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Nicki’s fourth studio album contains some of her best rapping yet, but is held back by several bland pop songs.
When Nicki Minaj released Chun-Li as the lead single to her new album back in April, it appeared to be a second wind for her career. It’s a hard-hitting hip-hop banger, which plays to Nicki’s skills as a rapper. Finally, she was ditching the misjudged attempts at pop-rap and sticking to what she’s best at; or at least that’s what I thought. Sadly, that’s not exactly the case, at least not for the whole album.
Queen should have been Nicki’s moment to reclaim her crown as the top female MC in the game, following the meteoric rise of rival rapper Cardi B. After being the reigning queen of hip-hop for practically the entire decade, Nicki finally has competition. However, Queen is not the homerun that Chun-Li (and the album title) promised it to be.
Same Pop Formula
Nicki’s talents as a rapper have never been questionable, but she’s never had a classic album because of her insistence on catering to the mainstream by following trends and collaborating with the wrong people. She burst onto the scene in 2010 with her standout verse on Kanye West’s Monster, but just two years later she was releasing mediocre pop hits like Starships.
Sadly, Nicki is still following the same formula, excellent hip-hop songs stand alongside chart-chasing pop collaborations; she even sings a ballad on the misjudged Come See About Me. Frustratingly, sometimes the excellent verses and annoying pop hooks appear on the same song; such as on Majesty, with its dated hook and piano courtesy of Labrinth.
Ultimately, as critical as I am being of this album, most of it is still very good. When Nicki is provided with the right beat she sounds as sharp as ever. The songs focused on straightforward rapping are where she truly shines, such as Barbie Dreams, on which she repurposes the beat from an old Biggie song to ruthlessly diss the top rappers in the game. It is a fearless and hilarious song, showing the wit and ferocity she showed when she first became popular years ago.
Not all the attempts at pop hits fall flat, album opener Ganja Burns, and the Swae Lee-featuring Chun Swae excellently balance Nicki’s verses with catchy hooks and beats. These are examples of pop coming to Nicki, rather than her going to pop; appealing to the mainstream without sacrificing any of her hip-hop credibility.
Hip-Hop Takes The Cake
Ironically, it’s the hardest hip-hop bangers on the album which have been the most popular songs so far. Chun-Li and Barbie Dreams being more popular than the mediocre collaborations with Ariana Grande and The Weeknd. Now that hip-hop is the biggest genre in music, there’s no longer a need for rappers to make pop.
At 19 songs, Queen is almost like an overlong playlist rather than a cohesive album. Perhaps the purpose is to simply choose your favourite songs and discard of the rest, but it’s hard to imagine forgettable songs such as Run & Hide being anyone’s favourite. Queen isn’t Nicki’s defining statement as a rapper, but it could have been if she just cut it down to 12 songs.
By Peter Comiskey
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