November 5, 2014

Kyle Ellison hasn’t worn pink since Cam left the Roc.

We’re now ten months into 2014 and the only Cash Money record you can buy in stores is the ironically titled Young Money compilation, Rise of an Empire. Tha Carter V is missing in action, The Pinkprint has been pushed back again and Tyga is being kept in captivity despite managing to convince Kanye to executive produce his album. Meanwhile, Busta parted ways with the label this summer and Mystikal joined him shortly after, leaving DJ Khaled, Euro and Limp Bizkit to hold the fort. Where art thou Gudda Gudda?

Sure enough, it was left to Sir Francis Drake to plug the holes in the sinking ship, but the three songs he dripped onto the internet last week had all the consistency of a raspberry liqueur. You may like raspberry liqueur, but it’s not much good for mending a leaky boat. Nicki Minaj’s “Only”, then, is the sound of the reinforcements being summoned. Wayne and Aubrey are here to complete rap’s most bankable trio and they’ve brought Chris Brown along for the ride as well – a man who could seemingly urinate gleefully into the expectant faces of his fanbase and continue to sell records by the metric ton. The song was produced by Dr Luke, whose medical credentials I’ve long since begun to doubt, but who remains a reliable hitmaker of mostly tedious hits.

Like the two before it, Nicki’s third Pinkprint single feels hopelessly cynical. “Pills and Potions” was an audaciously transparent bit of product placement barely disguised under a belting Katy Perry-like hook. “Anaconda”, whatever you make of its politics, saw Nicki’s focus so fiercely concentrated on spawning viral #content that she forgot to write a likeable song. Now there’s “Only”, which again fails to amount to a rap song you’d actually want to listen to, trading instead on the megalomaniacal notion that listeners are dying for the scoop on a Young Money ménage à trois. It’s everything you hated about playing ‘I Have Never’, except I’m not even drunk and Drake is in the room staring intensely at Nicki’s tits.

It’s hard to see what’s in this narrative for Drake, who – like in the video for “Anaconda” – is left rooted to his chair like an awkward George Michael Bluth, lusting after the cousin he can’t have. His verse is uncomfortably frank, and his weird boasts of rejection are complete with a line about his sexual preference for BBW girls who he can take for linguine. To be fair, Wayne’s part in this bizarrely constructed love triangle is not much better, but his verse at least quickly goes off topic before disintegrating into loose wordplay and blind threats. Chris Brown, meanwhile, sings something on the hook. It doesn’t appear to be related. 

For Nicki’s part, she does a good job of stealing the power away from rap’s male stars, but her verse also disappoints. Overly familiar lyrical ideas have now been rehashed to the point of frustration (“These girls are my sons, John and Kate plus Eight”), while other punchlines miss the mark entirely (“These hoes couldn’t test me even if their name was pop quiz”). Nicki has ditched the characters, voices and the plasticity, but she hasn’t replaced it with anything to win over rap purists. Dr Luke’s’s beat lumbers on, threatening to throw in the towel at every turn. Remove Nicki’s celebrity from the lyrics and what are you left with? “Only” wants to be seen as a response to the prying eye of the media, but it’s practically catnip for gossip columnists. 

I’ve come to accept by now that there’s a portion of Nicki’s output not aimed at me, but the problem is that this song probably is. “Only” is certainly the closest of the album’s three singles to the rappity-rap Minaj promised at the top of the year, but with a concept this cringe-inducing and a beat this mind-blowingly boring it never stood a chance. As great as they were, “Lookin Ass” and “Yasss Bish” are beginning to look firmly like pre-album material, while The Pinkprint is worryingly now 0 for 3.

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