All of the tracks used in this post are the uncensored versions. You should especially be careful of the third song. It's aggressive and bubbly and the contrast makes my head hurt. It recently occurred to me that, despite my intentions to do so, I have never really written about Nicki Minaj. I've started similar posts before--reviewing her debut album, going into analysis of songs she's featured on, even naming her single "Superbass" my 4th of July jam--but never committed. Today is the day.
Nicki Minaj is a personality-driven rapper. You might even call her a recorded rap-actor. Her entire performance style is based on assuming other personalities. She creates characters that she uses to tell stories set to banging beats. It's not a style for everyone, but it certainly works for me.
She first stood out for me on Trey Songz' single "Bottoms Up." Minaj takes on an almost-Barbie character (Barbie being one of her personalities), begging Trey Songz to hook her up with the top tier liquor at a club. Lyrically, it's not much to write home about. The rhyme schemes are standard and half of the verse is seemingly listing different brands and drinks. Her presentation is what sells it. When she gets to addressing Trey directly, it's hilarious and memorable. Then, her improv at the end of the song about how she's good makes me laugh every time. "Trick or treat," indeed.
Almost a year ago, MTV ran an hour long special that focused entirely on Nicki Minaj. It was called "My Time Now" and I'm not doubting her. She showed herself to be a grounded and professional entertainer. She went into some cliches about how powerful and direct women are perceived in the entertainment industry, but she explained it in such a way that I actually believed the problems she's had dealing with executives. The special covered everything from her acting training in high school to her family history to the public's perception of her. It was a surprisingly candid and well-thought display for an artist this new to the industry.
The acting training is when everything clicked for me with Nicki Minaj. She is an actress. Rap is her script and the wigs and crazy clothes are her costumes. If she wasn't rapping on a major label contract, she'd be going to the same music and acting auditions as everyone else based in the NYC area. She'd probably have impressed a director or writer enough to get in on the creative side of a show aiming for an Off-Off-Broadway run. She'd get her ambitious fingers into every aspect of the production and start working on her own shows. Rap just happens to be the theatrical medium she wound up in.
This is quite evident in her debut solo single "Your Love." Set on a sound-stage covered in bolts of fabric, Minaj sets an old love story spliced with samurai lore. She finds a man, falls in love, and has to take a battle from a challenger for his affections. The stagecraft is pure low-budget theater and I love it.
This is more of a singing track for Nicki and she sounds just fine. She makes great use of sounds to get her message across. It's not enough to write a love song praising this man as one of the greatest she's ever encountered; she has to use just the right consonants and rhymes to create a dreamy vision of love. It sounded refreshing. Listen for yourself.
Nicki also isn't afraid to just have a good time. She's writing some of the best fun songs getting radio play right now. I could honestly see her having a career like Missy Elliot. Her big hits are going to be the funny and upbeat club tracks while her praise is going to come from the tracks where she's willing to go a bit more sincere. It's a tricky balance but she seems on track for it. Every other single--either her own or tracks she's featured on--is a club song. The others are more sincere tracks.
This is not one of them. This is "Super Bass." Embrace the beat and dance along. It's fun.
I'm excited to see how far Nicki Minaj can push herself in the rap world. It's hard out there for a female MC and she's on top of the food chain right now. I can only hope that she's able to keep up the workload to stay there.