“When you’re a girl, you have to be, like, everything,” said Nicki Minaj as MTV’s cameras rolled back in 2010. “You have to be dope at what you do, but you have to be super sweet, and you have to be sexy, and you have to be this, and you have to be that, and you have to be nice—it’s like, I can’t be all those things at once!” Still, the constantly controversy-courting singer is giving it her best shot on The Pinkprint—an album that simmers and shimmers, shimmies and smolders as Minaj jumps from rapper to R&B diva to full-on pop star.
Thematic shifts from song to song are even more jarringly dramatic. One moment she’s searing our ears and souls with sleazy shout-outs to big backsides. The next, she’s practically whispering as she sings haunting lyrics about dashed romantic hopes, her deep longing for love and her grief when she learned a relative had been murdered.
Given Minaj’s outsized, dramatic personality, that quiet vulnerability is almost as shocking as the stuff that’s supposed to shock us.
Album opener “All Things Go” reflects on the fragility and frailty of life. “Cherish these nights, cherish these people,” Nicki instructs, “Life is a movie, but there will never be a sequel/ … All things go, all things go.” She imagines taking a daughter to preschool somewhere down the line and laments the loss of a baby (which some mainstream reviewers have suggested was the result of an abortion) as a teen: “My child with Aaron would’ve been 16 any minute.” Elsewhere in the song, Nicki mourns a family member’s murder (“I lost my little cousin to a senseless act of violence”) and confesses that her own decisions may have circumstantially contributed to his death (“His sister said he wanted to stay with me, but I didn’t invite him”). She also talks about how her fame has affected her family, and her determination to forgive “even the ones that hurt me the most.”
“I Lied” offers more true confessions as Nicki sings about her fear of rejection in a relationship (“I thought eventually you would let me go/That was my insecurities and my ego”). Raw vulnerability also floods “The Crying Game,” a breakup song on which Nicki plaintively pleads, “How come you never show it?/All this love you speak of/All I want is to love and to be loved.”
“Grand Piano” wonders painfully, “Am I just a fool?/Blind and stupid for loving you?” Given such hurts, it’s no surprise that “Buy a Heart” ponders how hard it is to trust. “Bed of Lies” calls out a cad for his deceptive ways and finds Nicki critiquing the temptation to deal with her broken heart by intentionally overdosing on drugs (“Couldn’t believe that I was home alone contemplating/Overdosin’, no more coastin’, no more toastin’ over oceans/They say you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone”).
Profanities, obscenities and slurs (f-words, s-words, the n-word, “a–” and “b–ch”) are rampant throughout The Pinkprint, even on songs that otherwise include some of the positive messages described above.
Multiple songs (“Pills N Potions,” “Bed of Lies,” “The Crying Game”) suggest that Nicki turns to drugs to cope with hard emotions. “Favorite” pairs romance with marijuana, while “Feeling Myself” references a kilo of an unnamed drug. “The Crying Game” includes lines describing violent interactions in a relationship (“Sayin’ that we had enough, but enough of what?/Another slap to the face, another uppercut?/I’m just abusive by nature, not ’cause I hate ya'”).
Seven of 16 songs include lyrics linked to sex, with some of them focusing exclusively on it; many of the references to male and female anatomy as well as specific sex acts are too explicit to print here. On “Only,” Nicki’s joined by Drake, Lil Wayne and Chris Brown as we hear her (and them) ponder would-be sexual cross-connections. “I never f—ed Wayne, I never f—ed Drake,” Nicki begins. And then Drake fantasizes explicitly about Nicki’s body and wonders if they could have had sex in a limousine (“I mean, it doesn’t take much for us to do this s— quietly”).
Beyoncé joins Nicki on “Feeling Myself,” which is also rife with other sexual subjects, including masturbation. Ariana Grande guests on “Get on Your Knees,” a track obsessed with oral sex and one that includes some of the most explicit material on the album. “Want Some More” is about exactly what its title implies, and here Nicki also casually brags about abusing the prescription medication Percocet. A nod to bondage turns up on the bling-obsessed “Four Door Aventador.”
Meanwhile, ” Anaconda” (the title of which is a crude reference to the male anatomy) samples lusty lines from Sir Mix-a-Lot’s misogynistic 1986 hit “Baby Got Back,” then adds a few more. We repeatedly hear, “This one is for my b–ches with a fat a– in the f—ing club.” As for those without “back,” Nicki spits, “F— those skinny b–ches in the club/I wanna see all the big fat a– b–ches in the m—–f—ing club/F— you, skinny b–ches.” Nicki’s temper flares violently at the end of “Only” when she sings, “For reals, if you mouth off, I blow your face off/I mean pop-pop-pop, then I take off, n-gga/ … Sixteen in the clip, one in the chamber.”
Just when you start to think maybe Nicki Minaj is turning a more mature corner, she trots out more songs about drugs, killings, oral sex, masturbation and “gettin’ it on” with her musical collaborators.
Listening to the album, it almost feels like The Pinkprint’s risky emotional authenticity just gets too scary for Nicki. So she retreats to “safer” territory, which for her is jaw-dropping nastiness about her own anatomy and that of her lovers, as if she feels perversely compelled to prove that valuable vulnerability and graphic nastiness aren’t mutually exclusive.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.