Nicki Minaj is free to turn pop artist if she chooses. To be fair, she makes for a delightfully weird one.
When the Trinidad-born, Queens-bred rapper gets on the mic, she spits in such a bewildering array of accents – faux cockney, Caribbean, streetwise American – it’s impossible to tell which is the real one. The most brazenly absurd MC since Busta Rhymes, she’s earned her plaudits for her skills as much as for her style. On Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, she holds her own against such masters of the form as Cam’ron, with the thundering track I am your Leader, as well as with Lil Wayne on Sex in the Lounge (where Bobby V artlessly trumpets the submissive gender stereotypes that Minaj defies by her very existence).
Sucks to be hip-hop, then, because based on much of Reloaded, Minaj’s second studio album, the strongest female MC since Missy Elliott (no diss intended – she’s better than dozens of male MCs as well) is only marginally interested in rap music.
You get far less attention at fashion shows and on the top 40 as a rapper than you do as a diva, and lines like “Raggedy Ann could never be a Barbie” prove that nobody puts Nicki in a corner. Hence Reloaded’s glut of plasticine dance-pop such as Starships, where Minaj sounds like a guest on her own album, taking a back seat to the synthesizer licks that sound like hairspray cans exploding.
There’s nothing wrong with pop, of course, but Minaj is no singer. The melodies of syrupy ballads such as Young Forever sound so Auto-Tuned they might as well be performed by the animatronic Disneyland robots Minaj somewhat resembles. It’s easy to conceive that her producers are hoarding their best beats for better vocalists.
Worse is the disappointment of a performer blowing open the doors that seem to close automatically behind every stellar female MC who comes along and seizes the spotlight as a rapper, only to retreat into singing (sadly, a much more acceptable role for women in music). The intensely strange Gun Shot finds her trading patois with dancehall superstar Beenie Man over a syrupy groove that defies the rude bwoy lyrics, but it’s obvious what the roles they’re being slotted into are: boy = rapper, girl = singer.
There’s a downside for the Minaj marketing machine, too. Minaj is perfectly welcome to pursue whatever she likes on a musical level, but that doesn’t mean she’s good at both roles. It might be a wise marketing move to pad out the rough rap joints with dance-pop tunes that are more in vogue than rap is right now. In the long term, it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to buy an all-singing Nicki Minaj album when they have Beyoncé, Rihanna and the like to choose from. To paraphrase Lauryn Hill, someone who, in her prime, managed to occupy both the rapper and singer roles without one ever really eclipsing the other: Why be a hard rock if you really are a gem?
Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded
- Nicki Minaj
- Universal Republic/Young Money/Cash Money
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