Nicki Minaj : Pink Friday
Minaj’s impish humour and played-up incredulity works in bursts, but sounds positively insipid when combined with a cheesy electro-pop backing.
As part of Lil’ Wayne’s Young Money roster, the Trinidadian-born FemCee spent much of 2010 storming through a series of show-stealing cameos with high profile artists. She pimped for a threesome on Usher’s Lil’ Freak, lent some extra smut to Christina Aguilera’s WhooHoo and generated much needed grit for Mariah Carey with Up Out My Face.
Her hustling quickly saw her outgrowing the Lil’ Kim comparisons and established her as an electric new voice on the hip-hop/r’n’b scene. Of course, anticipation reached a fever pitch with Kanye West’s Monster – even managing to upstage the invincible Jay-Z as she lashed “50k a verse/No album out” – establishing Nicki Minaj as a dangerous yet alluring presence with a cutting wit and an aggressive sexual demeanour.
All of which makes the sting of disappointment that is her debut all the more sour. It’s nothing short of a shame that much of Pink Friday is spent downplaying her strengths, reigning in her eccentricities, dulling her sharper edges for a more chart-friendly listen.
There’s splashes of the sex-driven devil found in her collaborative work, particularly on the gab-swapping Roman’s Revenge, a face-off between Minaj and Eminem, clearly channelling his Marshall Mathers LP days. But much of her debut is spent courting the mainstream, flirting with conventions and stock sounds she was previously happy to rebuff.
Minaj’s impish humour and played-up incredulity works in bursts, but sounds positively insipid when combined with a cheesy electro-pop backing. Right Thru Me’s repeated plea of “how do y’all do that shit?” is irritatingly inarticulate; while Did It On ‘Em declares “I just shitted on ‘em”, a boast about as threatening as a four-year old.
The production too, polished as it is, is often a poor mismatch for the persona Minaj has spent the year cultivating. Particularly in the sampling:Blazin’ relies on a pretty uninspired use of Simple Minds, while Check It Out doesn’t even bother disguising its Video Killed The Radio Star hook. Luckily the force of Minaj’s personality manages to save the record from tragedy; she still spouts enjoyably ridiculous rhetoric, toys with the rhythm in her flow and twists her voice into all manner of characters, as well as singing confidently. She’s got the talent, and the connections (no less than half of the tracks feature A-listers like Rihanna, Kanye West, Drake and will.i.am), it’s just that Pink Friday does a very bad job of playing to her strengths.
It perhaps explains a lot that the album was recorded and finished pre-Monster, still her finest moment on record, and Pink Friday won’t dent her ascent – it’s merely a painful hiccup from an artist who’s been a little bit greedy.