Originally posted at The Well Versed

Female MCs have often had a contentious relationship with hip hop. During the Golden Age, a handful of female rhyme sayers busted through the glass ceiling of the boys club to attain critical and commercial prominence. Salt N Pepa masterfully rode the line between sex symbols (“Push It,” “Shoop”) and cultural commentators (“Let’s Talk About Sex”) while Queen Latifah and Roxanne Shante showed that the ladies had as much—if not more—to contribute as their male counterparts (“Ladies First” and “Roxanne’s Revenge” respectively).

As hip hop evolved, so did a woman’s place in it. The most memorable and charismatic female MCs of the 90s,Lil Kim and Foxy Brown, would be remembered more for what they weren’t wearing than for what they were spitting. Lauryn Hill emerged as the premiere talent on the mic and Eve hung line for line as a member of the Ruff Ryders. The age of the video vixen saw female sexuality take center stage as T&A overtook the importance of hot sixteens and very great songs. The vision of the woman as eye candy first and MC last seemed to dominate the discussion of Venus’ role in hip hop culture.

Enter Nicki Minaj.

A member of Lil Wayne’s Young Money collective, Minaj is a mash up of sorts; a living monument to women in hip hop throughout the three decades plus history of the culture. To see Nicki only through the lens of her sexuality is to only see half of her. And to see her only through the lens of the rhymes she spits still doesn’t paint a complete picture. Her highly anticipated debut, Pink Friday, gives the world a glimpse into the mind of Harajuku Barbie.

Fans interested in hard rhymes a la the Nicki from Kanye West’s “Monster” are going to be disappointed. With the exception of the Eminem assisted “Roman’s Revenge,” the largely forgettable “Did It On Em” and “Here I Am” (truly one of the album’s gems), Minaj opts for tracks suited more for Top 40 than Urban radio formats.

As blatantly pop as the album sounds Minaj succeeds because none of these tracks—even the less than stellar ones—sound forced. Rihanna lends her talents to “Fly” and the two craft a girl-power anthem likely to resonate with teens and tweens. Not exactly this writer’s cup of tea, but this is coming of age music for a demographic five to ten years my junior. On “Save Me,” Nicki forgoes rapping all together, calling out for a partner with lines like, “It’s not your fault I’m a bitch, I’m a monster/Yes I’m a beast and I feast when I conquer.” Play husband Drake drops in for “Moment 4 Life” and the pair demolish the T-Minus production.

The album is not without its missteps. While will.i.am has been able to carve out a niche with the pop soundscapes, “Check It Out” is an overdose of bubblegum. Lead-off single “Your Love” is also one that will resonate with the puppy love crowd, but if we were to judge Minaj off this single alone, she wouldn’t be around next year like Craig Mack.

Thankfully, the false starts are kept to a minimum. “Dear Old Nicki” is a standout track that finds the femme fatale lamenting her new, multiple personality driven, colorful image at the expense of the hard rhyme spitting Nicki that many die hard hip hop fans got to know early on in her career. The love letter to her former self finds wonderfully explaining the delicate balancing act an artist goes through while trying to “keep it real” vs. artistic growth: “You was the Braveheart, you stole Wayne’s heart/You never switched it up, you played the same part/ But I needed to grow and I needed to know/That there were some things inside of me that  I needed to show/So I deaded you, left you in all black/But damn old Nicki, please call back.

At the end of the day, Pink Friday straddles the line between fantasy and reality. It plays part like the imagination of a girl who can be whatever she wants to be in her bedroom mirror, only to go into introspective mode when she knows people are watching. While Pink Friday is a solid effort with no dull moments, I can only hope that hip hop hasn’t seen the last of Dear Old Nicki.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5



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