I was content to ride out 2010 listening to nothing but Kanye West’s brilliant new release, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Being the patriotic American that I am, though, I felt obligated to make some sort of Black Friday purchase – so, appropriately enough, I scooped up Pink Friday (and yes, I tried for several minutes to work a “Blue Monday” reference into this sentence, to no avail).
Along with Fantasy and Drake’s Thank Me Later, Nicki Minaj’s debut rounded out a trio of the year’s most anticipated hip-hop albums. And though Pink Friday has been dwarfed by coverage of Fantasy – I’ve been genuinely shocked by how it’s held its own in my iPod rotation.
Despite all the hype surrounding Pink Friday, there were legitimate doubts that Minaj’s skills could translate into a quality album: In her superb guest verses, she showcases a confusing array of split personalities, each with its own odd tics, intonations and sound. They make for fun cameos, but when it comes to sustaining an entire album, that shtick would get old quickly.
Thankfully, Minaj seems hyper-aware of the fact that after transforming for each guest appearance, no one really understands yet who she is. Whereas Lil Wayne’s recent release is titled I Am Not a Human Being, Minaj’s might as well be named I Actually Am a Human Being and Not a Montage of Contrived Novelty Characters.
It’s fitting, then, that the best tracks on Friday are the ones where Minaj goes it alone. She may have blown West and Jay-Z out of the water with her stint on West’s “Monster,” declaring “You may be the king, but watch the queen conquer,” but on her own disc, she shows more vulnerability – following up with the caveat, “I’m alone on my thrown … baby I can feel myself giving up” on “Save Me.” Some might find that kind of revelation disappointing from a woman who’s supposed to keep pace with the big boys – but in fact, it’s a refreshingly humanizing admonition.
In other ways, Minaj does succeed in being one of the guys. She echoes Jay-Z and other hip-hop stalwarts in describing her crackhead father, her pride in being able to buy her mom a house, and her triumph over naysaying haters – and in doing so proves that none of those are acts reserved exclusively for male artists. She also enlists Rihanna and Natasha Bedingfield when she’s in need of girlier hooks – in the same way Drake bucked expectations by singing many of the softer refrains on his album himself, Minaj suggests that just because she’s a woman doesn’t mean she needs to waste time crooning.
The standout track is the opener, “I’m the Best,” where she combines West-level bravado with a touch of female savvy, admitting, “I hope they’re coming for me, because the top is lonely.” Just like Amy Poehler’s “SNL” version of Hillary Clinton hit the nail on the head when she declared, “I didn’t want to be the first female president; I wanted to be president, and I just happen to be female,” Minaj says “I’m the best bitch doing it” – and we know she means the best bitch of either gender.