BOTTOM LINE Minaj continues her reign, but her kingdom is in flux.
Nicki Minaj really shouldn’t worry so much. The Jamaica, Queens, native easily remains hip-hop’s best female rapper, even if Cardi B. stepped into the spotlight in the four years since she last dropped an album.
Minaj’s new album, “Queen” (Young Money / Cash Money), should put any speculation to rest. Her skill, execution and sheer inventiveness is clearly on display throughout the 19 tracks on the overstuffed “Queen,” though her playful sense of humor is in much shorter supply.
She goes toe-to-toe with Eminem on the well-crafted “Majesty” in a way that only an artist secure in her talent would do, allowing Slim Shady to shine in his triple-time rhymes. Her warning, though, is a little too on the nose. “Gotta be dumb to make your rival ‘cause I’m too powerful,” she sings in a childlike voice. “So say your prayers ‘cause you ‘bout to die slow.”
She flips The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Just Playing (Dreams)” to reflect her status, jokingly taunting everyone from Drake to Mike Tyson over the same sample Biggie used in his classic. She looks to stretch hip-hop’s boundaries in the six-minute epic “Chun Swae,” with Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee singing a sweet hook at the top of his register.
And when Minaj lets herself be vulnerable, as she does in the gorgeous ballad “Come See About Me” or the tougher, Weeknd-ish “Run & Hide,” she shows why her reign as hip-hop queen could be a long one.
The problem with “Queen,” though, is that sometimes Minaj wastes her time on songs that are just OK, such as the inexplicably meh single “Bed,” which Ariana Grande doesn’t really help. (Another single “Barbie Tingz” was so bland it didn’t even make the album.)
However, when Minaj is at her best, she can’t be beat. And “Queen” has so many of those moments that her lead is only getting bigger.