Welcome to Junk Mail, where a few Music Times staffers email back-and-forth about each week's biggest release throughout the work day. This week, Carolyn Menyes, Kyle Dowling and Caitlin Carter chat about Nicki Minaj's new album The Pinkprint. Feel free to join the conversation in the comments section, and check back next week for more.
Kyle Dowling: Here we are with a new album by Nicki Minaj! I don't think anyone will be surprised to read that this is the first Minaj album I've listened to all the way through. Having said that, I'll admit that I was pretty psyched to give it a listen after falling in love with "Bed of Lies" and secretly listening to "Anaconda" over and over again.
To start us off, I'll say that I liked the album. I think it's rather solid. The ones I liked, I really liked. And, naturally, there were a few I could have done without. But I must say that I think the best parts of The Pinkprint are when Minaj herself is rapping. Sure, there are a number of pretty cool appearances from other artists but I found myself enjoying her the most, which I believe is a compliment. I was also surprised by how emotional the album was at times. But we'll get into that further later on.
What did you both think of The Pinkprint?
Carolyn Menyes: I definitely feel like The Pinkprint is Minaj's most solid album to date, I will say that. There's no real hit-baiting like we heard on Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded ("Starships," yuck). I agree that Minaj is far and away the best part of this album, as you know, she should be on her own LP. But someone like Minaj's little collaborator Ariana Grande is never the star of her own anthems...
The Pinkprint is beautifully personal, at least at the top. The opening trio of "All Things Go," "I Lied" and "The Crying Game" were so revealing and insightful that it really hit a chord with me. While The Pinkprint is a fantastic effort, I think I would have just preferred 10 of those rich, deeply personal songs than including some of the lighter fare. Nicki Minaj is one of the biggest stars in the world, but she's so private and it's nice to get to know her through her lyrics.
Caitlin Carter: I'm on the same page. I think Minaj accomplished what she set out to do, which was to make a rap album and shy away from the gimmicky pop hits/image that made the hip-hop community not take her as seriously. She is really on her game lyrically on The Pinkprint - smart wordplay and aggressive verses.
I also liked the duality of the album. It's part "I'm a boss b***h" part "I'm a sensitive human being." As for the criticism I have, I think the effort is a bit top heavy. The first handful of tracks are legit, but I started to lose interest toward the end. I'm not sure if that was because I was listening to was the deluxe version or what.
"All Things Go" really struck a chord with me, and I think it was the perfect intro into the album. It's so interesting to think about the struggle famous people have in keeping authentic relationships with the people who were in their lives before they were famous.
"I Lied" and "The Crying Game" are what I think Minaj was talking about when she said that women would really connect with the album. It all seemed very honest and got to the root of how all relationships are complicated and how we act isn't always how we feel.
I liked how after three really emotional tracks, she gets a little raunchy and back to that "boss b*tch" headspace with "Get On Your Knees," "Feeling Myself" and even "Only." After that, it's kind of a hit or miss on the remainder of the tracks. I think "The Night Is Still Young" works as a club track but it felt a little generic. "Grand Piano" kind of dragged on. "Big Daddy" and "Shanghai" were pretty badass.
But before I write a damn novel, I let you guys weigh in on what you liked/didn't like.
KD: I agree with you, Caitlin. I love how she was able to go from the emotional Minaj to the "I know I'm awesome" Minaj many people know. That was something I didn't necessarily expect but I really enjoyed. Somehow she has the ability to make me near tears on one track and then make me feel like I'm listening to a porn podcast on the very next song. Well done, Minaj.
I may be setting myself up here for some serious backlash but I wasn't a huge fan of "Feeling Myself" - which I know features the First Lady of the Music Biz, Beyonce, but it didn't do it for me. It picks up towards the end of the track, but overall its one I'll skip over.
I also found the lyrics in "Only" ... interesting? I like the song - and her cupcake reference is very descriptive - but Drake and Lil Wayne's part made me feel badly for whoever she is/was (or ever will) dating. I don't know enough about her personal life to go into detail there, however. But Lil Wayne's line of, "Whoever is hittin' ain't hittin' it right cuz she act like she need d*ck in her life," made me cringe. Not in disgust but more so like, "Oh, that poor guy." Then again, maybe I'm just not a baller.
CM:I liked how The Pinkprint seemed to flow in movements. It showed different sides of Minaj and proved that, yeah, she is the queen of rap. Before, Minaj would show all her different sides through voices and characters, but here she can own her sexuality, her sensitive side, her pop side and her hard side all just while being Nicki Minaj. it's refreshing and shows oodles of skill.
I agree, Caitlin, in saying that this album was top heavy. "Pills N Potions" and "Bed of Lies" are some really stunners at the back half of the album and the closing deluxe edition track "Win Again" is also a winner, but the middle really drags.
While I don't personally really prefer "Only," "Get on Your Knees" or "Feeling Myself," I recognize that objectively they're strong singles and they definitely get that cocky, confident Nicki (and guests) across. If she had stayed on that game -- three introspective singles followed by three crazy bangers -- I feel like The Pinkprint would be beyond classic. And while 90 percent of this album fulfills that, we get some generic clubby things like "Favorite" and "The Night is Still Young" that hold The Pinkprint back from that status completely.
Which, how did "The Night is Still Young" even land on this album? It's worse than "Starships." I have a feeling it's going to be a single at some point and I'm gonna vomit everywhere.
And Lil Wayne is terrible and his verse on "Only" is terrible. End of storyyy.
CC: The Pinkprint, for me, is Nicki Minaj rapping as an "alter-ego" we haven't heard before: Onika Maraj. Being a female in the industry, she was always having to prove herself and be everything at once: smart, sexy, cool, badass, fun, etc. Through all that, she ended up becoming more of a brand than a person. She had given the people what they wanted, but ultimately lost her legitimacy as a hip-hop artist. The Pinkprint is neither a return to her mixtape days nor a continuation of her pop persona. It's something completely different. I think that what's she was trying to get across on the last line of "All Things Go." This is what she really sounds like. "This is The Pinkprint."
KD: After first hearing "Anaconda," I had no idea her album was going to be this personal and emotional. One thing I really dig is the fact that there's hardly any beating around the bush in a number of these songs. The lyrics are straight up, in your face and honest.
What did you guys think of the album's closer, "Grand Piano"? - I really enjoyed it.
CM: Nicki set the personal tone with "Pills N Potions," but I feel like that single really ran under the radar. Not because it's not good, but it's really just not quite single material, if that makes any sense.
"Grand Piano" must close out the standard issue? I listened to the deluxe (but not the iTunes Deluxe or anything). I feel like "Grand Piano" sounded more like a Rihanna song that Nicki Minaj. I think it's beautiful in that way; it's really easy to relate to. That lyric, "You played my heart like a grand piano" really brings The Pinkprint full circle. It starts off with a song about falling out of love and then ends with it. Minaj plays her heartbreak really well on this album, and those songs are among her favorite that she's ever done.
Caitlin, I know you mentioned "I Lied" being one that Minaj said all girls would relate too, and wow. Yeah. This song can definitely hit close to home. I don't prefer Nicki Minaj's singing voice to her rapping, but I think it works effectively here.
What did you guys think of the balance of The Pinkprint? I feel like I mentioned it a lot in detail, but I'm wondering if you want to go into further detail.
CC: I think the album is very balanced. It gives us a little bit of everything, and I think it will also convert some binary fans to like more than just what originally drew them to her. I left the album feeling like I had a well-rounded sense of who Nicki Minaj is. So the album is definitely balanced thematically, but it's also balanced as far as production. Every song really had its own vibe. Nothing felt rehashed.
KD: The album flows just fine for me. I left the listen feeling totally different than I went into it; I knew she could rap but I really enjoyed the mix between the emotional and the strong side. I think what she's put together here is a really solid piece of music that gives fans a little look into what she often goes through. Yeah, she's a superstar and such but she's still going through things on a human level. I think that's something she wanted her fans to notice, and I think they will.
Are there any tracks you would have left off the album? I know I've got a couple.
CC: I don't think "Anaconda" needed to be on the album. I think it could've worked well as just an off-shoot, novelty single. Like I said earlier, I wasn't into "The Night Is Still Young." I also wasn't as big of a fan of "Grand Piano" as you were, Kyle. It didn't really give me anything special. That song could've be recorded by anyone, IMO.
CM: I agree. In I think last week's Junk Mail you lamented the lack of stand-alone singles today,and I agree. "Anaconda" works in the bragging, sexy side of The Pinkprint but even a song like "Get on Your Knees" has a sense of maturity to it.
I think the songs that fail to resonate with me the most are the ones that feel like they could've been done by anyone. Nicki Minaj is such a talent that I don't know... "Grand Piano" despite striking a good emotional chord is a little generic, I will admit. "The Night is Still Young" is generic and bad. Even a song that I kind of love, "Trini Dem Girls," sounds like it could have belonged to Rihanna. Like, damn, that beat is crazy, so it's hard to say anything bad on it from that standpoint, but it doesn't feel distinctly like a Nicki track.
CC: To quickly interject: I totally had those same mixed feelings on "Trini Dem Girls." It has such a badass beat and is really a good song, but Minaj is definitely upstaged as far as what makes that song good.
KD: I'd agree - "Anaconda" is a bit jarring when thinking about the rest of the album. Not saying I haven't listened to it 1,000 times on my Spotify, but it just doesn't hold up to the rest of the album for me. On another note: did anyone else really, really, really like "Want Some More?"
CM: I thought "Want Some More" was a great exercise in those crazy Nicki Minaj voices. I can't say I 100 percent miss those, but I welcomed this a lot. God, the way she raps "I say thank yooooooouuuuuu" is insane. I loves it.
CC: I'm on the same page with "Want Some More." Good stuff. Going now into "Truffle Butter" vs. "Only."
I really liked the minimalist beat on "Only" but as far as the verses go, I thought "Truffle Butter" was stronger. Lil Wayne's "Only" verse was pretty uninspired but his "Truffle Butter" verse was legit. I liked how he switched up his flow at the end. Siiiick. Those were probably my favorite lines on that track. Drake's verses were actually better on "Only" but mostly because they were funny and not overly raunchy.
KD: "Truffle Butter" certainly has a more danceable beat to it. I'd agree that Drake's "Only" verse is waaaay better. Lil Wayne, like on "Only," made me rewind yet again to make sure I heard him correctly. And yep, he does talk about doing coke off of his d*ck. So, yeah. I do like the chunk after that line though...very cool way of going about rapping over the beat. All in all, I think I may like "Only" better. I think Minaj's verse on "Only" is a really in-your-face. #badass.
CM: I'm not totally in love with either "Truffle Butter" or "Only," but I think there's definitely a reason why one made the album and was made the third single, while the other is an iTunes Exclusive. 'nuff said.
CM: There are a few little bumps on The Pinkprint, but if saying something is generic is the worst one can think of, that means this album is a classic. Nicki Minaj is clearly at the top of her game, getting personal, introspective, sexy and strong all in one album.
KD: The Pinkprint is a win! Grotesque cupcake images and dirty Lil Wayne lyrics aside, I am thrilled I gave this album numerous listens. I love the personal and emotional angles Minaj throws in and how they seemingly drift into the badass rapper we've all seen. Wonderful beats with deep lyrics (most of the time) - I am certain I'll be revisiting The Pinkprint in the future.
CC: Nicki Minaj pulled it off with The Pinkprint. Other than a few generic tracks, Minaj really goes hard from start to finish. It's smart, sensitive, sexy, and strong. What more could you ask for. Thumbs up, Onika Maraj!