When Nicki Minaj first began releasing mixtapes and being featured on albums, many listeners and critics were full of excitement about such a creative and powerful rapper, particularly a female one. But thus far, Minaj’s official albums, though successful as measured by copies sold and charts topped, have been to others something of a disappointment. Minaj herself has talked, rapped, and sung about internal and external pressures to popify, but her efforts to appeal to both pop and rap audiences have left many unsatisfied.
Unlike “Pills n Potions” and “Anaconda,” the two previous singles from Minaj’s upcoming album, “The Pinkprint,” “Only” seems to be aimed at fans of Minaj’s rap rather than her pop. In fact, the only melody on the track is sung by Chris Brown in a short chorus. One verse is rapped by Minaj herself, and two others are taken by Drake and Lil Wayne, respectively. But resemblance to the Minaj critics were so excited about on her mixtape “Beam Me Up Scotty” and Kanye’s “Monster” doesn’t go much farther than the adherence of these works to the hip-hop genre.
The same four notes loop throughout the track, ringing out like bells on a steady beat. While the sequence sounds familiar from numerous club songs, the effect is atmospheric at first. There is an implicit I’ll-take-my-time-if-I-want-to attitude, but the simplicity and precision of the basic setup seem to call for some sort of vibrant aberration, and this moment never comes.
The lyrics are clever and capable enough, as you’d expect from three experienced rappers. But something is lost from Minaj’s and Lil Wayne’s verses due to the monotone in which they’re expressed. Minaj’s finesse as a rapper comes in part from the overflowing personality of her delivery—maniacal laughter and frenetic alternation between personas. But being aloof is far less original. While it might add variety to an album, as a single, “Only” lacks the personality and creativity of some of Minaj’s earlier work.
“The Pinkprint” is out Dec. 15 via Young Money Entertainment.
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