In the lead-up to Queen, Nicki Minaj said in multiple interviews it would be the best album of her career. It was a big claim to make, with nearly a decade of rap dominance and a multitude of smash hits under her belt, and it turned out to be impossible to live up to.
Minaj is on the defensive for all 19 tracks of Queen. Even if you agree with all her claims that she’s rap royalty, after a while you’re ready for her to switch topics. With rhyme after rhyme showcasing her career and all her accomplishments, it feels like she’s telling you rather than showing you how good the album really is.
That being said, some of the individual songs on Queen are the best of Minaj’s long-spanning career. “Good Form” is an anthemic banger with the rhythm and catchiness you’ll find in viral dance hits like Drake’s “In My Feelings” or Cardi B’s “I Like It.” “Barbie Dreams” is a modern-day gender-swapped parody of Biggie’s “Just Playing (Dreams)” that fans of any of the male rappers Minaj name-drops can enjoy.
Minaj is at her strongest when she’s her unfiltered self. “Hard White” mimics the unwavering sense of swagger and assertiveness in recent rap chart-toppers. “Majesty” finds Minaj strutting her talent with ease as she and Eminem deliver verses worthy of granting them the titles of the king and queen of rap.
But I just want to hear Minaj address something other than her own success and fame. Some of the slower songs — like “Run & Hide” and “Nip Tuck” — attempt to shed the facade of Minaj’s tough exterior and expose some sense of vulnerability, but were unmemorable and felt slapped onto the track list at the last minute. “Come See About Me” is an exception to this, however, as its simmering beats and belted chorus find Minaj relaying true, pure emotion as she yearns for the love of a man she can’t have.
Some of the tracks with high-profile featured artists leave something to be desired as well. “Chun Swae” (featuring Swae Lee) is a laid back bop with some of the most clever rhymes on the album, but Lee’s verses simply outdid Minaj’s. The gradual build-up of the Ariana Grande collaboration “Bed” doesn’t disappoint, but doesn’t compare to past Minaj-Grande efforts like “Side to Side” or “Get on Your Knees” either.
Though Queen has its occasional missteps, in no way is it a wholly disappointing album. For every step backward, there’s two steps forward. After a forgettable collaboration with The Weeknd on “Thought I Knew You,” you’re served the unmistakable Minaj brand of defiant confidence on tracks like “Chun-Li” and “Coco Chanel.” Despite the confusingly clunky production of the Future collaboration of “Sir,” you’ve got the exquisitely precise crafting of songs like “Rich Sex” or “Ganja Burn.”
After a front-to-back listen, it’s clear Minaj’s pre-release claims of Queen‘s excellence only came to fruition on a handful of tracks, and the inconsistency makes the effort feel a tad disjointed as a result.
Perhaps if she hadn’t discussed so frequently how great Queen would be, the reception of the album would’ve been more positive.