Nicki Minaj Pink Friday 2
Photo: Republic Records

Nicki Minaj Reigns on ‘Pink Friday 2’

Pink Friday 2 is the sound of Nicki Minaj cracking her knuckles and getting her hands dirty again. It’s the purest distillation of her uniquely feminine bravado.

Pink Friday 2
Nicki Minaj
Young Money / Republic
8 December 2023

For nearly a decade, Nicki Minaj had to be everything to everyone. Essentially running uncontested in the female hip-hop landscape of the 2010s, she approached her music with the last-ditch desperation of someone who had wolves snapping at her ankles. She stuffed her solo projects until they burst at the seams with hardcore rap cuts, blaring Eurotrash, plaintive R&B ballads, and experiments that pushed the definition of “a song” to its limit. With no other women to cover the bases of what a woman could accomplish in hip-hop, there was a sense of obligation to overachieve, to inject herself into the list of big hitters– no matter the genre.

Across her three-album run from 2010-2014, Minaj opened every door she could like a Scooby-Doo chase scene, collecting millions of adoring fans in the process who attached themselves to one of the dozens of versions of her: Rap Nicki, Pop Nicki, Nicki the Vocalist, Nicki the Mogul. In this short window, she cemented herself as the jack of all trades– but perhaps inadvertently, to a good deal of rap fans, the master of none.

Her technical skills as a rapper have been difficult for haters to call into question– lots of “real rap fans” have had their favorite rapper dog-walked on a guest verse from Minaj, often leading to a runaway hit. Most infamously, she stole the show on “Monster”, upstaging Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Rick Ross in one go, but she’s repeated this success on “Rake It Up”, “BedRock”, “Move Ya Hips”, and more. 

But when it comes to her solo endeavors, Minaj has been met with a middling response across the board. Nicki Minaj albums run bloated– counting a handful of deluxe tracks, they clock in around the 80-minute mark and tend to attempt the same experiments over and over again. If there’s a song you didn’t love on 2010’s Pink Friday, chances are extremely high that you’ll find one that sounds almost exactly the same on 2012’s Roman Reloaded, 2014’s The Pinkprint, or 2018’s Queen.

Carrying the emotional weight of a ballad has remained a struggle – her thin, warbly, and processed voice on tracks like “Grand Piano” warrants an instant skip – and her commercial ambitions often result in formulaic and abortive pop tracks like “Bed” and “Pills N Potions”. Still, it’s hard not to be charmed by her kitchen-sink approach to songwriting, resulting in the weirdest and most memorable pop moments in the 2010s. Take “Roman Holiday”, for example, a schizophrenic meltdown that blends laser sound effects, skittering bongos, and something like a Gregorian chant into something indescribable: something distinctively Nicki Minaj.

Enter Cardi B. Blasting into the public consciousness with a sound far more in line with rap radio conventions and a trademark affect and attitude to rival Nicki’s; suddenly the real pressure was on. Her major label debut single “Bodak Yellow” topped the Billboard Hot 100, making her the second female rapper to ever reach the peak with a solo song – an accomplishment that, despite nearly ten years in the game, Nicki had yet to achieve. The threats to her reign didn’t stop there: Megan Thee Stallion emerged in 2019 with the sort of tough gangster flow that naturally commands respect from rap heads, and Doja Cat’s meteoric climb up the charts made Pop Nicki seem incompetent in comparison. Even long-time believers started to question their faith.

Nicki Minaj is nothing if not up for a challenge, and the new competitive spirit brought out both the best and worst in her. She delivered one of the hungriest verses of her career alongside Cardi B on “MotorSport”, audibly having something to prove, decimating Cardi’s charismatic but comparatively hokey flow with a triple-time verse. She also dropped “Chun-Li”, the lead single from Queen, with a music video and one-of-a-kind flow in her discography that reminded people she was still very much in the ring. 

But her thirst for commercial dominance also brought out some more desperate behavior: a maligned collaboration with rapper 6ix9ine, who at the time was very publicly battling child pornography charges, and a slew of collaborations with almost any female rapper who showed even a whiff of potential. As the female rap landscape grew and grew, Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, BIA, Sexyy Red, and Ice Spice all received a coveted Nicki feature– rather than a gesture of camaraderie, this read as an attempt to cosign everything in sight. See her? I made her happen. It was a defensive move, not an especially wise one, as several of these verses are among the weakest in her career.

All of this has led to Pink Friday 2, a much-anticipated sequel to her major label debut that endeared so many to her in the first place. The album was preceded by a three-month waiting game in which she offered multiple cover artworks, a dateless and venue-less “world tour route”, zero new singles, an admission that the year-old “Super Freaky Girl” would be included in the tracklist, and nonstop updates that she’d received freshly recorded vocals mere days before the release date. As international listings of the physical release leaked that CD versions had only ten songs– four of which had already been released in full– Nicki seemed set for an implosion. The public had asked for her to edit, but not like that.

Whether the whole thing was an elaborate bait-and-switch or simply dumb luck, the Pink Friday 2 offered digitally today is a miracle. Clocking in at 22 tracks, it’s fun, vibrant, confident, and candy-coated; heavy on raps but finally delivering rewarding and memorable melodies when singing comes into the mix. If this is the sound of Nicki Minaj working with restraint – with the experience of a 41-year-old mother with over a decade in the game – then her reign over female rap is far from over.

The production of Pink Friday 2 is deeper, punchier, and more versatile than any of her previous records. The bass on “FTCU” is a pimp smack to the jaw; the spiky side-chained beat on “Big Difference” is as loud and messy as it should be, even on a major release from a global pop star. The sour chords over the “Heart of Glass” sample on “My Life” cast an eerie spell over what’s otherwise one of the record’s toughest boasts. Where Queen often felt like a weaker retread of earlier success, Pink Friday 2 is on a mission to blaze new trails and find new homes for her effortlessly versatile voice.

“Everybody”, a pitch-perfect Jersey club cut featuring Lil Uzi Vert, is the album’s crown jewel. Interpolating Junior Senior’s “Move Your Feet” into an infectious and endless string of “body” punchlines, it’s uncharted territory for Minaj and dancefloor gold. (It’s worth noting that despite the sample-heavy beat, it avoids the stench of thirsty radio bait present on “Super Freaky Girl”.) “Bahm Bahm” finds Nicki in her most chilled mode, managing to out-rap her contemporaries while sounding like she’s sipping a martini on a chaise lounge. “Just the Memories”, the album’s closing cut, is easily the best ballad of her career. Laced with wavy and hushed melodies and some genuinely beautiful belting, she gives a rare peek into her private life that shines on the album.

“Are You Gone Already”, the opener, is a lyrical triumph in her discography. Minaj has struggled to deliver genuine emotional weight on her ballads, but an ode to her son finally brings it out of her: “One day, you’ll have to forgive Mommy / But she knows you know too much already.” With the help of a pitched-up Billie Eilish sample, the song stands as the first time you can call a Nicki Minaj song devastating. 

At 22 songs, Pink Friday 2 is far from perfect, burdened by an uneven and forgettable midsection. Its centerpiece Drake collaboration, “Needle”, is an obvious leftover from Drake’s For All the Dogs, defined by his signature anesthetized mumble-singing and an uninspired Nicki verse that cries out for the lightweight fun of “Only” or “Truffle Butter”. The flimsy guitar beat, snoozy hook, and twee TikTok-hungry lyrics on “Cowgirl” make for a truly boring and limp offering, and J. Cole stinks up the joint with a corny self-help verse on “Let Me Calm Down”.

But inside the beautiful hot pink mess lies Nicki’s most disciplined and adventurous work to date, one that’s sure to cement her position in a constantly expanding field of female rappers. In a way, it may have been a relief to have so many other women doing their thing in the areas where she had no interest. It makes Pink Friday 2 the purest distillation of her uniquely feminine bravado in her catalog. 

There’s no air of desperation or nerves on this album that bogged down Queen, in which she bragged about making LLCs. Instead, it’s the sound of an untouchable veteran cracking her knuckles and finally getting her hands dirty again: if they came to play, believe Nicki Minaj when she says playtime is over. 

RATING 7 / 10