While every successful Thanksgiving requires a turkey, it’s the side dishes that complete our belly-busting holiday — mouthfuls of smooth and bready stuffing, or a dollop of tangy cranberry sauce. But fill your whole plate with stuffing, and you’ll just get sick; it’s simply too rich and not at all a balanced meal.
On her debut album, Pink Friday, bombastic rapper Nicki Minaj proves herself to be the stuffing of popular music. She’s spiced up the singles of many an artist lately, helping to raise Jay Sean’s “2012” from mediocrity and Kanye West’s “Monster” to perfection. But when Minaj is the only thing on the plate, it turns out she’s all buttery style and no nutritional substance.
Album opener “I’m The Best” has a flavorful start, as Minaj details her road to fame in that strong New York accent that makes her sound like she’s talking with her mouth full. Hyperactive synths and a hopping electronic beat push the track forward.
For about the first minute of the song, the intriguing echo effect on Minaj’s voice distracts her lyrics — a string of boring boasts and random references. But it soon becomes clear that the only creative or fresh lines of hers are the borderline offensive ones: “Tell ’em bitches get a stick / I’m done leading the blind,” she spits, as we cringe and take note.
Cue “Roman’s Revenge,” a frighteningly intense collaboration of alter-egos. Minaj, as the ultra-violent Roman Zolanski, dominates by earnestly roaring about other things she is (Aladdin, a bad bitch and a movie, to name a few — don’t ask why). Restored to all his disgusting glory, Eminem as Slim Shady peppers the song with lines about S&M and pee. Granted, Minaj can’t always take on the sugary Harajuku Barbie persona from softer songs and on Pink Friday’s cover, but the overdone bitterness of “Roman’s” doesn’t sit right.
Ah, but Minaj is more than just a “bad bitch” — on “Right Thru Me,” she finally reveals her sensitive side. For the most part, the lyrics give an effective look into a relationship in which Minaj is always a step behind, and her singing voice, while hoarse, holds the right amount of tired bewilderment. But wedged among the all-too-purposefully bad-ass morsels that make up Pink Friday, it’s the relative emotional blandness of “Right Thru Me” that’s most noticeable. Changing up the four-note background synth pattern could’ve made a difference, too.
Artistic innovation, though, is not Minaj’s thing. Check out “Check It Out,” which desperately clings to the introductory “oh-oh” wails of “Video Killed the Radio Star” for some shred of musical legitimacy; her well-duh proclamation that “haters, you can kill yourself” isn’t helping.
Or taste-test the mock-reflective “Here I Am,” in which she chants, “I am woman, hear me roar” as if we’ve never heard of a female rapper before. Sure, we’re still a long way from total gender equality, and not just in the realm of hip hop, but Minaj doesn’t seem to understand we’ve reached a point where the mere fact that she is a woman rapper isn’t special enough to make her a good one.
Though Minaj made history last month by hitting the Billboard Top 100 chart with seven simultaneous singles, it’s worth noting that six of them were guest spots; only the vaguely Eastern-accented fantasy chillout “Your Love” was actually hers. She’s stated in interviews that Pink Friday would show a different side of her — more well rounded or filling, perhaps — but the album is nothing but empty calories.