There is no debate. Nicki Minaj is the queen of rap. When her 2014 album The Pinkprint dropped, I praised her lyrical growth and improved writing. Tracks such as “Four Door Aventador” and “Pills and Potions” prove that. Her charisma on the mic stands alone. The ability to capture grit and animation is a rare one indeed. Few artists of Nicki’s caliber master opposite ends of that spectrum. It’s a difficult task. On one track, Nicki’s alter egos take over; on another, her New York roots shine. While her talent is unquestionable, Minaj’s music splits listeners down the middle. On her debut she melded pop and rap in a fresh way. Nicki’s presence brought new life into the game. Eight years later, she reigns supreme as the top female emcee. Yet now, for the first time in a while, there is competition afoot. It doesn’t seem to matter nonetheless.
Despite exciting newcomers like Cardi B and Young M.A, they don’t quite measure up. As far as talent goes, Rapsody is the only lady rapper I place on Nicki’s level. Lyrically they soar above their competition. But why does it always have to come to this woman versus that woman? Nicki Minaj is the best Young Money rapper. Varieties of flows, rhyme schemes and punchlines prove to me she can make a classic rap album. As much as I love Rapsody’s last record she doesn’t have the audience to release a universal classic. I must say Lailah’s Wisdom is brilliant, though. Conversely, Minaj has countless fans across the globe. Affectionately nicknamed “Barbs,” they’ve helped Nicki acquire numerous plaques in her nine-year major label career. The tenured songstress makes sure to shout out her fans on her records. Queen is no exception. It’s an album every die-hard Nicki fan will cherish.
Some of her best work to date resides here. The album amassed four singles prior to its release. My favorite of the bunch was “Barbie Tingz“. I was salty when it wasn’t added to this tracklist. It’s one helluva promo single. Additionally, “Chun-Li” knocked my socks off. Although she has many hits to her name “Chun-Li” is Nicki’s finest rap effort. “Ayo, I been on, bitch you been corn / Bentley tints on, Fendi prints on … Ayo, I been north, Lara been Croft / Plates say Chun-Li, drop the Benz off.” Ladies and gentlemen, that flow is untouchable. Me writing it does not do it justice. Nicki oozes personality with minimal effort yet maximal execution. Many times on Queen she answered my prayers. This includes “Barbie Dreams,” a tongue-in-cheek thrill ride of hip-hop references. Young Thug, Lil Uzi, Drake, Desiigner — no one is safe from Nicki’s all-in-good-fun assault.
Despite some amazing moments here, this album suffers from inconsistency. When Nicki raps, she nails most of the vibes presented. However, her fans have many tastes. And she feels the need to appease to nearly all of them. Many of the features on Queen haven’t a lick of studio chemistry. Whether their verses were in-person or e-mailed, I do not know. Either way, no one seemed to give a rat’s ass about theme or purpose. The songwriting associated with “Thought I Knew You” with The Weeknd, “Sir” with Future, and “Chun Swae” with Swae Lee is mundane at best. Also, Nicki’s pop performances underwhelmed me. I’ve always enjoyed her voice. But it must be housed by the right melody and soundscape to truly connect. Everybody feels a way about Nicki and her music. Personally, I prefer her raps. I understand why she branches out. Her brand is larger than life.
And her talent is diverse. She should never feel like she needs to box herself in. I applaud Nicki for creating art how she wants regardless of the naysayers. That doesn’t mean I enjoy all of her music, however. Most of the material here is forgettable. This production team perform well throughout the majority of the record, but fall utterly flat on occasion. “Majesty,” though, is my favorite instrumental here. Typically I hate bubblegum choruses like this, but since it’s used sparingly I dig it. I just wish Eminem wasn’t so damn predictable these days. Furthermore, there is no reason for this album to be 19 tracks and 66 minutes in length. Nicki Minaj no longer has to demonstrate her status as queen of rap. Yet she does still need to show that she can create a meticulous, cohesive artistic statement from start to finish.
Where it succeeds in sonic diversity, Queen lacks in vision and clarity. Solid tracks like “Good Form” go unnoticed among the mediocrity of “Nip Tuck,” “Run & Hide,” and “Rich Sex.” I hate to beat a dead horse. But I’m tired of the stream trolling stunts, people. Clearly this album needs to trim some fat to allow Nicki to excel artistically. With such a mixed bag, she makes it hard to return to this album more than once or twice. Unless you’re a Barb, I don’t hear any long-term value. Even though she spits hard as hell on “Rich Sex,” “Miami” and “Majesty,” Nicki enables kinks to slide, which keep them from achieving greatness. Subpar guests, one-dimensional beats or awkward transitions collectively diminish her chance to advance her artistry. After four years of waiting, I expect more quality from top-tier artists. Let’s hope her next album features a more self-aware approach.