Here’s a statistic I’ve just made up: 30% of undergraduates at the University of Exeter (academic year: 2014-2015) have had a lunch in The Ram marred by an intrusive showing of the Anaconda music video on Sub TV. I have no empirical backing for this claim, just a hunch; although it could have just been me who’s experienced this problem – it did really ruin my curly fries. In all seriousness though, I didn’t come to Nicki Minaj’s (a.k.a. Onika Tanya Maraj) second album, The Pinkprint, with a blinkered, negative conception. Far from it. After all, her verse on Monster with Kanye West was indisputably awesome, whilst Superbass remains one of my guilty pleasures. Therefore, you could say that, in the loosest terms, I’m a ‘fan’ of Minaj, and that may have tempered my view of the album, because I think it’s pretty good. It’s by no means a classic, but it certainly serves to demonstrate Nicki’s talent as a rapper, whilst occasionally proving itself to be remarkably intelligent.
To mythbust briefly, The Pinkprint isn’t an album of tracks in the vein of Anaconda or Pound The Alarm, with the minimal, repetitious structuring of the former being the only discernible parallel to the majority of the content. Indeed, The Pinkprint is remarkably highbrow, exemplified in the deployment of demanding autobiographical material. All Things Go, which frames the album, is particularly striking in this regard, as Minaj revisits the death of her cousin, a marriage proposal, and her abortion as a teenager, making for an emphatically genuine opening gambit. As Minaj/Maraj asserts in the excellent collaboration with Beyonce, Feeling Myself, the mask is off.
Autobiographical elements are by no means rare in hip-hop, so what really sets The Pinkprint apart from the masses is an intrusive trope of self-reflection, which crystallises a welcome auxiliary level to the album’s content. As the vast majority of mainstream discussion of Anaconda demonstrates, Minaj has an intensely sexualised, one-dimensional image in the contemporary zeitgeist, and tracks such as the aforementioned Feeling Myself facilitate a welcome assessment of this construction. Juxtaposed with Beyonce’s triumphant hook, “I’m feeling myself”, Minaj evokes these representations throughout her three verses, before climatically asserting her own technical skill with “Just on this song alone, b**** is on her fourth flow”. This sudden, disorientating insight into the impressive aesthetic of her delivery is endemic of the talent that the majority of commentators are to quick to dismiss in lieu of discussion of ‘sex-sells’ with Minaj. Ultimately, this serves as an attempt to reclaim her global super-stardom through emphasis of her talent alongside public image, rather than the more common dismissal of her success as being due to the latter. By far the highlight of the album, Feeling Myself, admittedly concealed in typically garish content for the most part, is a remarkably mature and intelligent act of self-reflection.
Kindly (or sadistically), I was given the deluxe version of The Pinkprint, and whilst I won’t concentrate on the extra tracks, this mammoth tracklist does serve to further illustrate my main criticism of the album: that it’s in desperate need of cutting back. Whilst Anaconda, All Things Go, and Only (a welcome collaboration with Drake and Lil’ Wayne) are well worth a listen, there’s a lot of dross in this work. Pills N Potions and Get On Your Knees (which features Ariana Grande) both prove to be especially unconvincing. It’s a shame, because The Pinkprint could, and probably should, cement Nicki Minaj as the best female rapper in the world at the moment, providing an integral foil to the common discourse on her in present conversation, especially in the wake of Anaconda. However, the removal of the mask is depressingly marred by the length of the album and far too many average-to-dud tracks that surface, especially towards the end. Still, it has made me appreciate her aesthetic far more, although I’d far rather have the inevitable video to Feeling Myself on over lunchtime than the cringe-inducing Anaconda.