Queen (released August 10, 2018)
Your girl Nicki is at a career crossroads. And it’s time for her to show and prove.
It was all good just a few years ago. Nicki Minaj reigned as the preeminent female rapper in the game because, well, there was no competition.
LITERALLY, there was no competition. Former headliners like Lil Kim, Eve and Foxy Brown had faded into obscurity, legends like Missy Elliott essentially retired, Lauryn Hill was tardy to the party as usual, and many newer acts, despite talent, just couldn’t compete with Nicki’s massive marketing budget.
Nicki was essentially queen by default.
But things changed in recent years – Remy Ma returned to the scene, wiping the floor with Nicki in a rap battle. Rapsody, while not yet a mainstream force, would release an album that immediately resonated with black women in America. And of course, Cardi B rose to prominence, proving to be much more likable and relatable to fans weary of Nicki’s mean girl persona.
For the first time in her career, Nicki started facing legit competition, and it didn’t take long for her to crack under pressure. She threw tantrums on Twitter, broke down in tears in interviews, egged on her fanbase to cyberbully detractors and even got a writer fired for offering honest criticism.
I wish y’all WOULD try to mess up MY 401K.
Sure, Nicki still has a downright fanatical (and borderline insane) fanbase, the tepid response to early singles from Queen, her fourth solo album, proved that many longtime fans are growing weary of both her antics and her material.
Basically, her fans are growing up. And she isn’t.
Queen might be Nicki’s last shot to maintain relevancy in a changing hip-hop landscape. Unfortunately, her big master plan seems to be DO WHAT I ALWAYS DO ON EVERY ALBUM.
Not a good move.
At 19 tracks and well over an hour Queen is a very bloated experience but it’s not without its strong points. By the time this post publishes, “Barbie Dreams” will be the focus of every think piece for the next week. Nicki reimagines Biggie’s classic track “Dreams,” giving her a chance to playfully pick on all the mainstream rappers who want to bed her. Nicki’s put-downs are perfect for today’s meme-addicted culture (“Had to cancel DJ Khaled, boy, we ain’t speaking/Ain’t no fat n**** telling me what he ain’t eatin'”) but it’s not as revolutionary as your little sister n’ dem may proclaim, especially when Lil Kim used the same formula to similar effect.
First single “Chun Li” actually is one of the better Minaj singles in years, with hyperactive horns that give her a different sound. And in one of the biggest surprises of 2018, Nicki goes bar-for-bar with Foxy Brown on the album closer “Coco Chanel” and the duo make a great combo. Foxy hasn’t lost a step with her patois flow, and Nicki rides the beat expertly. She hasn’t sounded this motivated in years.
Too bad that motivation doesn’t last through most of the rest of the album, which is filled with A-list production, major guest stars and Nicki going through the motions.
Nicki’s beat selection is pretty stellar. The tropical production on the opener “Ganja Burns” is pretty addictive but the goodwill is ruined by a mumbly hook and bloated runtime. “Bed” and “Thought I Knew You,” featuring Ariana Grande and The Weeknd, respectively, sound tailor-made for radio but Nicki herself sounds bored laying the track down.
I mean, the beat to “Good Form” was so hot I thought Nicki found Mannie Fresh’s phone number (it’s actually produced by Mike Will Made It and Pluss) but the cornball lyrics just ruin everything: “See a b**** get more press than a key pad/Before you suck me off, get a knee pad.”
Is this your queen?
Queen is overloaded with generic trap tracks – “Rich Sex,” “Hard White,” “Sir,” “Miami” – and none leave an impression. Eminem shows up on “Majesty” to deliver is his frantic “Rap God” flow but it doesn’t work well over the sparse piano beat. And with brain dead, homophobic lines like “they switchin’ like sissies now,” Nicki’s immaturity overshadows any assistance Em brings to the table.
And speaking of immature, what is up with Swae Lee’s voice on “Chun Swae?” Is the playa going through puberty? He sounds like he caught a football straight to the balls.
Reaction to Queen has been very interesting online. Judging from the dire reviews from formerly hardcore Nicki fans, I expected to hate the album. However, I don’t. Despite the laundry list of flaws, most of the tracks are somewhat listenable and several songs would be much better if the concepts was fleshed out a bit. “LLC,” for example, takes one witty line (“I just took her name and made the b**** a LLC”) and immediately drops the concept. What could have been fun just becomes another run-of-the-mill Minaj song.
At the end of “Chun Swae” Nicki goes on this bizarre rant, literally screaming “You’re in the middle of Queen right now, thinking “I see why she called this s*** Queen! This b**** is really the f***ing queen!” cackling like she’s got to rob a bank before Batman shows up. It comes off pretty sad – Nicki spends the entire album trying to convince fans – and herself – that she’s really rap royalty.
And while Queen isn’t much better or worse than the typical Nicki album, I think her once-loyal fans have grown up. They’re just too getting old to play-dress up with Barbie.
Best tracks: “Chun Li,” “Barbie Dreams,” “Coco Chanel”
3 stars out of 5