It’s been a rough few months recently for rap fans, from Kanye’s antics, to Nas’ half-hearted NASIR and, most recently, Drake’s exhausting double album, Scorpion (also the dumpster fire that is Eminem’s Revival, released at the tail-end of last year). 2018 seems to be the year that hip-hop’s legends let us down. Those hoping a four-year gap between projects would bring with it some redemption from this brutal onslaught are sadly mistaken: On Queen, Nicki Minaj follows suite, presenting listeners with an album that’s messy and cheap, devoid of any passion or artistic maturity.
Queen is littered with baffling decisions that call into question the current state of Nicki’s artistic ability. The most glaring of these is the choice of features on the project. Nearly every feature that Nicki calls falls flat. The second track on the album, ‘Majesty’, featuring Eminem and Labrinth, is downright atrocious. It’s unfortunate that Eminem’s career trajectory has taken such a tragic turn and he brings more of the same flow and delivery that made Revival so tedious to this track. Future’s feature on ‘Sir’ lacks excitement but it’s unfair to place the blame squarely on him since the beat and flow of the song don’t favour his infamous auto-tuned crooning, forcing him outside his usual style and making for an uncomfortable listen. The Weeknd and Swae Lee’s features are passable but, just like Future, Nicki doesn’t seem to care about what makes these voices unique and throws them on tracks for name-recognition rather than chemistry. The dancehall influenced ‘Coco Chanel’, fares pretty well until Foxy Brown’s comes in with an off-beat flow and bars that barely rhyme, dragging the whole track down with her. For a veteran rapper and an essential voice in 90s hip-hop, it defies logic that she could drop a verse this incoherent.
As far as Nicki’s performances, her lyricism and delivery can never be called into question. The issue that Queen makes apparent is that there’s a difference between being a dope MC and being able to put together an album. For the most part, the first half of the project feels too calculated for Billboard charts, scrubbed to the point of blandness. There is one exception, ‘Barbie Dreams’, which sees Nicki rapping over the beat for Biggie’s ‘Just Playing (Dreams)’, turning the concept of the original track on its head and rapping about all the famous rappers who have tried to sleep with her. It’s biting and hilarious, defacing the images of all your favourite rappers with attitude and style.
Following this, the track listing only picks up around the 9th song, ‘Chun Swae’. Metro Boomin’s bouncy 808s and twinkling keys on the track are a welcome break from the clean yet fairly forgettable production that plagues the album up to this point. There’s character and groove to the beat, but Nicki stretches it out to a tiresome 6 minutes, thanking everyone who worked on the album as if it were an outro track. The production for the remainder of the album ricochets between trunk rattling bangers and heartbroken ballads reminiscent of The Pinkprint, providing a wistful hint of what this project could have been.
Lingering along the periphery of Queen is the fact that Nicki Minaj does not have anything interesting to say. What made The Pinkprint so engaging was the narrative of a strong woman, fresh out of a 10-year relationship, being a boss and getting her life back on track. But on Queen, Nicki avoids addressing any personal issues, from her break-up with Meek Mill to her vicious attack on writer Wanna Thompson (who critiqued the immaturity of Nicki’s music on Twitter a few months ago). She reduces all of these interesting topics to subliminal disses and refuses to infuse her music with the passion and heart it deserves. She’s a Queen (supposedly), so infatuated with the idea of transcending all these ‘insignificant’ controversies without actually being able to that the end result is an album that sounds bitter and monotonous. If anyone has been following her social media presence since the album release, you would know that this point has been doubly proven by her weekly tantrums about losing the Number 1 spot to Travis Scott’s ASTROWORLD and her sales numbers being below average for a star of her caliber.
In the final seconds of ‘Chun Swae’, Nicki says, ‘You’re in the middle of Queen right now thinking, “I see why she call this shit Queen. This bitch is really the fucking queen,”’ followed by insane cackling. Where once the declaration may have sounded like a reassertion of dominance, on Queen, it’s cringe-inducing and deluded. The point is counter-productive, only serving to highlight how mediocre the listening experience has been. There’s no humour or cheek that came with Nicki’s alter egos Roman and Barbie, barely any fun to be had and nearly a complete sense of emotional detachment. Years of sitting at the top have made her comfortable and entitled. Right now there are too many worthy contenders for the title of Queen of Rap for Nicki Minaj to produce an album this lacking. Queen makes it clear that the throne is up for grabs.