Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday
Young Money/Cash Money/
November 22nd 2010
Rap is a notoriously divisive community. It stems from the very nature of the MC battle, pitting one rapper against another in a showdown of charisma and skill that has spawned from the blueprint of the freestyle to now infiltrate every aspect of the genre. Rap is a competition; between record labels, neighbourhoods and individuals. 'Beef' fuels much of the lyricism, allowing for displays of witty bravado and less than subtle arrogance that spits yes, I am better than you. I'm faster, sharper and hotter than you. Most importantly, a rapper is 'hot' when they garner controversy, and no-one has basked in the glory of such controversy recently as Nicki Minaj. Signed to Young Money (the label owned by rap behemoth and recent Rikers Island veteran Lil Wayne) and voted the 6th Hottest Rapper In The Game by MTV this month, Nicki Minaj has utterly divided the rap community. She is, in a word, bizarre. Well, superficially bizarre. She wears candy coloured wigs and calls herself the Harajuku Barbie. She only signs her female fans breasts at shows and there are even rumours that her behind is silicon-enhanced. She was also one of the most popular Halloween costumes in the U.S this year - which speaks volumes.
I'm under no illusion that it is only female rappers that have a style carved out for them to portray a certain media image; male rappers have an equally powerful visual presence, such as front row darling Kanye West for one. To call her fake because of her outlandish image would be lazy and hypocritical, and would only mirror the venomous attacks against Lil Kim, Remy Ma and Foxy Brown in the mid 90s. How dare a woman invade such a hyper-masculine genre in platform heels and not much else to go nose to nose to rap about sex, violence and super-ego with a bite often harder than that of their male counterparts?
As a woman and a fan of rap music, I feel I am naturally predisposed to defend female rappers in this sense. But I cannot defend Nicki Minaj. I resent that she is being portrayed as the female voice of rap. It is not about her skill, her appearances on the Come Up dvd series early on in her career prove that her flow punches hard and her lyrics are at turns tongue-in-cheek and deadly serious. It is that her debut album Pink Friday is a culmination of all that has left a bad taste in my mouth from the American commercial rap scene in recent years. It started with T-Pain's auto tune phenomenon, and it reaches a sour plateau with Pink Friday.
The production credits on the album are limp and some truly great opportunities have been missed here. No one should get Will.I.Am to produce their record. Her sampling of Annie Lennox's No More I Love You's on Your Love and The Buggles' Video Killed The Radio Star on Check It Out are grating and unnecessary. This somewhat twee attempt to merge rap with superficially opposing pop culture references comes across as a poorly executed mash-up rather than a clever sample. Minaj's once biting New York slang shifts between alter-ego gimmicks and exaggerated impersonations of various accents that leaves your head reeling for all the wrong reasons, and her venture into romantic R'n'B on Right Thru Me succumbs to the inexpressibly awful merging of brash electro-pop and rap that has seen Rihanna recently morph into the black Katy Perry.
There are a few tracks on Pink Friday that display Minaj's characteristically cheeky sense of humour, with Blazin' one of the few times on the album where she sustains a verse without cracking into her lip-curling barks. Lyrically however the flame is dull. When she sneers “If I had a dick/ I would pull it out and piss on 'em”, she's barely hanging onto that brashness that she visually portrays. If one of the few women in rap can only brag about her prowess in relation to the countless men in the scene, then apparent girl-power message she's been touting falls a little flat.
When Minaj explodes through the stratosphere this year as she is predicted to she'll probably divide opinion even further but in rap, that's hardly proven to be damaging. This one is for the haters.