Queen

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aec.cmnyb002861502.2 8/17/18 New
$13.99

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Review Text With a flow that launched a thousand features, Nicki Minaj's talent seemed to find its perfect niche in any of her multiple guest appearances on other artist's hits or in chart-topping singles that wrapped the most digestible version of her snarling delivery in a sugar-coating designed for pop radio. The infectious sparkle of her singles was largely lacking in her full-length albums, which could feel inconsistent or torn between Minaj's fierce skills as a rapper and her calculated pop star veneer. Fourth album Queen follows four years after 2014's The Pinkprint, and finds Minaj offering a darker atmosphere and focusing on her ferocious rap skills more than her well-tested commercial accessibility. With an hour-plus-running time, Queen stretches out languidly, making space for Minaj to follow various paths as the album moves on. The more pop-leaning moments are few here, and the syrupy piano ballad "Come See About Me" feels awkward when it shows up in between narcotic Metro Boomin-produced trap dirges like "Sir" or "Chun Swae." Melodic and radio-friendly fare, like the Ariana Grande-assisted "Bed," lands closer to Minaj's signature pop/rap hybrid formula, and she finds the sweet spot for this formula when she co-mingles sticky vocal hooks with vicious flows as on album-opener "Ganja Burns." "Barbie Dreams" adds layers to Minaj's return to rap form, referencing not just the Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die classic "Just Playing (Dreams)," but also throws back the first time she visited this theme on "Dreams 07," the first track on her debut mixtape Playtime Is Over. Rhyming over the same beat over a decade later, Minaj is at her meanest and most hilarious as she drags famous rappers in an unrelenting stream of bilious rhymes. Similarly, the jittery "LLC" uncorks Minaj's flow at its most ruthless, delivering rhymes that are so quick, funny, and complexly constructed that they're hard to take in the first time. Other strong moments come with the Foxy Brown collaboration "Coco Chanel," a humid banger built on a dancehall-flavored beat, as well as the weirdly catchy "Majesty," a song with a quirky hook that takes notes from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy-era Kanye West. In the same way as Drake's tedious Scorpion, Queen overstays its welcome with an ample level of filler. Songs like "Hard White," "Chun-Li," and "Rich Sex" come off like bored exercises, and the Weeknd shows up on "Thought I Knew You" but doesn't elevate the song from vaguely moody to truly connective. While Queen isn't without highlights, it's bogged down by the less-inspired material. When Minaj leans into her untouchable strengths as a rapper, things get really exciting and an album of tracks as strong as "LLC" or "Barbie Dreams" would be one for the books. As it stands, however, Queen is another chapter of Minaj's good but largely meandering and inconsistent full-length album output. ~ Fred Thomas

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8/17/18 

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