Nicki Minaj is undoubtedly a pop star. 

From the bubbly EDM of her breakout single “Super Bass”’ to the summery guitar of “Starships,” Minaj has long stood strong in the sea of dance pop. She dominated the charts in the 2010s while staying true to her fiery lyricism.

The proclaimed queen of rap is a chameleon with her production, seamlessly adapting to shifting musical trends of the decade with her own twist.

Her new project, Pink Friday 2, is an amalgamation of the styles that have made the rapper a star. Minaj revisits the dance sound of her early career, the current sounds that have cemented her legendary status and displays a keen understanding of what the 2020s will sound like.

The recent mainstream explosion of garage, house and afrobeats is an evident influence on Minaj’s new project. She and longtime collaborator Drake dance around each other on the soft dancehall of “Needle.” The dreamy vocals of 20-year-old songwriter Lourdiz meld perfectly with Minaj’s playful lyricism on the sleepy house synth of “Cowgirl.”

Maximalist dance production also finds a home on Pink Friday. The bouncy drums and brass of a sample of Junior Senior’s “Move Your Feet” in “Everybody” will easily find its place on dance floors in the near future. Lil Uzi Vert’s verse on this track was one of the best among the album’s features.
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Minaj played around with the classics as well. The bright trap beats of “Pink Friday Girls” shines alongside the chorus of Cindy Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” for a vibrant party track, and the mischievous drawl of Minaj’s voice over the “Super Freak” sample in “Super Freaky Girl” still holds months after the single came out.

The standout in the pop category however, is the heartbreaking “Last Time I Saw You.” It’s the vivacious rapper at her most vulnerable, with stripped back 808’s and gentle vocals, Minaj faces grief and regret with a brave face.

For an artist with Minaj’s discography of innovative lyricism and metaphors, the straightforwardness of writing “I wish I didn’t waste precious time the night I called you / I knew the moment I met you I’d always adore you,” is a moving showcase of honesty.

Minaj slips more into introspectiveness on her father’s passing with the album’s emotional opener “Are You Gone Already,” featuring a sample of Billie Eilish’s hit “when the party’s over” and audio recordings of her son, allowing us a valuable look into the anguish of her personal life.

Yet the rapper, first and foremost, is an entertainer. This access is removed just as quickly as it was allowed as the album drops us right into the cocky “Barbie Dangerous.” 

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The grandiose and highly anticipated “Big Difference” embodies the essential elements of a Nicki Minaj hit. It’s confident, theatrical and charismatic. Minaj reminds the industry of her influence’s magnitude, proclaiming that up-and-coming rappers owe her their success.

The bells, whistles and alarms backing the production add to the urgency of her message, said best herself: “When Barbie touch down / the baddest of bitches is out.”

It’s a spiritual successor to Minaj’s Pink Friday hit, “Did it On‘em,” yet even as a standout on the new album, it fails to fully compliment its predecessor.

The idea that this album is a sequel to Minaj’s debut is a disservice. Pink Friday 2 is filled with content Minaj’s loyal fan base will love, but the longevity and hunger of her debut project has yet to be topped in her discography.

No song on the album has the immediate hook of “Super Bass” or the catchy lovesickness of “Your Love.” The need to associate the new project with one that’s currently more successful feels disingenuous to Minaj’s character of constant reinvention. I’d argue a truer, more mature successor to her legendary debut is 2014’s The Pinkprint

Although Minaj’s growth and creativity shines and each track sounds fresh right now, only time will tell if Pink Friday 2 deserves its status as a sequel.