Just from the title you can tell that Nicki Minaj’s third album is going to be important. Referencing Jay-Z’s landmark record The Blueprint, The Pinkprint marks a shift from the pop-rap that propelled her to superstardom with ‘Super Bass’ and ‘Starships’ to the stalwart of the hip-hop scene seen in her infamous Monster verse, in which she upstaged not just Jay-Z, but also the giants of Kanye West and Rick Ross.
But more than just this, this album unifies her entire body of work. The opening track, ‘All Things Go’, is one of Minaj’s most personal ever, explicitly laying out her worries, fears and ambitions. This emotional openness is one of two themes which weave through the album, in tracks such as ‘The Crying Game’, ‘Pills N Potions’ and ‘Bed of Lies’, several of which talk about Minaj’s recent breakup with her partner of 12 years, Safaree Samuels. The other predominant theme is one of Minaj’s power and strength. This is evident in tracks such as the much discussed single ‘Anaconda’ and ‘Feeling Myself’, an album highlight featuring Beyoncé and a spiritual successor to song of the year contender ‘Flawless Remix’.
A lot of this material takes its power from the reclamation of her sexuality as a black woman, and the combination of this and Minaj’s trademark no holds barred style means that the message might be interpreted very superficially and discarded as standard popstar oversexualisation. This is a massive simplification of the actual meaning behind it all. Minaj made this album to show off. She is still very much in control of everything that is happening, a fact that every featured artist is there to show.
The combination and juxtaposition of these two themes in the album presents a very specific image of Minaj. Take ‘Trini Dem Girls’, arguably the best song on the album. First of all, it very explicitly references her Trinidadian roots; then, the flow and quality of rapping is as good as it’s ever been, and finally it uses the pop-rap chorus that made her a household name. This unity is also seen in ‘Get On Your Knees’, which features Ariana Grande to fill out the chorus whilst also fitting into that new subgenre of boastful cunnilingus rap, in one of the most obvious displays of her sexual power as previously seen in ‘Anaconda’.
That said, there are some flaws in the album. Several of the more emotional ballad-esque tracks blend into one, and ‘Grand Piano’, the album closer, sounds very similar to Lady Gaga’s song ‘Dope’, perhaps even down to the same chord progression. While there are a great number of excellent songs, you do inevitably find yourself skipping several, as those that are weaker pale in comparison to the originality and sheer quality of the album’s high points. A factor in this is the album’s sheer length, coming in at just over an hour. Also, the variety of collaborators and the thematic breadth of the album can lead to it feeling slightly disjointed in some parts.
Overall it is a crowning achievement for Minaj and exactly the album she needed to release, both as one of the best rap albums of the year and as a way to move away from the persona of her first two albums, firmly establishing her position at the very top of modern hip-hop.