Music Reviews

Nicki Minaj Queen

(Young Money Cash Money) Rating - 6/10

It is Sunday, September 9 and NIcki Minaj's most recent album, Queen, was released almost a month ago on August 10. The album debuted and peaked at number 2 on the Billboard 200, a position no doubt buoyed by rumors of her beef with Cardi B (which as of yesterday escalated into a physical altercation) as well as the manic success of singles Chun-Li, Bed and her infamous collaboration with Tekashi 6ix9ine, FEFE. If any innocent bystanders are reading this review looking for confirmation that the music behind one of rap's most hyped up behemoths is worth the accompanying drama, take a seat and make yourself comfortable. Judging the artistry, aesthetic, and vision of one of the few female rappers of note in a genre noted for its misogyny and toxic masculinity requires the critic to tread carefully (especially considering that Minaj's army of "Barbz" has been known to conduct vicious digital attacks upon overly earnest critics at her behest).

Here's what you need to know about Queen. At 66 minutes, it's lengthy (some might even say overblown). Minaj is an excellent rapper with a flow that can't be matched or imitated, and her songwriting is sharp, but the subject matter of her rhymes is nothing new. Queen is jam-packed with references to wealth, sex, violence and drugs (as rap albums tend to be), but unfortunately, the album is neither cohesive nor particularly original in its approach to these subjects—we're left with nothing but Minaj's bravado and the freshness of her producers' beats to navigate its tracks. But that's okay because most songs truly are bops, and the ones that aren't are just boring and not terrible. If you skip Ganja Burn, Thought I Knew You, Nip Tuck and Come See About Me, you've got yourself a stellar soundtrack for any dancing, drinking, or smoking session.

Listen soberly and intently, however, for some kind of conceptual bottom line, and you'll likely be disappointed: Queen's raison d'être is to make sure listeners walk away knowing that Minaj is a boss bitch and that her rivals are wack. No dimension, no complexity, and no shades of ambiguity are offered to this boss bitch persona, barring the occasional bitter heartbreak over some ex's infidelity. One might argue that Minaj never set out to make concept albums à la Lauryn Hill or Beyoncé, or that not every album needs a narrative thread uniting it in order to be considered good. But at least Lauryn and Beyoncé don't jinx their releases with claims that whatever album is coming up next will be a "classic hip-hop album that nobody will ever forget." Giving Nicki the benefit of the doubt seems wise, considering no one really knows what will become a classic or not, but I will say this: most classic albums of any genre find ways to turn the personal into the universal, the situational into the timeless. While we see plenty of glimmers of brilliance (see Minaj's homage to Tony Montana on Chun Li for example), it's hard to envision people talking about FEFE or Rich Sex as seminal rap songs in ten years' time.

Either way, Queen has the potential to be career-defining, if only its namesake would let it. Currently, Minaj is awash in controversy, much of it surrounding the hypocrisy of her feminist persona in light of her tacit approval of 6ix 9ine's pedophilic past as well as her vaguely slut-shaming comments in a recent Elle magazine interview (not to mention the amount of times she brings up violence against her female rivals in her albums). In a recent (and apparently sarcastic) Twitter rant, she blames Kylie Jenner's baby for inflating Travis Scott's album sales and demoting Queen to #2 on the charts. And as if the pot needed any more stirring, her rabid fanbase makes enemies of everyone, from journalists to icons like Tracy Chapman. Right now, the music feels like a soundtrack to the latest headline rather than the reason for the headline, much like the way Azealia Banks's epic repertoire was always buried under a sludge of PR disasters and bad press.

If the title of the album is any indication, Minaj knows very well that in the current music industry, for one queen to shine, others must be dethroned. On Queen, Nicki spends a lot of time ordering beheadings—which are fun, but get old quick—rather than showing us why she is and should be queen. Here's to hoping the next album gives us a more earnest, more raw glimpse of the head that wears the crown.