It’s never been confirmed, but Nicki Minaj’s debut album Pink Friday sounds like a reference to the film Mean Girls, where the Plastics wore pink every Friday (maybe it was Wednesday). One may have nothing to do with the other, but on Nicki’s first album, she has a perfect balance of both mean and girly. While female rappers have spent decades swimming the mainstream in the hopes of never drowning, Nicki Minaj may have discovered the only working life raft.
Early on in Nicki’s career, her mixtape style was an amalgam of sexuality and slick talk, very reminiscent of rappers like Lil’ Kim, Trina and Foxy Brown. Her promo pics replicated female rappers’ press photos from the mid-90s, with images of Nicki squatting and licking lollipops and sucking on her finger. However, buried deep within those thongs and tongue rolls was a diamond in the rough whose lyrical prowess could challenge most men on the mic. Nicki’s mixtape Beam Me Up Scotty was the release that opened Hip-Hop’s eyes to the potential this Trinidad-born, Queens, New York raised maven possessed.
Hip-Hop has always struggled with the dichotomy of femininity vs. rawness when it came to women rapping. FeMCs like Lauryn Hill were trailblazers in finding the balance (though Lauryn is still probably the only glaring example of that balance proving successful). While Nicki initially leaned on the sexy side, her movement toward the balance has progressed with every chart-topping cameo she’s a part of. Collaborations with male artists like Usher, Ludacris, Drake, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Will.i.Am have enhanced Nicki’s exposure. However, it’s her innate star power that has kept her here. Pink Friday is the culmination of everything Nicki Minaj has worked toward and what she’s still working to accomplish.
At first listen, Pink Friday sounds like an abstract Pop masterpiece. With Nicki being called the Hip-Hop Lady Gaga and harnessing her “Barbies” like Gaga’s “Little Monsters”, it’s expected. The production is Pop both in style and tempo, but intertwined are sharp lyrics from a girl who actually “gets it”. Pink Friday’s beats will keep the pink wig-wearing aficionados satisfied, but her wordplay keeps a toe in Hip-Hop, which has never been accomplished until now. The road wasn’t easy for Nicki, though, as she recalls in the album’s opener “I’m the Best”, where she explains, It was back in’07, did a couple of tapes / Did a couple DVDs, made a couple mistakes / Didn’t know what I was doin’ but I put on a cape / Now it’s which world tour should I go on today?
Much of Pink Friday leans on that notion that yes, mistakes were made (i.e. squatting with the lollis), but the real Nicki Minaj has finally arrived. As the second track “Roman’s Revenge” rolls in, we meet Nicki’s alter-ego, Roman Zolanski. Roman can be any moment where Nicki gets rugged, gets British, or gets bittersweet. Eminem assists as the two masticate the beat with Nicki leading the charge against fellow ladies who are “hating and not congratulating”. Should’ve sent a thank-you note, ya little ho / Now I’ma wrap your coffin with a bow, Nicki growls. This is the only track of its kind on Pink Friday; the rest are far more subdued and uplifting, like “Fly” with Rihanna and “Moment 4 Life” with Drake.
Nicki hardly aligns herself with women, though. On “Roman’s Revenge” she opens with, “I am not Jasmine, I am Aladdin” and on “Moment 4 Life” she declares “At this very moment, I’m king.” For Nicki, longevity will not be based upon being a female rapper, but by being a rapper in general. Her subtle commentary on equality will surely be overlooked, but she’s still trying.
The thorough Pop helpings, although saccharinely at times, exist on previously released hits like “Your Love”, “Right Thru Me” and “Check It Out” with Will.i.Am. Added are the synthy “Blazin” with Kanye West and the delicate “Save Me”, where the rapper’s singing chops are gleefully exposed. Others like the electro-pop infused “Here I Am” and the sweetly pensive “Dear Old Nicki”, showcase Miss Minaj’s storytelling capabilities; a treasure that Hip-Hop rarely experiences, save rappers like Slick Rick and Jay-Z. Our first taste of this came from Nicki’s mixtape track “Autobiography” where she deals with the trauma of having her father burn down her home as her mother was escaping it.
The mainstream world may have just met Nicki Minaj this year, but the truth is she’s been working for a while. As Pink Friday is the debut of an already established artist, it’s evident that Nicki’s successes cannot be quantified by albums. She’s clearly building a movement; and while her female rap predecessors have wiped their fingerprints with each accomplishment, Nicki’s leaving breadcrumbs. By Kathy Iandoli