When Nicki Minaj announced her third studio album, The Pinkprint, she declared it to be Jay Z’s The Blueprint for female rappers. While the album is by no way a classic, it actually should be seen as the gold standard for a female rapper looking to make it big. It’s not blatantly pop (Iggy’s The New Classic is neither rap nor a classic), and doesn’t feel the need to prove itself, unlike Azealia Banks’ Broke with Expensive Taste.
Minaj has polarized her fans throughout her career. Her mixtapes were great showcases of her hip-hop sensibilities, but were so lyrically aggressive that it came off as a girl trying too hard to join a boys club. Her studio albums represented the other end of the spectrum, as her ear for pop hooks and playful raps launched her into Top 40 stardom to the dismay of her early fans. The Pinkprint finally lands the sweet spot; it’s a cohesive, if overlong, album about heartbreak where “Super Bass” and Minaj’s verse on “Monster” could coexist.
The most impressive aspect of The Pinkprint is Minaj’s success in pulling together a roster of very different genres, productions, and features. “Feeling Myself” is a swaggering highlight that sees Beyoncé taking her riskiest dabble in hip-hop. “Get On Your Knees,” featuring Ariana Grande awkwardly smudging her squeaky-clean image, provides subtle commentary on gender expectations in that its sexually aggressive lyrics feel uncomfortable simply because it’s from a woman’s perspective. “Want Some More” sees Minaj at her most lyrically dexterous and is a great showcase for her ability to move effortlessly between flows. Then there’s “The Night is Still Young,” a sequel to “Starships” that’s lyrically darker and much catchier than the pandering original.
Surprisingly, her singles contextualized in the album are its weaker tracks. “Pills and Potions” is impersonal when compared to cuts like “Bed of Lies.” “Anaconda” is still only a banger when you’re drunk at a party. “Only,” despite featuring Drake in his most unintentionally hilarious and thirsty verse, is underwhelming when compared to the far superior “Truffle Butter,” which also features Drake and Lil Wayne.
The Pinkprint is the standard for female rappers because it is authentic. Minaj is vulnerable and honest in a genre that demands bravado. She is firmly in control of her presentation as a brand, but also shows that she is more than that. The pink wig is gone, and we’re all the better for it.