In case you forgot, today was the original intended release date for Nicki Minaj’s second proper album Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. (Those of you wishing to get your Valentine some new music will have to settle for the new Band of Skulls record.) That full-length will now be out in April, but Minaj wouldn’t let the pinkest of days go by without some fresh tunes.
In addition to premiering the song “Roman Holiday” on Sunday night’s Grammy Awards (more on that super-polarizing six minutes in a bit), Minaj also unveiled a new tune called “Starships,” which happens to be produced by Lady Gaga hitmaker RedOne — a deeply disturbing trend, considering she also tapped former Gaga choreographer Lauriann Gibson to design her Grammy show.
It’s super clubby and contains almost no rapping, which continues Minaj’s push into the complete opposite direction she should be heading.
Minaj isn’t the most popular person in pop music right now. Her muddled, bombastic performance at Sunday night’s Grammy Awards was covered in flop sweat. It was designed to be “controversial” without actually saying anything, and though the Catholic League expressed their outrage, the press release they put out yesterday felt more like a necessary bodily function than a true expression of anger. Perhaps she thought she needed to catch up to fellow “Give Me All Your Luvin’” guest star M.I.A.?
Even if you leave her visual trickery behind, her current musical approach is vexing. Many are talking about the new album being her bid for some sort of pop crossover, which would make sense if she was still a mixtape artist who wasn’t already the fourth or fifth most popular female star in pop. If you recall, “Super Bass” was considered one of the best and biggest singles of last year, a sentiment expressed by this very magazine. She doesn’t need to cross over; she found the bridge long, long ago.
The most frustrating thing about Minaj is that she is a ridiculously talented rapper, and she appears to be moving away from the skill that made her a big deal in the first place. Quick, name five prominent female rappers. Go ahead, take your time. The reason why it’s hard to come up with names right away is because there is a massive dearth of known lady MCs in the marketplace, and Minaj would be able to carve out her own niche simply by being good at her core skill. She doesn’t have to pander to an audience with super-glossy pop production and vocal tricks—people can get that basically anywhere. But a strong, inventive woman who raps with tremendous skill and natural charisma? That’s who she is, and she should be using that.
Though Lil Wayne is her friend and label boss, Nicki Minaj should really turn to Eminem for inspiration. When he began in hip-hop, Marshall Mathers was an outlier who got over because of that same kind of skill and charisma. He didn’t need to reach out across the spectrum to incorporate sub-genres into his sound for the sake of gaining listeners. The listeners recognized his greatness and came running to him. Minaj can be the same way. Rap music is still very much a dude’s club, but Minaj can rise above all of hip-hop—and all of pop, too—simply by being good at what she does.