Does Nicki Minaj Still Wear the Crown?
Between failed flings, a brother involved in a salacious court case, and rumored drug abuse, it’s apparent The Ninja needed time to herself to recharge. The album’s unorganized roll-out was further proof of this, with multiple date pushbacks and a listening party where the album wasn’t actually played. While she recouped her energy, a wave of new (and old) female hip hop artists rose to stardom, leaving us wondering whether or not Minaj still reigned supreme. Like it or not, female artists are always pitted against each other, and hip hop will always be a competitive industry. Queen is a showcase of Nicki’s undeniable talent, versatility, and ability to deliver content that rivals even her most successful male peers. It’s a reminder of why she’s dominated both the pop and hip hop charts for so long. The album can be viewed as safe and predictable, but Nicki just knows what works for her and tries to use it to her advantage.
Queen opens, surprisingly, with the Afro-pop melody of “Ganja Burns,” where Nicki reveals the process she underwent to prepare for her return. “I done fasted and prayed, had to cleanse my body / Abstaining from sex, had to zen my body / I ain’t givin’, so don’t ask, I don’t lend my body / Gotta be king status to give men my body.” While the track may not fit the profile for how you may have expected the album to kick off, lyrically, it absolutely sets the tone. She’s refreshed and perfectly aware of what’s been going on while she was resting. “They done went to witch doctors to bury the Barbie / But I double back, kill bitches, bury the body.” Nicki’s no stranger to subliminal shots, so suspicions that this line is a play on words directed at “Bardi” (a moniker given to stripper turned overnight sensation, Cardi B) are probably spot on. And even if that assumption is a stretch, lyrics appearing later on the album paint a far clearer picture. On “Hard White”, produced by Boi-1da and !llmind, Nicki boasts, “Uh, I ain’t never played a hoe position / I ain’t ever have to strip to get the pole position.” No real mystery there.
Nicki enlisted the help of “rap god” Eminem for their second collaboration in eight years. The two haven’t worked together since “Roman’s Revenge,” which appeared on Nicki’s 2010 album, Pink Friday. Surrounding the teaser snippet for the track, “Majesty,” were rumors that the two were dating. The pair have since denied the hearsay, stating it was just jokes. While the verdict is still out on their relationship, Nicki dishes on her love life on Biggie tribute, “Barbie Dreams,” leaving fans to separate fact from fiction. Despite insisting, she was “playing,” the head-turning lyrics have caused quite the stir. No one was safe, from ex-boyfriend Meek Mill to her “brother” and label-mate, Drake and many more. If you can look past the jabs and low blows, Nicki is sending the message that women can objectify men and reduce them to sexual objects the same way they do it to women every day.
There’s a lot of filler on Queen. Despite a strong start with energetic hip hop tracks like “Rich Sex”, which features Lil Wayne, the album takes an inevitable turn into the pop genre. While absolutely solidifying her position as a bonafide MC, Minaj is also undoubtedly a pop artist. Tracks “Bed” featuring Ariana Grande and “Thought I Knew You” featuring The Weeknd will please her more mainstream listeners and are sure to do great on the radio and charts. It’s not that the songs aren’t good. They allude to the versatility mentioned earlier. Whether she’s switching flows six times on a beat or pouring her heart out in auto-tune, Nicki delivers. But perhaps more rapping than singing would be fitting for the “queen” of said arena.
Continuing the album’s pop interlude is the emotionally transparent and arguably short “Run & Hide.” Produced by Sevn Thomas & Rex Kudo, Nicki sheds light on her intimacy issues, singing, “‘Cause it’s been a minute since I trusted somebody / ‘Cause I don’t never put my trust in nobody.” While not as consistent with the theme of the album due to it’s vulnerability, the song can also be seen as a reminder to women that a queen must be protective of herself. The album’s dud is definitely “Chun Swae” featuring Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd. Produced by Metro Boomin, the song falls flat especially compared to it’s obvious counterpart, “Chun-Li,” which Minaj released earlier this year along with “Barbie Tingz.” The latter, thankfully, did not make the album. True to form, Nicki makes sure there’s no shortage of Instagram caption worthy punchlines. It’s what the Barbs love. “LLC,” “Miami,” and Mike WiLL Made-It produced track, “Good Form” contain an abundance of quotable lyrics. The album’s standout is “Coco Chanel” featuring hip hop OG Foxy Brown. The song, produced by Richie Souf & J Beatz, transports fans to a 90s New York summer block party. The bass heavy, classic dancehall influenced banger has instant replay value. It’s really a shame it wasn’t released earlier in the season. The album was originally scheduled to release in June.
Queen is a solid body of work, but something feels a bit lacking. The Harajuku Barbie took a substantial amount of time away, only to return and do something that is extremely reminiscent of her previous works. But what if consistency in an industry full of one hit wonders, overnight successes, and constantly fleeting trends is what it takes to keep the throne? If staying the course and honing your craft is what makes one royalty, then with this album, Nicki accomplished just that.