To press ‘play’ on The Pinkprint, Nicki Minaj’s third studio album, is to pierce the platinum artist’s heart and experience the beautiful but bloody contents as they come spilling out, sans filter. Minaj’s pulse is palpable in a musical statement that defines exactly where she is in her artistic process: raw and vulnerable, present and unveiled, confident and unapologetic; she steps further out on a creative limb than ever before.
All Things Go, the opening track of this nineteen song epic journey, a slow breathing, spaciously produced synth-rap track, eases in then musically builds, while lyrically hitting on impact with open, reflective honesty that sets the stage. Although the first words Minaj utters are: “Yo, I had to reinvent / I put the V in vent / I put the heat in vents,” the artist seems more so to be uninventing herself, paring down to her core, sharing her soul with fans. After a decade of presenting trend-setting music from behind a mask of tongue and cheek spitfire raps, alter egos, quirky accents, lavish costumes and bright, distracting colors, Nicki Minaj is finally allowing us get to know (the real) Onika Maraj, and it is a pleasure to meet her.
The Pinkprint comes with the confidence of the only female rapper who can flaunt, as she does on (track 7) Want Some More: “You seen that list? It was me, Baby, Jay-Z and Diddy,” in response to Forbes naming her the top female earner in hip-hop. With that confidence, Minaj crosses back and forth from her signature fast flow rap to melodic pop, from R&B to hip-hop, from hard-ass to introspective singer-songwriter who knows that her fans, and the music industry at large, have got her back; and, so, she is free to express herself.
Minaj ’s evolution is evident when comparing the exposed introduction into The Pinkprint with Roman Holiday, the opening track off her last studio album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded; an up-tempo wall of sound yanks us into a circus tent in which the star’s sassy alter ego, Roman, plays ringmaster with a thick British accent and a sardonic tone that veils the actually poignant lyrics of an artist not quite ready to reveal her unarmored, authentic self: “Take your medication, Roman / Take a short vacation, Roman / You’ll be okay,” as she admits to being overwhelmed by a fast-paced, high-profile life.
Minaj has since taken the aforementioned medication and vacation in the form of writing this new album, whereby achieving necessary therapeutic release of some painful issues, rapping about the murder of her little cousin and a teenage abortion in All Things Go; dissolving her tough exterior and confessing to intimacy issues that prevent her from allowing herself to love and be loved in I Lied: “Even though I said I didn’t love you, I lied, I lied, to keep you from breaking my heart.” She goes on to confess that behind her tendencies toward violence hides fear: “You’re just a heart breaker / Won’t let you break mine / ‘Cause I’ll be smashing windows and cutting them brake lines.”
Cinematic, driving and suspenseful, standout track, The Crying Game, with its infectious, plaintive hook, delivered with pristine vocals by UK singer-songwriter, Jessie Ware, grabs from the top and does not let go until the very last note, a bleak portrayal of a painful, doomed relationship “laced with drugs” and “blood dripping out your arm on my Asian rug,” “another slap to the face, another undercut,” Minaj confides with candor, “I’m just abusive by nature, not because I hate ya.”
The Pinkprint offers more than a traditional heart-spill, break-up album as Minaj takes a sharp turn with Get On Your Knees, co-penned by Katy Perry and co-vocalized by Ariana Grande’s sweeping pop pipes. The ladies flex their feminist muscles, assuring men they don’t “need a dozen roses,” “don’t need a pretty poet,” “let me sit on your face, it’s okay you could play with it,” “I’ma need you to beg for it,” seguing into Feeling Myself, a Beyoncé collaboration, ode to masturbation, in which the Flawless pair reunites to insinuate they can take care of themselves and Minaj ensures she, “ain’t gotta rely on top forty, I am a rap legend, just go ask the kings of rap,” “Just on this song alone, bitch is on her fourth flow.”
Only, featuring Drake, Lil Wayne, and Chris Brown, effectively sets up the boys’ guest appearances with the startling declaration, “I never fucked Wayne, I never fucked Drake,” “If I did I’d Minaj wid him and let him eat my ass like a cupcake,” and while it may seem a necessary part of the formula to feature Minaj ’s male counterparts, it feels like a meandering break in the flow of feminine emotional impact that Minaj had successfully been building. Here, the album loses its pacing a bit, facing a challenge to redirect.
Although there are gems, both musically and lyrically, throughout the rest of the album it is apparent that, Minaj, certainly not one to dabble in cliché, hasn’t taken to heart that of “less is more.” Embedded amidst the aimlessness of the second act is Anaconda, the most notable commercial hit off the album to date, which samples Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back and relies on somewhat of a “fart joke” factor in grabbing public attention, not much more than a necessary evil. A selection of tracks could have been omitted, rendering the whole of the listening experience more thematically solid and memorable.
Fortunately, Minaj rounds it off, bringing the composition full circle to its initial impact with reflective, sorrow-tinged, pretty pop ballads like, the album’s first released single, Pills N Potions, Bed of Liesfeat. Skylar Grey and the gorgeous Grand Piano on which the artist refrains from rapping and leans entirely on her vocal chops, which boast an impressive range and absolute control of her instrument, leaving us with a cleansed palette. This is about as naked as we’ve seen this artist and we want more.
Nicki Minaj is a performer who continues to break ground, not only in the music industry, across genres, but also in her personal and artistic development. Hers is a well that runs deep, and after a few listens to Pinkprint, it is clear that she is in no present danger of hitting bottom. If she is not already there, she is heading toward icon status.