Busta Rhymes, who came out for a guest appearance that was a good fit for the song’s on-edge beat. From here, Minaj began a medley of recent guest verses, beginning with “Bottoms Up” and bringing out Keyshia Cole for her part on “I Ain’t Thru.”
“Can you keep up?” Minaj asked the crowd, and most in attendance had little trouble. But after this song-a-minute stretch, Minaj slowed down the pace with “Right Thru Me.” A rapper at heart, she had trouble making the ballad work on stage, showcasing a less energized version of her usual frantic persona. Finally, for the similarly downbeat “Fly,” Rihanna appeared, taking over the singing duties and allowing Nicki Minaj to be Nicki Minaj once more.
It is an indication of the star power Minaj brought out that, despite Rihanna’s presence, the night’s two biggest guests still remained backstage. The first, Drake, soon joined Minaj for two songs–“Moment 4 Life” and his own “Up All Night”–spending his time between verses dancing and posing for audience photos. Then, after “Did it On ‘Em” effectively demonstrated that even the lesser Bangladesh beats improve exponentially as speaker size increases, the “Monster” beat dropped and man of the month Kanye West ran on stage. Not only did everyone in Hammerstein, as instructed, show Kanye their fucking hands, they also collapsed around stage to the point where those in the back rows could move almost ten feet forward. While the crowd was able to rap along with many of Kanye’s lines, they got nearly all of Minaj’s, and after the devilish scream that concludes her verse, she finished her set. There was no encore, but after that, what else could you ask for?
Critical Bias: I think the fact that I went to this show on Thanksgiving night shows you how I feel about these artists.
Overheard: “If I’m paying 800 dollars for Prince tickets I better be able to slap him on the ass.”
Random Notebook Jot: In a moment of synchronicity between me and Nicki Minaj’s hype man, after the banter that followed the third straight ballad I scribbled, “A lot of sentimental…” and before I could finish he got on the mic and personally told Minaj almost exactly the same thing.
Nicki Minaj Setlist
Roman’s Revenge (with Busta Rhymes)
My Chick Bad
Letting Go (Dutty Love)
I Ain’t Thru (with Keyshia Cole)
Right Thru Me
Fly (with Rihanna)
Moment 4 Life (with Drake)
Up All Night (with Drake)
Did It On’em
Monster (with Kanye West)