Like many rappers before her, Nicki Minaj has multiple named personalities. Her erratic rapper side, who himself seems to need medication for some personality disorder, is named Roman Zolanski, pronounced zolan-sky. Her other side is apparently just Nicki Minaj. She both raps and makes synth-driven dancefloor pop. Both are heavily present here, but they never seem to meet. When she sets her stall out to do rap, make no mistake, she is undeniably The Female Rapper right now. On Beez In The Trap, she fashions a street anthem from a track that’s basically just space. She has real names to drop – sitting with Anna Wintour – and ridiculous claims to make – “I’m out in Spain running game to the matador.” You could compare her to Kanye in terms of visibility and apparent distance from hip hop tradition in her raps, but at this point, really, her remarkable and bizarre rap persona is unique
But after the likes of Nas, Cam’ron and Young Jeezy dip through, lending their legitimacy to the now and future queen’s half a rap record, the direction changes jarringly. It is obviously tempting to dismiss the half that sounds like Coppers on a Friday night as trashy, throwaway and distracting, but that’s a little unsympathetic. There are records to be sold here and, more importantly, Nicki Minaj’s personality is such that she can carry otherwise generic music. Starships in particular is a decent piece of radio bait, and there’s nothing inherently objectionable about the rest of the formulaic pop if you consume it as formulaic pop.
That leads, then, to the problem of reconciling the (excellent) rap record and the (pretty good) pop record that sit side by side without really acknowledging each other. The multiple personality shtick that Nicki propounds is not really a defence, because the depth of her characters isn’t visible in the pop songs. The only justification, really, is that she has two fanbases to please and a bunch of radio time to command on top of her ongoing occupation of Lil Kim’s perch. If this stayed a rap record and the varied, interesting production, lyrical bombast and narrative substrata of the first seven tracks were maintained, it would be a great one. If it started out a pop record, it would work well too. It does both and therefore it cannot work as an album. But you get the sense that this was meant to be cut up as individual mp3s anyway.