Just last week I was in Chicago for a Rico Nasty concert and in-between sets a DJ would come out to play some music and hype up the crowd. Normally I’m not that invested in these type of things, I usually just want the artist to come out, but on this night I was given an eye-opening reminder to just how ingrained the work of Nicki Minaj is to popular culture.
That nights DJ played every major Minaj song and feature from the last decade and each and every one was greeted by a scream from the crowd followed up by everyone rapping right along with her. Since 2007 Minaj has succeeded in just that, making music that takes hold in your mind and just sticks with you.
Yet while she has admittedly planted herself in culture with her hits, her album work has been less than stellar. 2010’s Pink Friday was a pop-rap mess, it’s sequel Roman Reloaded was a humorous attempt to appear more “mature” and then there was 2014’s The Pinkprint which was just average at best. None of the albums came close to capturing the personality and cartoonish feeling of her best singles work.
Now four years out from her last work we have Queen, which is another attempt for Minaj to mature but once again a lack of cohesion makes for a record with more misses than hits. Thankfully things start off interestingly enough with ‘Ganja Burns’ which has a simple but sweet guitar beat by producer J.Reid.
Minaj comes through with some firey-bars about her time away from the music industry along with warning shots to anyone biting her style. In terms of openings its perfectly fine but it lacks a certain oomph that this album deserves. In fact, the albums second song ‘Majesty’ is a much better tone-setter.
With its gorgeous piano lead beat and Labrinth delivering a smooth vocal chorus the song builds in intensity in a way that actually gets you hyped. And then on top of all that Eminem actually delivers a pretty great feature, spitting his usual fast flow with some funny bars added in. Of course, Minaj is also decent on the track but is overshadowed by everything else, which is a common theme on the album.
She manages to pull out some pretty great features from the likes of Lil Wayne, Future and especially Swae Lee on ‘Chun Swae’ who is slowly becoming an MPV this year when it comes to putting his angelic vocals on a track. And on album highlight ‘Coco Chanel’ Nicki teams up with fellow New York native Foxy Brown who delivers a fiery performance.
The production on Queen is also quite nice with a healthy verity between traditional top-40 sounds and more trap flavored tracks. ‘Bed’ with Ariana Grande showcases both artists mastery of sexy summer jams with its sun-drenched Caribbean production and ‘Good Form’ is one of Mike Will Made It’s most bumping works in a while.
But for all these minor positives, Minaj herself is her own worst enemy, sinking any chance of enjoyment or replayability out of the album. At her best, she delivers passable bars that are more memorable for the way she delivers them rather than the words she saying. This rings true on the single ‘Chun-Li’ which while it doesn’t reach the highs of say ‘Starships’ or even ‘Beez In The Trap’ it does its job.
The real issue is that when you really dig into the content of these songs, there is just nothing there. I’ve heard this album all the way through three times now and I couldn’t tell you what ‘Hard White’, ‘LLC’ or ‘Nip Tuck’ were about or even one good line from them. At over an hour there is just too much dead air and nothingness on this album to make it worthwhile.
Then there are the drastic changes in mood and theme that give you tonal whiplash throughout. The aforementioned ‘Bed’ is right before the dark and moody ‘Thought I Knew You’ which is then followed by the spacy ‘Chun Swae’. Queen feels like a playlist, something akin to Drake’s More Life release from last year and, unfortunately it seems, Nicki didn’t try to make each song stand out like her old Young Money pal did.
In a year where female rappers are taking over, from CupcakKe to Rico Nasty to even Cardi B this Nicki album can’t help but feel disappointing. She used to get off with making this kind of release because she was the only one in her lane but now with multiple newcomers coming up Nicki feels left in the dust.
Queen is out now.