A personal album from the lady who invited us on to her Starships to admire her Super Bass doesn’t sound all that appealing, but it’s not as if Onika Minaj hasn’t deserved the opportunity to bare her soul. Only three albums in, is there any other female artist out there making as much of a cultural impact in such a small amount of time? The biggest problem with Nicki’s output to date has been successfully meshing together her big fun and fizzy tunes with the harder edged rap star image but, with The Pinkprint, she may have finally succeeded in creating a great hip-pop album.
Everything about the record seems to arrive in groups of three, kicking off with the bracingly honest opening trio of songs ‘All Things Go’, ‘I Lied’ and ‘The Crying Game’. Dealing with deaths in her family, her own ticking biological clock, and then duetting with Jessie Ware to confess about her abusive relationships (“Saying we had enough / but enough of what? / Another slap to the face / another uppercut / I’m just abusive by nature / it’s not because I hate you”), this is the most emotionally raw rap songs from a major artist since Eminem’s ‘Cleaning Out My Closet’.
Next up, a threesome of explicitly ratchet sex anthems, the kind that only Minaj seems to be able to get away with these days; ‘Get On Your Knees’, co-written by Katy Perry, scuffs up Ariana Grande’s squeaky clean image as she chants about cunnilingus, while Beyonce returns the favour for the ‘Flawless’ remix by showing up on ‘Feeling Myself’, an ode to masturbation (both metaphorically and literally) in much the same vein as Tweet’s ‘Oops Oh My’ back in the day. Then we get Drake, Lil’ Wayne and Chris Brown (another threesome) on ‘Only’, who all tell us how they never had sex with Nicki, but they all totally want to.
Not forgetting about the dance-floor entirely, there’s also a trilogy of club-bangers to be found. ‘Trini Dem Girls’ finds Nicki reminding us of her cultural origins, over an incredibly addictive hand-clap beat. We’ve all heard ‘Anaconda’ a million times by now, but within the album it doesn’t feel quite so silly and throwaway, and then there’s ‘The Night Is Still Young’, which actually sounds quite a bit like ‘Starships’, which is both a good thing (because it’s still a whopper tune) and a bad thing (because it’s a whopper tune we’ve heard already).
The hip-hop quota is filled by the Lil’ Kim-gone-trap ‘Four Door Aventador’, the horn-driven ‘Favorite’, and the Alicia Keys-sampling ‘Buy A Heart’. None of these go all out rough like Nicki did on the likes of ‘Beez In The Trap’ or ‘Roman’s Revenge’, but those who’ll accuse her of dulling her own edge won’t notice that she’s simultaneously hardening up her poppier material.
While Nicki can still rap rings around most of her competition, lyrically smarter and more inventive than pretty much anybody else in the rap game right now, the same can’t really be said of the production on here. Sound designed to within an inch of its life from some of the biggest names – Dr. Luke takes on five of the tracks, while Mike Will Made It, Polow Da Don, Da Internz, Boi-1da, Alex da Kid and Hit-Boy are also on board – there isn’t much in the way of originality.
We’d all been hoping that someone would be the natural successor to Missy Elliott’s always changing, always forward-thinking sound, and Nicki seemed like the most likely candidate. Instead, The Pinkprint finds Nicki merely refining the sound she’s cultivated on Pink Friday and Roman Reloaded. While that’s not bad thing, as everything Minaj tries her hand at here is pulled off effortlessly, and she’s left her own emotional comfort zone this time round, next time it’d be interesting to see her take some real risks without the safety net of her own tried-and-tested formula.