Not that any of the hip-hop heads who consider themselves “serious music listeners” care – because Nicki Minaj is a woman and the genre’s misogyny has subconsciously rubbed off on its listeners, or because Nicki Minaj is mainstream and there’s an defiantly anti-mainstream running through the genre’s most devout listeners for reasons they can’t explain, or because Nicki Minaj spends as much time singing as she does rapping despite being much better at the latter, or some combination of all three – but The Pinkprint contains one of the most emotional songs hip-hop has ever seen.
I am talking, of course, about “All Things Go,” which you should listen to immediately, because it’ll make you want to listen to the rest of the album and it’ll shatter whatever you think of Nicki Minaj as a person or artist immediately. Beat-wise, it’s a surprisingly minimal song by an artist that has thrived on maximalism. Lyrically, it’s a surprisingly emotional song by an artist that has thrived on presenting herself as a caricature. She touches on everything, from her love to her baby brother (“I want ‘Caiah to go to college just to say ‘We did it!’”) to abortion (“My child with Aaron would’ve been sixteen any minute”) to a failed engagement with said Aaron (“Ten years ago, that’s when you proposed / I looked down, ‘yes, I suppose'”) to escapism through drugs that she’ll mention more and more as The Pinkprint progresses (“I pop a pill and remember the look in his eyes, the last day he saw me”). And if all of those weren’t enough, the entire second verse is dedicated to her recently deceased cousin, and more specifically, how she feels it was her fault because her fame has caused a riff between her and her family.
Actually, tracks 1 to 5 make for the best stretch of songs in her discography. “I Lied” continues where “All Things Go” left off; an uncredited Jessie Ware (apparently to be rectified soon) elevates the chorus of “The Crying Game” while the throbbing guitar sample makes it one of the album’s better beats; the choruses of “Get on Your Knees” nicely demonstrate Ariana Grande’s vocal range in the harmonic blast at the end of its choruses; the beat of “Feeling Myself” serves to both remind me that Hit-Boy was one of the best mainstream producers in the swirling beat that’s punctuated by drums and grunts and that he will sorely be missed now that he’s retired. My favorite couplet from the lattermost: “Feeling myself, back off, cause I’m feeling myself, jack off / He be thinking about me when he whacks off. Whacks on? Wax off.”
Of course, the album can’t keep up because Nicki Minaj’s albums are always too much Nicki. I’m not simply talking about the length – though The Pinkprint can easily be shortened – I’m talking about the shaky start of each verse of “Want Some More,” where she does her typical penchant of stertching out the last word of every line over and over, but here, it’s annoying instead of “Stupid Hoe”-endearing (though the verses pick up shortly afterwards, thankfully). The Katy Perry namedrop on “Get on Your Knees” turns out not to simply be just a pun, but rather an inspiration: “Pills n Potions” loses all emotion once the autotune “I STILL LOVE” hook hits; I was already thinking about “Starships” during the verses of “The Night is Still Young” before the chorus had me hitting skip; “Grand Piano” is the typical throwaway piano-led ballad that populates mainstream pop/R&B albums for no reason. And “Anaconda” is what it is, unfortunately. That’s without mentioning Nicki Minaj’s reliance on hashtag rap that sometimes weigh her down (“But fuck you though, orgasmic” on “I Lied”; “Got me seeing fire works, Katy Perry” on “Get on Your Knees”).
Elsewhere, “Over” is four notes looped for five minutes and there’s something terribly wrong with that equation, isn’t there. It doesn’t help that half of the song is tuneless Chris Brown choruses and it caps off with a completely incomprehensible Lil Wayne verse. Though Drake’s verse might be the most hilarious one you’ll ever hear (“She was sitting down on that big butt / But I was still staring at the titties DOOOOEEEEEEE!”) and Nicki Minaj’s verse offers plenty of punchlines as expected (“These hoes couldn’t test me even if their name was Pop Quiz”; “I don’t fuck with them chickens unless they last name is Cutlet”), the song isn’t worth hearing more than once. Pitchfork‘s Meaghan Garvey describes bonus track “Truffle Butter” – also featuring Drake and Lil Wayne – as “instantly 100 times more likeable than ‘Only'”, but it’s only likeable because Lil Wayne is less insufferable and Chris Brown isn’t on it; ie. both Drake’s and Nicki Minaj’s verses are worse.
And while I’m on the album’s bonus tracks, Garvey writes that “‘Mona Lisa’ might be Minaj’s most bizarre album cut to date” but that accolade obviously goes to “Stupid Hoe,” and the minimalism of “Mona Lisa” works against it, even though Detail’s brief blips breaking out through the hazy synths makes for one of the album’s prettier beats.
Whatever; her best album.