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Not What Her Fans Expected, But Decent In Its Own Right
on January 17, 2011
In 2009 an underground MC, well known on the mixtape circuit for her cuttingly clever, caustic, and thought-provoking lyrics, began to make some noise in the mainstream by out-shining such well-established acts as Mariah Carey, Ludacris, Sean Kingston, and Kanye West on their own singles. After a pair of scorching featured performances with her Young Money labelmates on a couple of posse cuts, the masses began clamoring for her solo debut. What they received was not precisely what they expected. Their idol, Nicki Minaj, one of the most talented MCs of any gender to emerge from the post-Jay-Z generation, had decided to take things in another direction. Like her mentor, the eccentric and ubiquitous Lil' Wayne, she was no longer content with being the reigning queen of hip hop...she wanted to conquer the world of pop, and make a ton of money doing so.
The problem is, despite her unimpeachable mixtape credentials, Minaj didn't yet have a decade in the game like Wayne did and as such hadn't yet established herself with the hardcore massive in quite the way that he had. That being the case, the fact that she decided to go pop right from the jump had some serious consequences. Many began to dismiss her as yet another radio friendly pop act, light on actual content, but heavy on catchy hooks, trendy fashions, and other such fluff as would gain her the ear and the disposable income of the average suburban teenager. They were wrong, of course, but you couldn't tell them that. Others deemed her a "sellout" who had abandoned the streets. In a way, they were closer to the mark, but in this day and age, who isn't? What "hardcore" rapper isn't interested in mainstream pop success and the monster payday that comes with it?
Did Nicki go pop right from the jump on her first album? Yes. But is her lyricism in any way diminished on this release? No. With this album, Nicki, like her mentor Weezy, establishes herself as an MC who combines the most desirable aspects of the underground rapper and the pop star such a way as to leave little doubt concerning both her transcendent capabilities on the microphone and her unquestionable gift for exploiting the spirit of the times for her own financial gain.
Those who decry this album as being "too pop" or "not hood/street enough" are unfairly endeavoring to place the artist in a box, ignoring the full gamut of her talents, and are missing the point. Why does this album *have to be* "hood" or "street"? Why can a pop acts crossover and make a "hardcore" record featuring Redman or some other rapper to establish their street cred but the door to success doesn't swing the other way? Why can't a sista from the hood be a pop star?
That aside, those who contend that the raw, cutthroat Nick her fans have come to know and love is totally absent from this disc must not be listening very closely. Pink Friday may not showcase as much of her as her mixtapes and the Young Money records (Minaj herself laments the relative absence of this persona on the track "Dear Old Nicki"), but rest assured, she does make an appearance here or there, most noticeably on the diss track "Roman's Revenge" on which Nicki and Eminem rip Lil' Kim a new one, without naming names. If one considers this cut and Kim's attempted comeback "Black Friday" as the first round of a pay-per-view title fight, so far, Nicki Minaj is up 10-8 after dropping Kim early on with a flurry of devastating body blows. Whether the old vet has more in store for the later rounds, or even rises to answer the bell, remains to be seen.
Nicki the monster is also showcased on several other tracks on the album including "Did It On'Em" and "Blazin'".
But should the fact that not every cut is a gritty, grimy, battle rap detract from an appreciation of Minaj's clever, acrobatic flow and witty lyrics, both of which are more than evident on even the most radio friendly tracks on the album (such as the heavy-rotation singles "Right Thru Me", "Your Love", and "Check It Out")? Who doesn't enjoy seeing a talented artist flex their muscles and grow and evolve over time? Nicki Minaj has transcendent skills on the mic, and incredible pop sensibilities, and I'd rather see her employ them both to claim her rightful place as a supernova burning brightly in the cosmos of popular music than to see her languish, pigeon-holed in the ultra-limiting category of "girl rapper", as so many before her have done. Nicki is the first female MC with the potential to shatter such constraints since the late, great Left Eye, and I for one am going to enjoy watching her spread her wings, be they hood regulation camo or Barbie pink, for many years to come. Taken on its on merits, and not arbitrarily held in contempt for not being the "hardcore" bombshell so many wanted it to be, this disc is actually a decent debut.
(As a side note, the extra tracks make purchasing the Deluxe Edition a worthwhile investment, especially the bouncy, dancehall-influenced "Muny", a new millennium successor to Madonna's legendary pop masterpiece "Material Girl". Now all we need is a compilation disc of all of Nicki's 2009-2010 guest appearances on other people's tracks, and our collections will be complete.)