I’ve written a fair few articles about Nicki Minaj and how impressed I am with her success. Let me be clear from the start of this immediately scathing article though, and say that she’s one of my favourite new artists in years, inventive, original and a female rapper worth caring about. But as the title suggests I’m not very happy with the current ‘Minaj situation’, whether it may be management pulling at straws, or Nicki becoming misguided as she enters her second album campaign.
Let’s start from last year where Nicki Minaj really broke through on this side of the water. Her debut album Pink Friday had gained some traction in late 2010 due to a mildly successful collaboration with Wil.I.Am, Check It Out and Drake collab Moment 4 Life, but it took until spring of 2011 for two bonus tracks (check out my rant about this here) to make it into the charts. The second of these, Super Bass went on to become one of the big songs of 2011, deservedly so as it was also one of the year’s best records. On an album that didn’t really have an identity, Nicki split between the RnB ballads of Right Thru Me and all out rap marathons on Roman’s Revenge, Super Bass was the perfect mix. Sweet enough to mirror her eccentric personality, yet packing verses with slick flows and impressive wordplay, it was the Rap/Pop combination she needed.
Soon followed a barrage of Pop ties to Nicki, the Britney tour and Till The Word Ends remix, her feature on the new Madonna track and the David Guetta feature Turn Me On that saw her singing throughout the song. I began to become worried that she could lose the main reason for her success in the first place, her ability to out rhyme the best rappers in business. I’ve been sold on Nicki Minaj ever since her career defining verse of Kanye’s Monster, where she steals the songs from the current kings of the genre, her arrival onto the music scene as vicious she’s ever sounded. But despite enjoying the pop hits she’s been featured on in the latter part of 2011, I wanted the Monster to awaken in Nicki again.
Cut to this year and her Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded album campaign looked to be doing exactly that. Roman In Moscow ends with Nicki telling us ‘there ain’t no mothaf***in hook’ following 2 minutes of intense rapping. Stupid Hoe came next, which was just about as close to Super Bass as she could have gone, with the repeated hook of ‘You a Stupid Hoe, you a you a Stupid Hoe’ held together with verse after verse of brilliant rhymes. Things were looking on track, especially following the brilliant Stupid Hoe video, but no official single had been announced. Then last week at the Grammys she performed Roman Holiday, a crazy song that seemed to have a hook sang by another of Minaj’s alter egoes, Roman’s mother. But instead of releasing that song, she instead sent all new track Starships to radio and iTunes, which brings us to this article.
Starships isn’t a great song. It’s probably my least favourite Minaj track since Pink Friday and feels like it’s been carefully created in the lab to create the perfect current chart hit. Taking the Pop production of Super Bass, her processed vocals from Turn Me On and with a We Found Love style break after every chorus it should be a decent song, but something is missing. The influence from Rihanna’s smash are evident, but RedOne doesn’t know his way around the dance genre half as well as Calvin Harris does, so it ends up sounding like someone fell over in the studio and pressed all the samples at once by accident. It lacks the charisma of Nicki’s best songs, you never feel like she’s going to bite your head off with her rhymes, it’s like shes trying too hard to fit the ‘popstar’ mould. The hook is catchy, but compared to Super Bass, it doesn’t have the same singalong melody.
In trying to make Super Bass 2, they’ve successfully made the sort of song Nicki herself said this album wouldn’t be about. It’s not anywhere near as good as that track and if this is what the rest of the album is set to sound like, I’m not sure if I want a second album so soon. Super Bass came close to replacing Monster as the best Nicki Minaj moment, but with Starships it feels like she’s taken a huge step backwards away from dethroning Jay-Z as the ‘Best Rapper Alive’ even if she said she was after his throne to his face recently. I just have to hope that Roman Reloaded brings back some of the Monster in one of the most promising artists of the past 5 years.