REVIEW: Nicki Minaj – ‘The Pinkprint’


Artist: Nicki Minaj
Album: The Pinkprint
Genre: Hip-Hop
Label: Young Money

Whenever new material from Nicki Minaj arrives online people are quick to ask whether the pop star’s delivery falls under the category of ‘radio’ or ‘mixtape’ Minaj. The former is typically viewed a hook-heavy club offering, while the latter tends to refer to tracks where Minaj drops all pop sensibility in preference of her hip-hop roots. The Pinkprint is a perfect combination of both, though I would argue that it offers the least radio ready collection of tracks Nicki has shared with fans to date. That’s not a complaint, but it is different, and that alone should make those left on the fence about the latest from Young Money’s queen curious about what her new material has in store.

At its heart, The Pinkprint is a bold and often heartbreakingly honest portrait of lovers torn asunder under the heart of Hollywood lights. It plays like a concept album of sorts, albeit one with a very loose premise, and it traces Nicki’s story from 2006 to the present day with one tumultuous relationship holding everything together. I guess that means we have Safaree Samuels, the rapper’s ex, to thank for the latest incarnation of Nicki Minaj. Without his highly-publicized separation from the pop star there is no telling what this record might have become, especially after one considers the diverse singles shared by Minaj earlier in the year.

Starting with the introduction, which finds Minaj riding a midtempo production, Nicki touches on her life, the path she has carved for herself, and the sacrifices made to reach the place she finds herself today. There are references to everything from signing her deal, to being proposed to back in 2006, and even a few lines that seem to hint at a possible abortion or miscarriage (“My child with Aaron, would’ve been sixteen, any minute). It’s the kind of brutally honest offering that rarely surfaces on any hip-hop release, let alone one created by someone with multiple top 40 singles under their belt, and it’s one of the best moments on the entire record.

If the rest of The Pinkprint played with the kind of heartfelt honesty and no holds barred lyricism of the opening number it may have been one of the year’s greatest releases. Unfortunately, the album quickly becomes lost in a struggle to deliver heartfelt semi-ballads alongside potential radio singles that never quite add up to a wholly satisfying experience. While “I Lied” and “The Crying Game” start things off on a rather admirable note, the Ariana Grande collaboration “Get On Your Knees” is a messy concoction of airy vocals and filth that goes absolutely nowhere. People will be quick to say the Beyonce collaboration that follows, which is hashtag-ready with title “Feeling Myself,” makes up for this misstep, but it’s equally underwhelming. Both queen B and Nicki have plenty of talent to offer, but this track comes across as a desperate attempt to push conventional songwriting structures in an attempt to sound edgy. The only problem is that neither vocalist has anything all that interesting to say that hasn’t been heard on half a dozen other tracks. We all know these two powerhouses are women who are capable of anything, so simply reiterating this message is not enough to make another hit. We need more, and both vocalists (should) know that.

The bottom of The Pinkprint arrives with “Only,” but the word on that track’s lack of mass appeal has been out for a while. It’s the perfect example of three amazingly talented people giving one another far too much freedom in the booth. The idea of a track intended to squash rumors about Nicki sleeping with label mates is a good one, but the way it’s handled never quite connects the way each emcee would be able to on their own. This is due in part to the fact the chorus has nothing in common with the verses, as well as the fact the subject matter is far too serious for the numerous references to tearing the club up when the song plays. It’s just bad.

The middle of The Pinkprint is when Nicki and her various collaborators really begin to shine. “Want Some More” finds the girl who was shattered along with her broken heart at the top of the album beginning to find her confidence once again, which is a theme that carries over to “Four Door Aventador.” Minaj talks about getting movie money and the ways it makes haters turn Kevin Hart and start acting funny, as well as the numerous reasons she doesn’t need a man to fulfill her needs. You could claim it’s all a rouse intended to detract from the heartache she feels inside, but it’s delivered with such ease you may find it hard to care either way. If you do want more emotion, however, you won’t have to wait long as the stellar Meek Mill collaboration “Buy A Heart” closes the second act of The Pinkprint with a swift gut punch to the feels no one will be able to shake.

The final chunk of The Pinkprint is the least appealing section of the entire record, yet it contains most of the more mainstream tracks on the album. “Trini Dem Girls” and “Anaconda” kick things off with a forgettable selection of booty-shaking anthems. It can be said that “Anaconda” makes a bit more sense in the context of the album, as does the later offering “Pills N Potion,” but neither necessarily feels any more lasting as a result of being included in the final Pinkprint track listing. If anything, you listen to each once, along with the songs that fall in between, then move on forever. Radio has ruined these singles and the songs that support them offer little to make you desire to revisit the end of the record again any time soon. I will say, however, that the heartstring pulling delivery on “Grand Piano” is something everyone should spend time with in the coming months. It’s the furthest thing from the Nicki that gave us “Anaconda” you could possibly imagine, but it’s just as good, if not ten times better than the material from Minaj that typically finds its way to radio.

When all is said and done Nicki Minaj stands, as she always does, with pride in her own accomplishments and the belief that there is no stopping her rise to the top of hip-hop greatness. That may be true, but walking away from The Pinkprint it’s hard to feel like we’ve heard an album that is truly 100% born from the mind of Nicki Minaj. I have a theory that Nicki delivered an eleven or twelve track version of The Pinkprint to Young Money for approval, then returned to the studio and wrote several additional tracks for the sole purpose of gaining more traction at radio. It cannot be proven, of course, but listening to The Pinkprint it’s clear Minaj has a lot of serious thoughts and feelings she wishes to share with her fans. When the songs lacking this depth and meaning hit, it’s rather obvious they don’t fit into the flow of the record as well as everything else, which in turn takes an emotionally complex record that will already struggle to hold the attention of many pop music listeners and adds an element of inconsistency that makes the whole affair far less enjoyable than it ought to be. With a few less tracks, The Pinkprint could have been something truly special. As is, it’s still the best album Nicki Minaj has produced so far.

SCORE: 7.5/10
Review written by James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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