Like many online critics, I underestimated Nicki Minaj’s newly released, fourth studio album, Queen. And guess what? I shouldn’t have.
I’ll admit that during the course of Queen‘s rollout, I was very skeptical about the album being able to surpass the quality of Nicki’s third studio album, The Pinkprint. Although I was impressed with Nicki’s performance on “Chun-Li,” the album’s next set of singles caused me to become worried about the caliber of her new set. I thought that both “Barbie Tingz” and “Bed” were underwhelming. Not because I thought that they were terrible songs, but instead that they didn’t sound any different from what I had heard from Nicki on Pink Friday, or even the pop records from The Pinkprint. I did like “Rich Sex” with Lil Wayne a little better, but unfortunately it was not chosen as an official single.
When The Pinkprint came out in 2014, I remember being impressed with the lyrical content of the album, and felt it was a major advancement from the Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded era, which I found to be disappointing. With The Pinkprint, Nicki stepped up her game and displayed her lyrical abilities, employing more flow switches than on any of her previous albums. But after the close of The Pinkprint era, Nicki took the longest break between records than she had ever taken in her career. During that 4 year period, several female rappers entered the hip-hop arena, but none of them had achieved enough success to be considered Nicki’s true competition, until 2017, when the general public was introduced to Cardi B.
Despite Nicki Minaj’s accolades and nearly decade long lock on female rap, Cardi B became the only female rapper to have a solo #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 since 1998. Immediately, the general public (and myself included) pondered about if Cardi would be the one female rapper who would reach the success to end Nicki’s nine year tenure as hip-hop’s reigning queen. Cardi seemed to release hit after hit with “Bartier Cardi,” and “Be Careful,” but her potential was finalized when her debut album, Invasion of Privacy, went #1 on the Billboard 200, selling 255,000 copies in its first week. It was the first time a female rapper achieved a #1 album, since Nicki’s Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded in 2012. Cardi’s album release was preceded by a #1 hit, two Top 20 hits, and four Top 10 rap features. Those were achievements that gave the album ample promotion and public interest, which ultimately led to the strong sales debut, which was unexpected. In contrast, Queen‘s release is preceded by a Top 10 hit, two Top 10 rap features, and one Top 20 rap feature. Clearly, Invasion of Privacy had the upper-hand with release promotion, however, chart placements and sales do not always convey quality, and that is where Queen should have never been underestimated.
Upon the first listen of Queen, I was able to certify that it is the best album that Nicki has released to date; far surpassing the quality of The Pinkprint, which I had predicted to be the peak of her catalog. On Queen, Nicki returns harder than she ever has before, with lyrical abilities that eclipse the material on all of her previous albums. In addition, the album confirms that she is indeed a better lyricist and more versatile rapper than her latest competition, including Cardi B. Yes, Cardi’s album is definitely successful, cohesive, strong and a great listen from beginning to end, but Queen displays flows and wordplay that Cardi and her peers like Iggy Azalea and Stefflon Don would never be able to replicate on their best day.
The flow switches are one of the album’s best characteristics. On tracks like “Hard White,” “Chun Swae” featuring Swae Lee, and “LLC,” Nicki will go from rapping in a violent energy to rapping as Harajuku Barbie and then transcending to spitting faster than Eminem, all on the same song. Towards the end of the album’s 4th track, “Barbie Dreams,” listeners even get a visit from Nicki’s long-lost alter ego, Roman Zolanski.
Another highlight of Queen is the experimentation that Nicki employed through the use of less mainstream producers. The change matures the sound of all of Queen‘s tracks, which is something that I have wanted to hear from Nicki for awhile. For the first time, Nicki has made an album that has a darker sound to it, with many hard-hitting beats that are complimented with eerie undertones and matched with more serious and emotional subject matter. The improvement allows listeners to have an easier experience relating to the music, as it finally feels like Nicki truly means every word that she raps. On tracks like, “Majesty” featuring Eminem and Labrinth, “Sir” featuring Future, and “Coco Chanel” featuring Foxy Brown, Nicki sounds like she’s expressing anger through her bars. She raps with a powerful seriousness that lets listeners know that she means business, and business only.
But Queen isn’t just an album comprised of hip-hop material, Nicki again displays her versatility with fun records like the dreampop-inspired “Ganja Burns,” the album’s twerk-anthem, “Good Form,” or the confidence emitting “Miami.” Nicki also returns to her love for singing, providing soft, smooth, and breathy vocals on the somber, yet delectable tracks including, “Thought I Knew You” featuring The Weeknd, “Run & Hide,” “Nip Tuck,” and “Come See About Me;” which serves as Queen‘s equivalent to a theoretical mixture of Pink Friday‘s “Save Me” and The Pinkprint‘s “Grand Piano.”
Hands down, Queen is an impressive album that provides proof that Nicki Minaj is the most skilled at her craft among all the female rappers of her generation. Her talent for making lyricism, versatility, and creativity look easy is exactly the reason why myself and many others should not have been so quick to assume that the album could be a disappointment. Sadly, the confusion surrounding the album is due to Young Money Entertainment and Cash Money Records choosing singles that were not reflective of Queen‘s themes or strengths. Regardless of whether or not it will sell more than The Pinkprint, it is safe to say that Queen is the best female rap album released in the past few years, but most importantly, the best Nicki Minaj record in her career thus far.
Sorry for doubting you, Nicki.
Nicki Minaj’s Queen: 8/10
“You’re in the middle of Queen right now, thinking, ‘I see why she called this shit Queen. This bitch is really the fucking que-e-e-en!’ Ahahaha!”
– Nicki Minaj, “Chun Swae” featuring Swae Lee
Queen is available now on all streaming platforms and in stores.
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