Nicki Minaj is at a career crossroads. She is, without question, one of the most successful women to ever step foot in a recording booth. Nearing a decade of dominance, Nicki has cemented her legacy in hip-hop’s kingdom, regardless of gender. However, once you reach the top of your industry, how long are you able to maintain before the inevitable freefall begins?
Prior to 2018, Nicki held her position with an unwavering poise. But this year, compared to her contemporaries, the self-proclaimed Queen of rap has been cracking under pressure in public.
Building a brand based on being the best woman in rap becomes shaky ground when the competition heats up. From Cardi B to CupcakKe, a tidal wave of women in hip-hop are delivering hits and displaying skillsets worthy of the spotlight. Naturally, increased competition has forced Nicki to back up her boasts with bars if she wants to remain a royal.
Queen is Nicki’s fourth studio album and also her most important. For the first time since she was introduced to the mainstream, Nicki Minaj has something to prove.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
1. "Ganja Burns"
I’m loving the tropical instrumentation, but it's a weird direction to take for an intro. I expected a fiery start. Nicki has appeared with big brags. I didn’t know she was a smoker, but I guess if you aren’t Wiz Khalifa or Curren$y it’s not a big deal. She has such an interesting way with words, which means the wordplay either hits or misses. There’s no in-between. Eh, the line about king status and embodying a queen made me queasy. We have to stop taking ourselves so seriously. A singing hook. Nicki doesn’t sound enthused at all. The drums are giving me more life than her delivery. The second verse is okay. I like the rapper references. The "Kobe, Kyrie pick a K" line made me chuckle. There’s an art to a good rap intro, and this one doesn’t meet the criteria. It’s too long, and I can imagine it being a cool deep cut, but it's a strange way to begin an album.
2. "Majesty" ft. Eminem & Labrinth
The piano keys being played should’ve gone to Elton John. Okay, this just sounds weird, like something that should’ve been placed on the Suicide Squad soundtrack. Crazy switch-up. Production is strong. Loving the funky bassline. Nicki is far more inspired here. The hook just killed it. The entire song has a strange structure. I guess that’s not the hook, but more like an impromptu bridge? I take it back, it’s definitely a hook and it’s terrible. Eminem will find the most ridiculous songs to rap on. This record sounds like it belongs in the same world as Humpty Dumpty. Em found a weird pocket. This track could’ve been made in 2008. He’s doing that super wordy delivery. He just shouted out Q-Tip and Tribe! I take back everything bad I've ever said about him. He did a flow switch that was faster than the feet of a convict who just escaped prison. I didn’t hear a single corny bar, but I also think Em has to stop believing that hip-hop is bad because the kids aren’t spitting spiritual lyrical miracles. Someone play him some Lil Baby. I like this third beat. Nicki is rapping but it’s the same ol' same ol'. Back to a whispering singing that’s really awkward. It’s as if she suddenly started recording in a library. “Jealousy is a disease.” *2 Chainz voice* Truuuuu. Big skip.
3. "Barbie Dreams"
The first two songs felt like a lifetime. NOW THIS IS A VIBE. Biggie sample with the Biggie flow. Yep, this is fire. Who produced this? [Editor's Note: Mel and Mus, and Rashad Smith.] I love the way they freaked it. The Power/50 bar. She’s getting these bars off. Bow Wow just caught a missle. Drake just caught a stray. Wow, Meek got the entire laser. Nicki’s name-dropping is better than Game’s name-dropping. Concept and execution are incredible. I can’t believe she didn’t push “Barbie Dreams” as the single. It’s Nicki turning her sex appeal into a humorous record while paying homage. Beat switch! This is hard. There are a few meh lines but I'm not mad. Flow switch with the sirens, she’s putting on a performance. “Monster” delivery! Nicki put all her best attributes into one song. Pure gold.
4. "Rich Sex" ft. Lil Wayne
I think I called this song "Monopoly Sex." Solid placement after “Barbie Dreams.” The beat has got some punch. The last two songs will be good for whips with nice speakers. Weezy! His verse is very average but I love the flow. Wayne’s focus on delivery this year has made up for the lack of memorable lines. Using Kendrick’s “DNA.” as the launching pad. He’s performative more than lyrical. I guess you can say the same for Nicki, it’s all personality with little content. It’s a rather boring record. “Rich Sex” should sound more luxurious. If this is what “Rich Sex” sounds like I’ll stick with my lower-middle-class intercourse.
5. "Hard White"
Nice build up. There’s a very generic quality to this beat. More big brags. Just referred to herself as a trophy. In another life, Nicki would’ve made an interesting SoundCloud rapper. I feel about “Hard White” how a lot of people feel about Drake’s Scorpion. At least he had a son to publicly acknowledge; Nicki is just making references to being the GOAT and talking to the mirror on the wall about being the fairest. “I never had to strip to get the pole position” hahahaha. What does that mean??? What is the pole position? Is that sex standing up? I miss DJ scratches at the end of rap records. Word to Preemo.
6. "Bed" ft. Ariana Grande
The pop smash that didn’t pop. Well maybe it did, I don’t listen to the radio to know. “I got Carter III on repeat” is my favorite lyric of the album thus far. Backshots to “A Milli” is hilarious imagery. Tha Carter III is up there in terms of albums you wouldn't consider sexy enough to soundtrack sleeping with someone. I hate a pop song that tries hard to be a pop song. But Nicki has always existed in the two worlds of pop and rap—the Queen and the Barbie. Ariana is either an angel or a shower singer for me. Sounding like the latter to be honest. Skip.
7. "Thought I Knew You" ft. The Weeknd
Nicki makes me miss Kanye’s seven-song approach. I don’t think The Weeknd can save this one so far, but Abel tends to be a miracle worker. It’s a bland beginning. Abel! Yeah, his cape isn’t tight enough to save this song. A rather immature record about courtship that isn’t doing much for me. I think Nicki needs a producer. Someone who crafts a sound just for her. If she chooses not to grow as a lyricist and songwriter at the very least let's get her some enthralling production.
8. "Run & Hide"
Nice whisper flow. When she does the soft voice it works on a seductive level. I like the production, I like the delivery. I’m hearing a lot of lyrics about relationships. “It’s been a minute since I trust somebody.” In retrospect, it’s fun to imagine all these lyrics are about Nas. Not a bad song. I like the production enough to give this another listen.
8. "Chun Swae" ft. Swae Lee
She really keeping up the Chun-Li themes. Metro Boomin tag! It’s a chaotic trap banger. Swae Lee sounds like he’s been sucking helium from heaven. I like this strange delivery. She’s rapping in the first and third person. I’m frightened but also very much into it. Flow switch was smooth. Fast flow Nicki. Swae Lee tweeted he had a banger with Nicki, but I wouldn’t consider this a banger. It has some knock, a few catchy elements, but I can’t imagine “Chun Swae” living beyond the weekend. That blood/cut bar was gross. Simply gross. Still, it doesn’t ruin the song. Corny Nicki is undefeated. Swae couldn’t save it. Too long. Far too long. Nicki needs an editor, word to Z and Brendan. She’s rapping names. That was adorable. There’s no reasonable explanation for this song to be a few seconds shy of six minutes.
Nicki told us that, by this point in the album, we should understand why it's called Queen. That she’s the queen. I sighed. I will say, "Chun-Li" is a lot better than some of these other records. I’m sorta surprised it wasn’t a bigger hit. I hope the gaming community never forgives her for saying Chun-Li was the bad guy. She has to stop closing these records with singing. I don’t think they add to the records. Also singing about needing the WiFi passwords is relatable, but very unnecessary.
Wait. We might have something here. I love the Soulja Boy-esque production. It’s very childlike but she’s catching a wave. The stripper claps are a nice touch. Feels like mixtape Nicki. I can imagine clubs full of people doing the shoot dance to this one. I hope BlocBoy JB is having a wonderful Friday. New York Knicks line, with a Melo into a Shawty Lo reference. She really made a throwback Gucci trap song. I’m here for 2008 trap records. This is a keeper. “I just took her name and made that bitch a LLC” is hilariously petty.
12. "Good Form"
Ear Drummers drop! I’m loving this build-up. This is warrior music. Mike Will let me down! That drop was supposed to hit me like a volcano eruption, not the sprinklers wetting the lawn. Okay, I forgive him. The drums are still hitting harder than having your skull cracked by a bottle of Hennessy. Nicki is living up to the song’s title. There are some good singles on here that were criminally overlooked during the selection process. I take it back, Mike Will didn’t let me down. This beat is a PROBLEM. I wish Wayne would’ve been given this one. Nicki is on skates, though. “A bitch get more press than a keypad” hahahaha. Man, bars like this cause me to question her greatness. Good song, though.
13. "Nip Tuck"
Loving the ethereal production. Nicki sounds good on the R&B records that aren’t intended to be R&B hits. Very SZA-inspired. I wonder if, in a different universe, a universe where SZA’s voice is undamaged, she would be featured on the song. The hook is very, very Ctrl. From the lyrics to delivery. So far, my favorite song on the album. The hit that wasn’t selected. A third verse to add some fire to the record. “Dreams of a bad bitch trying to eff a don” is all I need to hear to know this song is about Nas. She let the chopper sing in the most abstract way. I stan for a petty queen.
14. "2 Lit 2 Late Interlude"
I don’t know about this. She sounds like all the preteen rappers who would promote their songs on Vine (R.I.P. Vine). It’s going to work with the kids, but it’s a big no for me.
15. "Come See About Me"
I was hoping this would be a remix of the PND song of the (almost) same name. I’m not a big fan of Nicki The Singer. The texture of her voice has never been very appealing. She has moments where her vocal soulfulness shines, but they often sound bland. The personality that appears in her rapping doesn’t translate when Nicki decides to showcase the pipes. I don’t mind the songwriting. She’s singing her heart out. I can see this being a big one with her fans, but it's just not for me. Shoutout to the good brother Dylan for checking in on me during this one-listen experience.
16. "Sir" ft. Future
Nice piano buildup. Zaytoven did as he has always done and did not let me down. I love the minimalism to his beats. Meh, I’m ready to throw the Nicki verse in a fireplace. No, no, no. Everything is NO. I do not like the "Sir" flow. Even Future couldn’t make this interesting. The two both sound bored. I just yawned for me and everyone else who is reviewing the album.
Okay, this flow is something. She’s on the treadmill with the lyrics. The Lil' Kim influence is shining. I would buy a Nicki cover album of Kim songs with very little shame. Nicki has all the personality and it translates so well when she’s tweaking Kim’s blueprint. Kim might be one of the most defining artists in hip-hop history. Everything about her style is mimicked in one way or another. Far more influential then she’ll ever get credit for.
18. "Coco Chanel" ft. Foxy Brown
Hold up. We have found some heat guys. My keyboard is on fire. It sounds like a riot in my headphones. Nicki just came in sounding HUNGRY. This is the rapping that happens when you go a few weeks without a meal. Harlem World shoutout. THIS IS NEW YORK!! She’s snapping. The beat is snapping. Why is this not the entire album? Who made this beat and why isn’t he/she making all Nicki’s beats??? [Editor's Note: It's JBeatzz.] FOXY! She still sounds like there’s a razor blade underneath her tongue. Foxy's flow got so weird in the middle of her verse, but I won’t complain. I’m just happy to hear she’s still rapping. By far the craziest rap record on the album. Second Nicki verse. This beat—you could say anything overtop and it would be listenable. “Keeping it 100 that’s a jelly bean.”
Wait. Did the song change without changing? It’s literally “Coco Chanel” but not “Coco Chanel.” I’m pretty sure this should be a completely different song. What a bizarre way to end the album. At least it ended on a high note.
Final (first listen) thoughts on Queen:
Nicki’s Queen is a long-winded disaster. She takes a never-ending route to prove she's hip-hop royalty but in the process of doing so highlights more flaws than flourishes. Most of the album consists of yawn-inspiring boasts that couldn’t stir a sleeping kitten from its slumber.
Nicki’s personality is larger-than-life, and yet, she contributes some of the most uninteresting performances of her career. When the highs come, they never last long enough to create a streak of excellence. By being painfully forgettable, Nicki Minaj has wasted the perfect opportunity to soar.
The criticism of music journalist Wanna Thompson that inspired a nasty reaction from Nicki and her fans is the very issue that plagues Queen. On her fourth studio album, Nicki Minaj refused to grow into an artist worthy of the throne.
Past success will never be taken from her, she has rightfully earned every plaque and accolade, but a new dawn is upon us, and unless she starts to change with the times, I forsee a hip-hop landscape where Nicki is talked about in the past tense. A queen of yesterday, and not the queen of tomorrow.
By Yoh, aka 1-Listen Yoh, aka @Yoh31