via Billboard

by Niki McGloster

Most artists spend their lives crafting their most personal album. For Nicki Minaj, it’s not until her third studio album, The Pinkprint, where she extends her autobiography beyond slivers of detail and zooms in on her post-fame dealings with love and family.

In 2007, Minaj flooded the streets as a ballsy, unfiltered rapper spitting ostentatious flows on her first mixtape,Playtime Is Over. Since, the oft genre-blending artist has racked up more Hot 100 hits (and alter egos) than Michael Jackson, thanks to her risky, stratospheric songs like “Super Bass,” “Starships” and her second The Pinkprintsingle, “Anaconda,” an ode to big derrieres.

Set aside the romp-shaking Top 40 songs that hang in the rafters with Taylor Swift‘s,The Pinkprint — while fat-trimming could’ve been afforded –- stands as the sweet spot where a newly stripped image and sound align. The union properly widens the scope not of Nicki Minaj, but of Onika Maraj.

Billboard Cover: Nicki Minaj on Sex Life, Larry David & Beyoncé

Minaj accomplished what she set out to do, even though skepticism gripped detractors: she laid “a Blueprint for female rappers to come.” The Pinkprint is both miles ahead in maturity while still acknowledging her gritty start. And she was right: like students studying for the bar, notes can be taken by her successors.

While it’s too early to tell if The Pinkprint is a classic, it’s safe to say it’s her best album to date. Minaj was finally able to out-rap herself and purge issues she’s struggled with in private in her most exposed fashion yet.

Read on for Billboard’s track-by-track review of the deluxe version of Nicki Minaj’sThe Pinkprint.

“All Things Go” – Minaj grapples with losing a baby as a teenager (“My child with Aaron would’ve been 16 any minute”), an unwanted proposal and the death of her young cousin on this five-minute introspective song. The most razor-sharp emotionally and most cathartic album cut, it’s a great indicator of her newfound musical maturity.

“I Lied” – Minaj’s vocals on “I Lied” speak volumes about her range more than any former ballad. This hauntingly hollow record recalls her unwillingness to “let herself go” in attempt to keep her heart intact.

“The Crying Game” – Driven by somber guitar loops, she shines alongside UK singer-songwriter Jessie Ware on one of the best songs of the album. “Ain’t no smiling faces here, we slamming doors and dishes,” she recalls about an abusive relationship. “Another slap to the face, another uppercut.”

“Get on Your Knees” featuring Ariana Grande – Both a hit and a miss, Minaj and Grande’s Dr. Luke-produced match-up is at times awkward. The dominatrix-style song that begs a man to get “on all fours,” loses touch in its sequence. Grande, however, predictably flexes her pipes to make for a memorable bridge.

”Feeling Myself” featuring Beyoncé – Any and every Beyoncé feature is an automatic must-listen. These poster girls collaborate for a pro-women, anthemic track laced with money talk about Chanel bags. (Bey’s out-whispers Grande by a landslide, which is probably why “GOYK” could’ve been clipped.)

“Only” featuring Drake, Lil Wayne, and Chris Brown – For the third single fromThe Pinkprint, Minaj opens with one of the best declarative statements: “I never fucked Wayne, I never fucked Drake.” While it sounds a lot like it was aimed right at in-house suitors, it’s hard to not wonder if it’s a shot aimed at rumored ex-fiance, SB?

“Want Some More” – If any record can hold up with the young trap gawds of now — Migos, Young Thug and Travi$ Scott — it’s this infectious Zaytoven cut. With the help of Yung “Hitmaka” Berg and Metro Boomin, Minaj spits braggadocio with rapid-fire speed. “Who had Kanye saying she a problem?” she asks, ready to prove her lyrical athleticism and literal worth. “You seen that list/ It was me, Baby,Jay Z and Diddy.”

“Four Door Aventador” – It’s easy to forget the year with Minaj’s gruff flow reminiscent of 90s NYC rap. She echoes her mixtape days flawlessly, painting a picture for the hood: “Meet at the Rucker/ Take the Bruckner… It’s just me and Young Yucka/ Taking suckers.” Notorious B.I.G. would be proud.

”Favorite” featuring Jeremih –  It’s simple: Minaj wants to upgrade her status from situationship to real love. “I just wanna be yo favorite,” Jeremih coos in agreement on another The Pinkprint ride-or-die gem.

”Buy a Heart” featuring Meek Mill – Rumored baefriend and girlfriend, the pair use auto-tune —  a departure from Meek’s signature rap style — to offer up their trust on this slow-tempo love song. (Their bonus track pairing “Big Daddy” eclipses this duet.)

“Trini Dem Girls” featuring Lunchmoney Lewis – Minaj’s dancehall-infused ode to the island girls dem.  And there’s equal opportunity for everyone: “American girls run the planet, South African, European, Asian, Australian and my Canadian girls.”

”Anaconda” – Silly and fun, this cut is more comprehensive surrounded by the rest of the track list. A nod to Sir Mix-A-Lot‘s “Baby Got Back,” Minaj disrespects skinny minnies and claps for the big butts.

“The Night Is Still Young” – A lovechild of “Starships” and “Moment 4 Life,” Minaj packs this club record with verses about seizing the night and enjoying the ride. Imagine those drunk, couch-standing nights and fun.’s “We Are Young.” It’s safe to say she’ll be adding this to her vast collection of chart-topping hits.

“Pills and Potions” – The drowsy single that led the album promo finds great placement. What’s a heartbroken girl to do after the partying stops? Rap and reflect with a sobering honesty over more Dr. Luke richness: “I’m angry but I still love you.”

“Bed of Lies” featuring Skylar Grey – As the album winds down, Minaj unpacks more relationship drama and seemingly adds chapters to the story she tells early on on the LP. She airs out her partner for being a “fraud”: “I told Baby hit you/ I said, “This ni—a buggin'”/ ‘Cause I was doing it for us/ I told him, “Fuck the public.”

”Grand Piano” – Minaj reaches for a career-changing ballad with the help of Kane Beatz and On the heartwrenching “Grand Piano,” she accused her lover of playing her heart like the keys.

”Big Daddy” featuring Meek Mill – This is the type of collaboration you’d expect from these two, a newly freed Meek returns to shout-rapping form. Minaj slides in to talk her shit and dare anyone to try them: “You bitches ain’t stupid, is you?”

“Shanghai” – A callback to her “Chi-Raq” flow, Minaj’s better-than-the-boys raps find their way back to the album. “On the real, ni—a, I’m a real ni—a/ I run around with them real ni—as,” she spits.

”Win Again” – Over a garbled beat, Minaj hammers the fact that she’s the H.B.I.C. of the rap game: “Not that I don’t have good vision/ But I don’t see competition.”



DeWarren Smith