When Nicki Minaj was releasing her third studio album The Pinkprint in 2014, the whole hip-hop industry was different. There were few really good women in the rap game like Dej Loaf, Angel Haze, or even maybe less talented but recognized commercially Iggy Azalea, but it was quite sure no one could take Onika’s #1 numbers on the mainstream charts.
However a lot of things change in four years. When no one expected any female rapper to blow up, Cardi B hit the radio with “Bodak Yellow” and naturally became Nicki’s rival. Such is the backdrop for Nicki’s brand new album Queen, which was released earlier this month, to much critical acclaim, but even more controversy.
Queen opens with a bittersweet track called “Ganja Burns”. If there’s one thing that Nicki Minaj is good at, it’s definitely opening tracks. She proved it with the very honest record “All Things Go” on The Pinkprint and repeats it on this new album.
In that very first song, Nicki sends shots to Cardi B, but over vulnerable melody she also sounds like she’s angry and a bit tired of fame, or at least, all the hate coming towards her. Not even to mention, she’s still looking for real love as she sings on the foggy chorus: “Everytime I get high, I just think about you”.
But Nicki Minaj is a fighter. She raps faster than she thinks, which leads her to taking more jabs at Cardi B on a few other songs like: “I’m the baddest B, I don’t even know how to speak” (“Good Form“) or “Uh, I ain’t never play the ho position / I ain’t ever have to strip to get the pole position” (“Hard White“). It’s obvious that she doesn’t handle all the pressure as a mature person should.
There’s also a reference to her previous infamous beef with Remy Ma on “Hard White”, “You got bars and still broke? You might as well took a plea, uh“. Isn’t it a bit too late for all of this? Papoose and his wife are living their best lives, and even Lil’ Kim asked journalist to stop asking her about Minaj recently.
Nicki is bad tempered and has spent her career fighting with other female rappers, but she always repeats she’s a huge fan of Foxy Brown. The New York legend surprisingly features on this album via collaboration with Minaj titled “Coco Channel”, but it’s just a tittle-tattle track than a serious thing.
Nicki still has some love for mainstream charts, like in the wide-open track called “Majesty” featuring Eminem (they still have some good chemistry) and Labrinth, but the true highlight of the album is the sweet jam called “Barbie Dreams”, which comes with a lot of controversy.
First of all, it samples Notorious B.I.G’s “Just Playing (Dreams)” song. For the new school heads in rap – Lil’ Kim did her version of this classic track on debut album Hardcore. Secondly, Nicki came at some rappers in the game like her long time friend Drake, ex-boyfriend Meek Mill, DJ Khaled and 50 Cent.
On Young Thug, she says, “Used to f**k with Young Thug, I ain’t addressin’ this s**t / C-caught him in my dressing room, stealin’ dresses and s**t“, and beyond that, she drops name after name. Some of the rappers have responded on their social media, and Minaj claims it’s not a diss track, but the tea has already been spilt. Yikes.
The Queen album is mixed with some light pop music like “Bed“, a song recorded with her friend Ariana Grande, and some trap R&B like “Thought I Knew You“, featuring The Weeknd. Of course, these songs have some radio potential, but the truth is, the longplay would be the same with or without them. “Chun Swae” and “Chun-Li” are probably the most boring tracks of the Queen album. Long story short, these songs are just forgettable.
The second part of the album seems to be darker and deeper. “Hide & Run” is a very emotional track, which reminds me of all heartbroken songs from The Pinkprint.
“Don’t be jealous, put some trust inside your text when you be textin’ / Tell the truth when you get tired of me askin’ all them questions”, she reflects on her struggles in some situationship. It’s one of the songs you wish was longer. “Come See About Me” can be easily compared to “Grand Piano”, but as with the 2014 cut, it’s a bit too ponderous and naive.
Bryan Rolli of Forbes concluded that Queen is a great 10-song album hiding inside a messy 19-song album, and there’s no better short review than that. Nicki Minaj could definitely record a better album, as she still can’t release a classic like Hardcore from Lil’ Kim or Under Construction by Missy Elliott. However, the whole mainstream industry and pop market will buy it anyway.
Sadly, after the album came out, Nicki Minaj has been embroiled in far too much Twitter drama – from a war of words with her ex-boyfriend to blaming Travis Scott’s daughter and girlfriend for blocking her from claiming the #1 album on Billboard. For now, this might not be the coronation for the queen of rap, but for the queen… of drama.
Nicki Minaj’s Queen is out now via Young Money/Cash Money, purchase it on iTunes here and stream it on Spotify below.
Words by Julia Borowczyk