In this current era of musical consumption, multi-year gaps in between albums are becoming increasingly more scarce, and taking a 4-year gap is not a viable option for anyone other than those who reside in hip-hop’s upper echelon — like the Jay-Zs, and the Kanyes, and the Drakes, and the Kendrick Lamars.
And, not to be forgotten, the Nicki Minajes.
The Queen from Queens’s album title and interesting album artwork, which features her posing mostly-nude and wearing Cleopatra-esque jewelry, is a statement in itself that aims to reestablish her position at the very top of the totem pole of women in hip-hop — a position that has drawn heat in recent years.
When Minaj is at her peak, she is one of hip-hop’s most entertaining, magnetic voices. It was no coincidence that her verse on Kanye West’s “Monster”, off of his 2010 classic My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, was met with universal acclaim, as it displayed everything about her rap persona that hip-hop fans applaud — her ability to move between completely different cadences; the way that she plays around with different accents; funny, witty, memorable, memorizable lyrics.
It’s this very colorful microphone presence that makes her verse on “Monster” one of the most iconic rap verses of the entire decade, and why her verses on songs like “Bottom’s Up,” “I Get Crazy,” “Itty Bitty Piggy,” and “Superbass,” have helped establish her as the one of hip-hop’s most distinguished artists and launched her career to astronomical heights (e.g. becoming the best selling female rapper of all time).
And sure enough, Nicki’s fourth album Queen succeeds the most when Nicki’s verses embody these artful aspects of her musical personality: liveliness, creativity, and memorability.
No song epitomizes this more than “Chun-Li,” one of the album’s lead singles released back in April. Over an uptempo, boom-bap, horn-driven beat, Minaj reasserts her dominion over the rap landscape. A head-nodding rhythm; multiple accent switches; clever, memorable, braggadocious lyrics…Chun-Li sees Nicki return to form after a year of somewhat-forgettable features and nonessential singles.
On another cut, “Barbie Dreams,” Nicki pays homage to the legendary Notorious B.I.G. by performing her own iteration of his song “Just Playing (Dreams)”, and, just as the original jokingly objectifies some of the ’90’s biggest R&B artists, Nicki playfully subjugates some of modern hip-hop’s male heavyweights. Some of these sportive potshots include jabs at Drake (“Drake worth a hundred milli, he always buying me shit / But I don’t know if the pussy wet or if he crying and shit”), Young Thug (“Used to fuck with Young Thug, I ain’t addressing this shit / Caught him in my dressing room, stealing dresses and shit”), and DJ Khaled (“Had to cancel DJ Khaled, boy, we ain’t speaking / Ain’t no fat nigga telling me what he ain’t eating”). And elsewhere, “LLC” serves as a high quality offering that displays the strength of Minaj’s pen, her dynamic flow, and an ear for captivating production.
However, when Nicki isn’t at her best, she has a penchant for making, to put it plainly, incredibly uninspired music. And this album, unfortunately, is not without its share of these uninspiring moments.
Songs like “Rich Sex,” “Run & Hide,” and “Sir” come across as mundane filler tracks; “Majesty” has interesting production, but plays more like an Eminem song featuring Nicki, as opposed to the other way around; and “Bed” is an obvious radio single that lacks the impact of a pop chart-topper. And while there isn’t anything overly horrendous about these tracks, nothing about these tracks really stands out — at all.
And at 19 tracks and a little over an hour long, the album also suffers from overstaying its welcome — a trait that is hardly uncommon in today’s musical landscape.
The past few years — which have featured growing concerns about the quality of Nicki’s artistry, as well as the rise of many other female rappers (namely Cardi B, who catapulted to mainstream stardom) — have presented “Ms. King Kong” with some of the biggest challenges to her throne that she has faced in her almost 10-year reign. Which is why Queen ultimately ends up being a letdown. Instead of reassuring the masses that she’s still “got it” by making a high quality project, she mostly resorts to subliminal shots and unexceptional filler. The end product is an album that is…just okay. But “just okay”, for an artist who sounds like her back is seemingly against the wall, is not enough.
This surely was a missed opportunity to put her numerous doubters to rest.