Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Nicki Minaj

  • Beam Me Up Scotty [Trapaholics download, 2009] A-
  • Pink Friday [Young Money/Cash Money, 2010] A
  • Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded: Deluxe Edition [Cash Money/Universal Republic, 2012] A-
  • The Pinkprint (Deluxe Edition) [Cash Money/Republic, 2014] A-
  • Queen [Young Money/Cash Money/Republic, 2018] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Beam Me Up Scotty [Trapaholics download, 2009]
This 2009 mixtape, not the more recent Barbie World, is why if not where hards decided a biracial female was street enough. Without undue popping of coochie, she quickly establishes herself as a highly unsisterly, rabidly materialistic "shopaholic" set on becoming "the black Hannah Montana." That way of putting it should have alerted hoodrats unworthy of her hiney implants to the scope of her ambitions; on the other hand, so should "behind every bad bitch there's a really sweet girly-girl." Even her materialism is relative: "Tell Michelle I got my eye on Barack Obama/Tryin' to get that Madonna/You know Hannah Montana [a theme?]/Could find me sittin' Indian-style with the Dalai Lama/I'm meditatin' I'm in cahoots with a higher power." One does wonder, though--once you rhyme "Dalai Lama" and "higher power," do you need Hannah Montana anymore? A-

Pink Friday [Young Money/Cash Money, 2010]
Not only are those not her breasts, at least not the ones her biologicals gave her, but her hair isn't really pink or, wink wink, straight. Not only is the quick-lipped hoyden of the year all "Young Money, Cash Money, yeah I'm Universal" with every upper-case except the "I" discretionary, but she's consorting with Natasha Bedingfield and reminding how he did it. Half rapping and half singing, half bragging and half kowtowing, brazening a "punt" rhyme here and proclaiming commonality with "girls that never thought they could win" there, she's proud to be shameless, with the hooks to back it up. She knows well the presumably stolen words of her male collaborator-counterpart Drake: "Everybody dies but not everybody lives." And damn right she calls this living. A

Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded: Deluxe Edition [Cash Money/Universal Republic, 2012]
Since the positive and negative reviews say pretty much the same thing, we can agree that this is an overstuffed, musically manipulative, thematically directionless bid to put the pink-haired alien on the singles charts until Katy Perry absconds to rehab. She isn't "the female Weezy" or some ill-defined male alter ego. She's an aspiring and most likely inevitable pop queen who raps exceptionally well, sings quite well, rhymes inconsistently but sometimes superbly, and will do anything to be rich and famous. This obviously doesn't make her a heroine. But if you enjoy contemporary pop whose market-tested blare offends both rockist philistines and IDM aesthetes, her second album is a worthwhile investment. It begins strong and, counting the three bonus tracks, ends strong. In between it tends mawkish and loud, neither of which precludes fun, especially with the right cameos. There is, however, a Chris Brown track. (Hey--I said anything.) A-

The Pinkprint (Deluxe Edition) [Cash Money/Republic, 2014]
Sometimes gossip can be so enlightening. The reflective opener "All Things Go" is pretty solid on its own. But word that this particular best rapper alive just ended a 12-year relationship with her homeboy boyfriend renders the two ballads that work off that prologue touching. The bad part is that it doesn't render them major ballads, although she gets somewhat closer on "Bed of Lies" at the other end of the narrative arc before overblowing the supposedly climactic "Grand Piano." Only then come three album-defining bonus tracks. The Meek Mill-assisted "Big Daddy" is so generic it establishes how ungeneric the Drake/Weezy-assisted "Only" and the Lunchmoney Lewis-assisted "Trini Dem Girls" were--makes you want to play them again, in fact. And on "Shanghai" and "Win Again," Minaj returns to her triumphalist mode prepared to embrace the role of a 32-year-old woman ready for love--even, in both songs, the motherhood she reflects on as the record begins. A-

Queen [Young Money/Cash Money/Republic, 2018]
I missed this August 2018 item while homing in on Eminem's September album because hip-hop's bureau of standards brushed hers aside as inconsequential while actively attacking his as an offense against the polity. In fact, both are quick-lipped, sharp-tongued arguments for the hip-hop they and I came up on and the endangered kind of flow both excel at. And both are funny, outrageous, self-confident announcements that neither artist has any intention of going away. Minaj articulates the stakes with the opening "As the world turns, the blunt burns/Watch them cunts learn" before reeling off three pointedly female, pointedly unfeminine sex songs so spectacular that the album never tops them. She also drops brand names like a good rap star should and shows off her connections with seven high-profile cameos, including godmother Foxy Brown, little sister Ariana Grande, postflow Swae Lee, and world speedster Eminem himself. And then there's the best touch--her hip-hop turf all too obviously contested, she doesn't sing a note. A-