Album Review: On Queen, Nicki Minaj Dethrones Herself

Nicki Minaj might be the Donald Trump of rap. She’s overly concerned with her position, her numbers, asserting her superiority, erasing those she dislikes from the past, and attempting to do the same for followers. It’s gotten to the point where she’s so insecure that detractors can expect physical threats from her blindly loyal fanbase on Twitter. Yet, as time goes by, her inferiority continues to fester. Her previously unchallenged position as “Queen of Rap” is clearly in question, and she’s not taking it lightly. She’s so shaken by the challenge she named her album Queen.

Last year Cardi B did what Nicki Minaj has yet to do: Reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Cardi reached the chart’s summit a second time just weeks ago, making her the only female rapper to achieve such a feat. Nicki is, as the kids who follow her say, pressed, and her jabs at Cardi throughout the album make that clear. After much delay and self-anticipation, the ironically titled Queen arrives to demonstrate why Minaj no longer holds said crown.

Make Female Rap Great Again

Let’s clear this up right here and right now: Every woman is a queen in her own right. Imagine if that had been the concept of Queen: Nicki celebrates herself as a queen but also her fellow women. Pack the album with unifying anthems that included everyone from Queen Latifah and Missy Elliott to Cardi B and Cupcakke all the way to Rihanna and Mary J. Blige. But Queen is about the singular, Minaj and done in the most selfish way possible. And it’s tragic. She’s always been about Nicki and no one else. The singular female narrative is tired and regressive. She’s the only one pushing it, and now that she’s not the only one, it makes her look insecure and insignificant. She proves she’s both on Queen, asserting the aforementioned dominance while attempting to diminish any other woman who wants to rap. Queen is filled with now-standard fair for a Minaj album. She asserts her (former) dominance, calls bitches her “sons”, sings with some auto-tune, and overloads her album to the point of nauseam.

One-Two Knockout

The album opens with “Ganja Burn”, a slow burner and well placed intro, solely by virtue of the beat. Nicki starts by taking a pot shot at Cardi B: “I double back, kill bitches, bury the Bardi” (it will be argued that she’s saying “body,” not Cardi’s nickname, though that’s exactly how she verbalized it). Then, she takes aim at the followers she alleges are stealing her style: “you can’t wear a Nicki wig and then be Nicki, that’s like a fat n***a thinkin’ he could be Biggie.” Putting herself next to Biggie, combined with collage after collage that prove a Nicki wig is nothing more than a revamped Kim wig make it clear: Nicki Minaj still wishes she were Lil’ Kim. It’s mind-boggling and laughable that she’s still so concerned with erasing Lil’ Kim’s legacy.

“Majesty” is great and problematic at the same. Despite having a massive LGBT fanbase, Minaj doesn’t have a great track record with the community. She continues that spotty track record by spitting “They switching like sissies now,” recalling her problematic “yeah they switch like faggots” from 2008’s “Dead Wrong” remake. Meanwhile, Eminem who co-produced the track delivers a head-spinning verse, with a rapid fire flow that eviscerates almost all other verses on the album. It’s exactly what to expect from Eminem.

Dreams… Of Being Lil’ Kim

As if it’s not clear enough after a few listens that Queen is dead on arrival, the album’s best song solidifies it. “Barbie Dreams” is a remake of The Notorious BIG’s classic and comedic “Dreams (Just Playin’)”. Nicki previously remade the track on her first mixtape Playtime is Over. It’s largely poignant, playful, and punching. However, the homophobic dig at Young Thug is again, problematic in 2018. As good as it is though, it’s just an update on a classic (that Lil’ Kim already eviscerated over 20 years ago on Hard Core), which Nicki already proved she could master 10 years ago.

If anything, it’s once again an example of Nicki doing something Lil’ Kim has already done, while skirting over an opportunity to acknowledge her. Yes, Biggie did it first, but Kim’s remake was crucial for women in hip hop. Kim straddling and riding a Biggie beat just as (if not more) ferociously, playfully, and sexually forwarded the mentality that women in rap can do it just as well as men. Nicki Minaj continuing to ignore Lil’ Kim forwards the Nicki Minaj agenda and regresses the one for unity in women in hip hop.

At the end of “Barbie Dreams” however, the beat switches and Nicki delivers her best verse of the album. Her flow is impeccable, and her bars are first class. Most importantly, she peels back her unrelenting desire to assert her dominance in her bars and simply lets the bars speak for themselves.

A Queen’s Size Matters, Too

Three out of Nicki Minaj’s four albums clock in at more than 15 songs, and every time it holds her back. She overloads her albums with throwaways and distractions from the better music. This is most evident on Queen. Songs like “Chun Swae”, “Run and Hide”, and “Hard White” (with another Cardi B jab) all weigh Queen down. Meanwhile interludes like the conclusion to “Barbie Dreams” and the “2 Lit 2 Late Interlude” would have thrived as full tracks. The Mike Will Made It production “Good Form” and Chris Braide co-production “Come See About Me” still manage to shine throughout the mess, but these memorable moments are few and far between.

Again concerned with asserting her dominance, she has the audacity to rap “Miss Aretha I think I passed her” on the clunky “Sir” featuring tour mate Future. Nicki is referencing her passing Aretha Franklin for the most entries on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s yet another glaring example of her Trump-esque concern with numbers and superiority. But, the joke’s on her just like Trump’s inaugural crowd-obsession. She may have the most participation trophies on the Hot 100, but again, not once has Nicki Minaj been able to reach the Hot 100’s summit.

One Last Nail In The Coffin

The album’s closer is one of both the best and worst. On “Coco Chanel” Nicki delivers some of her best bars and flows throughout Queen. Once again, she recalls Playtime Is Over. This time, it’s her killer “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” remake with Lil’ Wayne. As if those highs weren’t enough, she finally trades bars with the one and only Foxy Brown. Seeing Foxy’s name on the tracklist was extremely exciting. Foxy hasn’t appeared on a record since Rick Ross’ Deeper Than Rap in 2009. However, Foxy’s appearance is a huge letdown. She sounds out of breath as she chases (not rides) the beat. Simply put, Foxy sounds a mess. It’s tragic to hear one of the mightiest in rap, known for effortlessly overpowering her male peers, sounding so disastrous that it’s a wonder why she wasn’t removed. Based on the trajectory of Queen, perhaps it’s a foreshadowing of Nicki’s own future.

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