No one is safe on Nicki Minaj’s fourth studio album, Queen (out now). On “Barbie Dreams” alone, she name-drops enough rap rivals to fill a BET Awards seating chart: Lil Wayne, Dave East, Rae Sremmurd’s Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee, 50 Cent, Quavo, Bow Wow, Fetty Wap, Drake, Lil Uzi Vert, Desiigner, Future, DJ Khaled and … well, you get the point. Oh, and the standout track samples The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Just Playing (Dreams).” Because why not?
But surprisingly, there’s little beef here. While Minaj is ruthless with a few of her targets (she insists her ex Meek Mill “still be in my DMs,” while Young Thug is “stealin’ dresses” from her backstage quarters), the majority of her jabs are nothing short of fun-loving. During the chorus, she even clarifies, “I’m just playing / But I’m saying.”
It’s one of the many songs on Queen that cement the 35-year-old’s status as the reigning monarch of hip-hop. She proudly displays her crown early on with the dancehall-inflected opening number, “Ganja Burns,” on which she charges, “Unlike a lot of these hoes, whether wack or lit / At least I can say I wrote every rap I spit.”
Throughout the 19-track record, Minaj sticks to what she knows best. It is her most rap-heavy full-length project to date. Yes, she still sings here and there, but there aren’t any traditional ballads, unlike her previous albums Pink Friday and The Pinkprint, which included the fan favorites “Save Me” and “Grand Piano,” respectively.
Instead, on tracks like “LLC” and “Chun-Li,” the Grammy nominee sharpens her sword with lyrics more hard-hitting than ever. On the latter, she makes it clear that no one can defeat her at her own game: “How many of them could’ve did it with finesse? / Now everybody like, ‘She really is the best’ / You play checkers, couldn’t beat me playin’ chess / Now I’m ‘bout to turn around and beat my chest.”
Her lyrical skill is front and center on “Hard White,” “Good Form” and “Coco Chanel,” too. She cleverly rhymes “good for him” with “good form” before effortlessly flexing her bilingual chops (who knew?) alongside one of her biggest idols, Foxy Brown.
This time around, though, Minaj shines all by herself. Features are few and far between on the tracklist; and truthfully, most of them feel unnecessary. Eminem is the only one to excel with a speedy, tongue-twister of a verse on “Majesty.” Ariana Grande, on the other hand, falls flat on the bawdy “Bed,” and The Weeknd struggles to connect on “Thought I Knew You.”
Luckily, Minaj is more than a decade into her career and continues to master her craft with each song that she puts out. She can easily outwit most, if not all, of her adversaries in the industry at this point. And if the crown fits, she’ll keep wearing it.
3.5 stars (out of 4)
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