I won't lie, I was personally excited to hear J. Cole's 2014 Forest Hills Drive for the first time. I was excited to hear Big K.R.I.T.'s Cadillactica for the first time. Hell, I was even excited to hear Lil Wayne's Carter V for the first time, which is the project I assumed I'd be reviewing right around now before Wayne and Birdman got Twitter divorced.
But Nicki Minaj's The Pinkprint? Well...it's not like I was dreading hearing it, she's an undeniable force in hip-hop and I care about hip-hop so I care about the music she makes, but this "1 Listen Review" feels more like a job. Still, it's my job to write about rap albums, so I really need to stop complaining and just hit play.
So on that note - it's an interesting time for Nicki. As much as she went after Rosenberg and insisted that she was deaf to the critics, there's no denying that after the "Nicki Minaj isn't a rapper, she's a pop star" idea became picked up by more and more people, she's decidely been getting back to more (relatively) straight up rapping. The outlandish personality is largely on hiatus, the colored hair and the weird voices are largely gone. We've been getting more automatic weapons in the desert than "Starships" glitz and glamour lately. Will The Pinkprint be the album that puts her squarely back in the hip-hop world? Does she even want to be there.
I'm about to listen to this album all the way through; no skipping tracks, no repeating tracks, no editing what I write, just my gut reaction, first listen thoughts in real time. This is Nathan S., clocking in for work. [Note: If you want a deeper explanation of the concept behind 1 Listen Reviews, click here.]
"All Things Go"
Right off the bat something a little softer...oh, we're getting autobiographical Nicki. She's going to get all personal and deep and what not. I mean, sure, great, I've got some real respect for that. At the same time though, I'm 32-years-old. I actually have a daughter I take to preschool every morning, she's imagining what that's like. If I was a 16-year-old girl I'd be learning some life lessons right now, but...oh shit, now she's talking about her murdered nephew, hints of guilt, hints of drug abuse. That's the most human I can ever remember hearing her. Still can't say it's hitting me that hard, but you can't complain that she's too pop and then complain when she gives you something like this. Respect due, respect given.
Was that first song a sign of things to come, a more deeply lyrical album, or an outlier? Let's find out. Ok, now onto some softly-crooned heart break. I have to say, her vocals are getting better - this is some legit R&B singing. (Or the studio editing technology is getting better - maybe a mix of both?) Again, I just can't relate to all this heartbroken talk, whether it's coming from Nicki or Drake or almost anyone else, but it's not hard to picture a lot of folks feeling this. This that shit some girl is going to sing along to in her bedroom while sub-tweeting her ex-boyfriend.
Kind of starting to check out during this long-ass outro. Stay focused Nathan. Stay focused.
"The Crying Game"
I'm old enough to think of Boy George when I see a title like "Crying Game" - word up to outdated references. Anyway, more relationship talk, some kind of weird guitar sample in the beat, I dig it. Everyone knows the best kind of doves are Caucasian doves, nice call Nicki. Basically a continuation of the last song, so far this is a thoroughly personal album. Hey, what if we included a super low voice saying "to love and be loved" kind of creepily in this song? Yes, brilliant! (Imagined conversation between Nicki and the producer.) Not really feeling it, but I can see how others could. I'm starting to feel repetitive writing that, but so far the album's been repetitive. Or at least riding that line between cohesion and repetition.
"Get On Your Knees" ft. Ariana Grande
Sweet baby Jesus, I'm scared. Anytime Ariana Grande and sex are in the same song I start feeling like a pedophile. That's one of those sentences I probably wouldn't have written in a more thought out review, but I'll keep it in there to prove I'm really holding true to that gut reaction, first listen concept. On a larger level I dig Nicki doing the Lil Kim thing, rapping about men with the same sexual aggression most male rappers use in reference to women. This poppy hook from Grande and the harder beat/verses just don't match though. It's like going to McDonald's and getting a side of roasted kale and butternut squash with your Big Mac. Did that make any sense? Maybe not, no time to revise. Onto the next...
"Feeling Myself" ft. Beyonce
This was the year I officially joined the Bey hive, I'm legitimately stoked to hear this one. How does that jack rabbit line make any sense? Nicki's still doing that pause flow thing? That Hit-Boy beat and Beyonce's hook though is a banger though, I'm not afraid to say it. Getting a little turnt up right now, highlight of the album so far. A "Coco" reference? They must have recorded this recently. If only I loved this song as much as that dude loves cocaine. I wouldn't be mad if it was 100% Beyonce. And by "mad" I mean "would have preferred."
"Only" ft. Drake & Lil Wayne
Sigh, this song. Great example of hearing a song so many times leading up to an album release that by the time the actual album drops you're sick of it. Don't know what more I have to say about this song that I haven't already, and it's not like the context of the album changes anything. She did tell two of the biggest rap stars on the planet to get their three-way rimjob action on, so that's a thing. I'm 99% sure that Drake's definition of BBW isn't the internet's definition of BBW, so that's a thing. Lil Wayne says some things, so that's a thing? Um....if I was hearing this for the first time I think I'd actually be on the edge of my seat (figuratively speaking), but currently I'm just kind of waiting for it to be over.
"Want Some More"
METRO BOOMIN WANT SOME MORE!!! I really did ask that dude to play "Does Metro Boomin want some more, or no more?" once in person and he obliged, so he's kind of my man now. That beat's kind of hard. And now this is some straight up rapping. Is that Jeremih on the hook? I will give her this, it's not easy to switch up your flow and voice that much. This may be hip-hop heresy, but in many ways she's the closest thing we have to Busta Rhymes since Busta Rhymes stopped rapping like Busta Rhymes.
"Four Door Aventador"
Judging by the sound effects I'm gonna assume an Aventador is a car I can't afford. Ninjas carry machetes? That'd be the most bad ass ninja of all-time. Who's this on the hook? Estelle? Or am I just naming the first British woman who comes to mind? Remind me to check who made this beat, it kind of knocks. I don't think it's Pharrell, but if not, it's definitely super Pharrell-influenced. It's not bad, but I'm not sure what the point is. So....that whole personal confession thing at the beginning of the album isn't a thing anymore? SHIA LEBOUF RAP REFERENCE ALERT!!! One million bonus points deducted for that stop sign punchline though.
"Favorite" ft. Jeremih
Jeremih's low key my man. I don't know why that dude can't seem to drop an album, but he's one of the best hook singers around. Let's do this thing...I don't know, these verses are just kind of coming and going. I'm having a little bit of an existential crisis. Is this song, and this album, really this relatively uninteresting? Or am I being stereotypical old white hip-hop head guy? Maybe a bit of both? I don't know, I'm trying to keep my mind as open as possible, my mind's mostly just thinking about how I wish I was listening to Jeremih's "Rosa Acosta" instead right now though. And now I'm thinking about Rosa Acosta....
[Full disclosure, I broke "1 Listen" code and hit pause to go get some Trader Joe's Olive Oil popcorn because that shit's delicious. That was maybe a one minute break in the action before I got my headphones back on and hit play again, tops.]
"Buy a Heart" ft. Meek Mill
I'm not not surprised to see Meek Mill here, you know? It's by no means shocking, but I didn't expect Mr. Yell Every Line to pop up on a Nicki album. Let's see here...I'm also a little surprised by how much I like this. Meek actually works on this record, it could end up being a radio hit, although now that I'm writing that the song's losing some momentum halfway through. I don't know, ultimately fell a little flat for me though. This popcorn really is fucking delicious by the way.
"Trine Dem Girls" ft. Lunchmoney
One of those songs where I know I'm so not even remotely the intended audience so I'm not sure how to react. For all I know there are clubs who will absolutely go off to this, I'm just not in those clubs. So...I don't know. I kind of wish I could pull off using "poom poom" in a sentence, but I totally, completely, absolutely can't, so I'm gonna have to let Lunchmoney have that one. Also, now that I type that sentence, Lunchmoney is a fantastic name. I don't know who you are Lunchmoney, but you're awesome.
Can you tell I'm killing time until the song ends?
Like "Only," this is one of those songs I've heard so many times I've already gone through life phases with it. At first I hated it, then it got in my brain and I was like, "Hey, maybe I really like this," and then I was like "No, I really don't like this" and then the video dropped and I watched it eleven-million times. So that's the story of "Anaconda." I guess ultimately I'm happy that Six-Mix-A-Lot has to be making a crap ton of money off that sample, so I'm all for it. At least I'm not bored, and I stil contend that Eiffel Tower dick line doesn't make sense.
"The Night is Still Young"
Based on the title there's a 472% chance that this is going to be some EDM-influenced song about how tonight is the greatest night of your life and just have fun tonight because it's beautiful to be alive tonight and y'all get the deal. And...twelve seconds into the song I'm definitely right. What can I say? It didn't exactly take Nostradamus to see this coming. I'd bet my left-testicle there's a Calvin Harris remix already in the works. As predictable as it is though it's pretty catchy, I'm not afraid to admit I'm nodding my head right now.
"Pills & Potions"
Oh yeah, back to that whole personal, autobiographical, heartbroken music we kicked off the album with. It's not like I expected a concept album from Nicki, but it's kind of jarring that theme completely disappeared, was replaced with some bragging, boasting and "Anaconda" reference for six songs, and then it's right back to the singing. Just from a songwriting perspective though this is excellent - again, I'm ready to argue that her singing is getting better, mostly because it's getting more subtle. I'm actually not mad at this one at all. Do your thing Nicki.
"Bed of Lies" ft. Skylar Grey
If a rapper needs a song about regret they want on the radio, they need Skylar Grey on the hook. It's the rules. I know there's a lot of real-life drama tied up in this one, there are all sorts of references to her real life (ex?) boyfriend, but honestly I have no idea who her (ex?) boyfriend is, so I'm not all the way there with it. Like "Pills & Potions," Nicki can obviously get some of the best songwriters around to work with her and it shows. This is a really well made song, even if I'm not personally really feeling it. WORD TO BILL BELLAMY!!! As many times as I've heard this, that's the first time I heard that reference. It might even be better than the Shia Labeouf reference.
Spoiler alert, the song called "Grand Piano" heavily features a grand piano. Damn, now this is some straight up piano ballad type shit. Is it going to build into a super big, heavily produced joint, or does Nicki have the ovaries to do an entire song that's just her singing and a piano? I'm legit rooting for just her voice and a piano. Wow, well, I really have to give it to her then. Besides some strings, she really did keep this simple and powerful. I don't have any jokes or asides, just a straight up good song. (Side note: I know that string melody at the end, what's that from?)
"Big Daddy" ft. Meek Mill
Goddamn, two songs with Meek Mill? I have to know how he ended up being the most featured rapper on one of the biggest albums of the year. And so far it sounds like a banger of a Meek Mill song. The man just has never been calm ever, and here it works. Is Nicki going to actually ever do anything on her own song? And there we go - wow, she gave him the first 1:30 of her song on her album, and he has the hook? I haven't heard that since Wiz and The Weeknd. Hey, Shyne doesn't appreciate that club shooting reference. I have no idea what this song is doing on an album, it's pretty much the definition of a mixtape/loose joint, but it's a banger.
Please sweet baby Jesus don't let there be some semi-racist Asian shit on this song. Huh, well...that beat does have some Asian-sounding strings, but it's not overdone. Man, who produced this? I need ScHoolboy Q to steal some plutonium from the Libyans, hop in a DeLorean, travel back in time, take this beat from Nicki and turn it into the dirtiest, rawest shit of the year. I'm all in on making this happen. I'll bring the flux capacitor.
Just some catchy, relatively meaningless stuff. I mean, fine. At this point I'm just really losing steam. I wish I could pause this and play Al Pacino's speech from "Any Given Sunday" to get me pumped up again. Luckily I've memorized it, I'll just give the speech to myself. I win again. (Oh yeah, there's a song happening right now.)
Ok, I think there's some Japanese-only-super-deluxe-ultra-Volton version that has even more songs, but since that's the album I think most people are going to hear, I'm tapping out. Goddamn. I'm almost impressed with myself for making it through this straight (minus that popcorn break). If anyone dumped a bucket of Gatorade over my head right now, I wouldn't be surprised. Let me stand up and stretch for a minute, maybe eat some more popcorn.
Final thoughts; it's really not Nicki's goal to make some hip-hop classic album that's going to change the world of music. It's her job to sell a shit ton of records and make a shit ton of money and try to beat the men at their own game and hopefully retain some amount of respect as a rapper in the process, and by that criteria I'd have to say The Pinkprint is mostly a success. There's frankly very little chance I'd ever listen to this album again if I wasn't obligated to revisit it in a month via "1 Listen" rules, but Nicki's got her own lane and it's not a lane I'm going to roadblock. I still wish she could just do her verse on "Monster" over and over again though.
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]