Nicki Minaj: Pink Friday

RIYL: Rihanna, Missy Elliott, Lil’ Kim

Kick off your first album with a track titled “I’m the Best,” and you’re making a hell of an announcement — either you’re more gifted than your peers, or you’ve just got the biggest balls. With Pink Friday, Nicki Minaj displays a bit of both: though it’s admittedly an uneven affair, this album contains some of the best hip-hop/R&B you’re likely to hear in 2010, and while it doesn’t play to Minaj’s otherworldly rapping talent as often as many fans would no doubt prefer, it still makes for an intoxicating, eclectic debut.


Of course, unlike most new artists, Minaj has the advantage of being a known quantity before her album even reaches shelves; she’s been all over the charts as a guest artist for months, popping up on songs by Lil Wayne, Trey Songz, M.I.A., Drake, Usher, and others – including Kanye West, whose “Monster” features an incendiary Minaj verse that outclasses everyone else on the song, including Jay-Z and Rick Ross. Nothing on Pink Friday comes close to “Monster” – not even “Roman’s Revenge,” her profane, rapid-fire showdown with Eminem – but that isn’t really the point. Minaj has a lot of weapons in her arsenal, and this album is meant to display them all, while aiming directly at Top 40 radio.

What’s somewhat surprising, given her aggressive/aggressively weird image, is just how savvy Minaj’s pop instincts are – and how successfully Pink Friday makes room for them while incorporating plenty of singularly Nicki moments. This is an album that makes heavy use of Buggles and Annie Lennox samples, and features, Rihanna, and Natasha Bedingfield cameos – but it takes the fetid roar of “Roman’s Revenge” and “Did It On ‘Em” to tell the whole story, and she brings both halves together in the stunning “Right Thru Me,” which takes breathless verses about reckless love and leads them into a chorus that brilliantly, nakedly asks: “You see right through me / How do you do that shit?”

That kind of duality is hard to distill in a pop song, and with Pink Friday, Nicki Minaj doesn’t always succeed. But her punches connect more often than they miss – and if that’s mostly because she never stops throwing them, well, that only makes it that much harder to stop listening. Her peers had better lock in those guest spots now – a few more albums like this one, and the words “feat. Nicki Minaj” will be a lot more expensive than they are now. (Universal/Cash Money 2010)

Nicki Minaj MySpace page


Hey Champ: Star

RIYL: Daft Punk’s “Aerodynamic,” The Buggles, Bourgeois Tagg

There aren’t many bands that can speak to fans of Alphaville, Yes, Bourgeois Tagg and Tangerine Dream, yet there but for the grace of God go Chicago trio Hey Champ. Armed with only a guitar, a drum set and a couple of vintage keyboards, Hey Champ’s debut album Star is a strange blend of synth pop, rock and jazzy prog, and while that might sound like a band in the midst of an identity crisis, Hey Champ combines these elements quite meticulously.


The beauty of melding such disparate influences is that it yields a variety of sounds. “Word=War” channels Death Cab for Cutie at their most anthemic (much of that due to singer Saam Hagshenas’ uncanny impression of Ben Gibbard, thankfully relegated to this one song), while “Shake” blends New Order guitar lines with keyboard riffs that could have come from a Saga record. Some of their chord sequences are of the borrowed variety – the chorus to “So American” is not far removed from “Comfortably Numb,” and the end of the great “Steampunk Camelot” bears resemblance to Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” minus the pomposity – but these guys aren’t thieves; they’re musicologists, and Star is the work of one wildly diverse record collection. One of the smarter synth pop records you’ll hear this year, or any other. (Townie Records 2010)

Hey Champ MySpace page
Click to buy Star from Amazon