November 29, 2010

nicki_minaj_pink_friday_cover_art.jpg

Sach O can’t believe he’s reviewing this one either.

Lets tackle the elephant in the room right off the bat. This thing is girly. In parts, super-girly. Additionally, it’s got a LOT of trance synths, you know, that “Ibiza 98 club mix” sound that you mercilessly mocked your muscle-shirt wearing cousin for enjoying. If any of the above is a deal-breaker, don’t bother with Pink Friday and go straight to Kanye/Roc Marci/Curren$y/whatever rap you actually enjoy. You’ll thank me later (No Drake).

For everyone else that’s still reading, Pink Friday is alternately thrillingly creative and mind-numbingly boring. It’s the type of debut that hints at Nicki Minaj’s vast potential should she step back from industry expectations and an extremely frustrating desire to fit into the mold. At her best, Nicki combines Missy Elliot’s genre-bending fearlessness, early Eminem’s theatrical playfulness and relentless drive, and Lil Kim’s bad bitch persona into something wholly unique. At her worst, she’s Rihanna 2.0 with rap skills. Subsequently, Pink Friday is the sort of album begging for an iTunes level dissection: the good stuff stays, the lesser material gets banished to your computer’s recycling bin and some of the mixtape stuff that didn’t make the album gets brought back into the fold.

First, the good: the album opens with “I’m the Best” which leapfrogs the typical dramatic intro track by virtue of its synth-laden beat and anthemic chorus. Unlike most rappers still relying on Autotune as a crutch for poor singing, Nicki uses it to harmonize, merging her vocals to the synths and nearly sending the song into dream-pop territory. If you ever wondered what a particularly bombastic Cocteau Twins song might sound like with 808s and Lil Kim raps, well now you know: pretty awesome. The follow up “Roman’s Revenge” features Nicki’s best performance on the album as she destroys the aforementioned Kim and arguably murders Eminem on his own shit – his technically amazing but constipated-sounding performance coming off as stilted and forced compared to her snarky disses.

From there, it’s hit or miss: “Did it on Em” is solid Hip-Hop while “Save Me” sounds like something off the Garden State soundtrack with Drum & Bass drums (in a good way.) “Here I Am” and “Moment for Life” are the album’s more introspective joints with the former winning by virtue of NOT featuring Drake and a beat alternately switching from a frozen-synth driven roller to a bombastic, burning pop tune. “Blazin”, “Dear Old Nicki” and “Last Chance” are probably too pop to appeal to anyone still looking at Hip-Hop from a 90’s perspective, but taken for what they are, they’re excellent examples 2K10 rap pushing it forward. Basically, Nicki’s at her best when she’s on beats so far removed from typical Hip-Hop that we have no choice but to evaluate it on her own merits: Pink Friday’s best moments hint at the potential for rap’s biggest club album in a minute. The fact that she can also rap with the best of em, leaving horrible electro-femcees like Uffie or Kid Sister in the dust, is just an added bonus.

The problem is that half of this album is really terrible, conventional pop-R&B. “Right Thru Me”, “Fly” and “Your Love” are nauseatingly saccharine and will elicit immediate skips from any listener with a Y chromosome. Worst, “Check it Out” featuring Will I AM is a pathetic example of uber-cheesy electro-pop that’ll make anyone with a modicum of taste want to slap the living shit out of her A&R and the radio programmers that push this fetid crap on listeners. The saddest part it, these are the songs that’ll inevitably help Nicki blow up and reach her audience. Let’s just hope her second album doesn’t just retread these low points 15 times.

Throw in some of the material from the album’s bonus disc (Massive Attack, Super Bass, Blow Your Mind) and remove some of the cornier material and there’s all the fixings here for a strong official debut from a female emcee, something Hip-Hop hasn’t seen in a minute. Though it doesn’t always work, and when it doesn’t the results are absolutely unlistenable, Pink Friday is well intentioned and features its fair share of good ideas, justifying the level of hype it’s gotten despite more attention being directed to Minaj’s wardrobe than to her music. I’m still reserving judgement as she’s one wrong-move away from going in an awful direction, but should Nicki REALLY want to push things further next go around, she could be a serious problem.

I can’t believe I actually wrote that last line.

Download:
MP3: Nicki Minaj ft. Sean Garrett-“Massive Attack”

MP3: Nicki Minaj-“Massive Resmak” (Rustie Remix)

MP3: Nicki Minaj ft. Eminem-“Roman’s Revenge”  (Left-Click)