Let’s cut to the chase: If you are looking for some payola album review of Queen that is going to drag Nicki for her abonimable and lengthy rollout or one that is going to cherry pick simple lines from generally well-written verses, head to the upper right corner and hit that X button right now because this isn’t the space for you.
Overall, Queen is an enjoyable body of work for people who were already fans of hip-hop’s leading lady. The album pays homage to Nicki’s roots and demonstrates her technical ability as a rapper in terms of both flow and lyrics (I don’t care what your favorite tweeter says, the woman can rap. PERIOD). What the project does not do, is prove that Nicki can go toe to toe with any of the female rappers she’s opened doors for and by her own admission, is competing against.
Out of the 19 tracks on Queen, only 1 features another female rapper. “Coco Chanel” with Foxy Brown is beautiful in that in this one track (and its outro) you are able to hear the influence Foxy has on Nicki and how their shared culture as West Indians has influenced their art. Now I’m no dummy, I keep up with what goes on in the industry so I know there is little to no chance that Nicki would work with any other OG Female rapper. That ship sailed back when she tried to get Foxy Brown and Remy Ma on a track which was supposed to be “the 2017 version of Ladies Night” only for Remy to release “Shether” a few weeks later. “Coco Chanel” makes me wish Nicki would have incorporated even just one up and coming female rapper on her album so that she could do something similar to what Foxy did for her, with any of the girls who have been very open about looking up to and being influenced by her.
I’m a believer in respecting legends while they walk amongst us, so I refuse to criticize Nicki without telling the full story or giving credit where it is due: Peers like Young M.A., Trina and Foxy Brown have nothing but good things to say about her and the mentorship or friendship she has provided them. At the beginning of her career, Nicki paid homage to nearly every female rapper who came before her and influenced her work and aesthetic. Nicki continues to use her tours as a way of introducing up and coming female MCs like Dej Loaf, Asian Doll and Maliibu Miitch to the masses. Given that in 2018, touring comprises the bulk of artists’ money and introduces them to a much wider audience, the impact of her decision to do this is not to be ignored. However, in the context of rap history as a whole, a tour is a very short moment in time. It is fleeting. A song (or songs) with multiple female rappers will last forever and is why despite having beefs with other women who rap, MC’s like Lil’ Kim, Remy Ma and Foxy Brown are able to leave legacies that include fostering camaraderie among female rappers long after careers have ended, prison stints have been served and homes have been repossessed.
Had Queen been an album that didn’t feature other rappers as much as it does, Nicki choosing to only have one other female MC on the album wouldn’t be so questionable. But because the album features six other rappers, five of them male and one of them (Swae Lee) not even actually rapping? The dearth of women is glaring, especially when most of the male features are not even good. In fact, a common theme on this album is that the male rap features lower songs they should be elevating. Take “Majesty” for example, on this track Nicki rips her first two verses only for Eminem to ruin the song’s momentum with a 2 minute long verse that employs nearly every white rapper cliche: an unnecessarily fast and AR-15-esque flow, some obscure reference to his relationship with the devil and an extremely simple AABB rhyme scheme that fails to be concealed by aforementioned machine gun flow. From this sortie, Nicki seamlessly transitions into her final verse which she spits over a dancehall beat and ends up saving the song from total destruction at the hands of Slim Shady.
I don’t have much to say about “Rich Sex” other than it is astounding to me that Nicki selected Lil’ Wayne for a feature on a song preaching the importance of only fucking men who have money when The City Girls, Megan Thee Stallion, Kash Doll and Trina (who she has worked with before) are right there. Wayne is such an ill fitting feature for “Rich Sex” in both persona and style it is nearly impossible to make it through his verse. Once again, I have no issue with the verse Nicki spits at the beginning of the song or with the fun ad libs she has at the end (I manually fast forward past Wayne’s verse every time I listen just to hear them) but between the elementary chorus and god awful second verse, the track as a whole leaves much to be desired.
On “Sir” featuring Future, Nicki impresses listeners with her wordplay as she rebuffs the idea that repeating the last word in a line is equivalent to rhyming that word with itself. Future? He gives the strongest male rap feature on this album but with a verse bereft of any interesting metaphors or poetry technique he leaves us wanting more in a bad way.
All that being said, the most impressive tracks on Queen are by far the solo tracks. This is likely intentional given all of the pre-album criticism that implied Nicki could not hold down a song solo or have a hit song with no features. (As of right now the highest charting song from the album is solo hit “Barbie Dreams” which is also projected to debut at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 next week). On “Ganja Burns,” she is aware of the rhetoric surrounding her pen game and brave enough to defend it. “Barbie Dreams” is a brilliant ode to one of rap’s greatest and her final verse is an exhaustive lesson on personification and how to effectively use a sped up flow without coming across as overbearing (take notes Eminem). “Good Form” is a twerk anthem the likes of which we have not seen since “Back That Azz Up.” “Miami” is Nicki’s first full-length, solo trap song on which she samples Kodak Black cleverly and without completely biting his flow, cadence and general style. With “Hard White/Half Back,” she testifies on the chorus and playfully preaches on the verses about her legacy and influence. Halfway through August and lead single “Chun-Li” (co-produced by Minaj), is still one of the most impressive beats we’ve gotten in a summer that saw a critically acclaimed release from Travis Scott and five Kanye West produced albums. “LLC” is 3 minutes and 42 seconds of solo shade that is justified by the wit she presents on each verse. Even her singing tracks show huge growth vocally and lyrically. On “Come See About Me,” she is the most introspective we’ve seen her since 2014’s The PinkPrint. “Nip Tuck” is an excellent blend of her passions for both singing and rapping. “Run & Hide” is extremely relatable and critics have praised it for being the album’s most vulnerable track.
As a whole, Queen is a great body of work but the album falls short of excellence because it lacks cultural impact. Nicki’s prerogative throughout Queen is clearly to prove herself as an MC who writes her own stuff, not to her core fans who have never doubted her abilities as a rapper but to the general public. What she doesn’t seem to grasp is that post-Wanna gate, there is no verse she could deliver in 2018 that would convince the general public of her skill. Her battle with the GP should have been fought and won via interesting and unexpected features for Queen. Nicki has more than enough ability to hold her own with any woman in the game, past or present and it’s time she demonstrate that in her own work. The best decision Nicki Minaj could have made this era would be to feature exclusively with woman rappers as opposed to people like Nas (who she has worked with before), Tekashi 6ix9ine (who has a number of issues that we won’t get into), Wayne (who in 2018, ruins more songs than he improves) and Ariana Grande (who has more female rappers on her latest project than Nicki does on Queen). As a fan? I’m well fed from this album and the interviews and social media rants that followed it but from here, I would like to see Nicki continue to flex her pen on tracks with up and coming female rap artists that could use the boost. Long live the QUEEN.