After spending 2010 dominating the Top 40 as a guest-verse MVP, Nicki Minaj moves in front of the “featuring” credit for her first full-length, Pink Friday, which strips much of her appeal by diluting her rapid-fire, foul-mouthed rapping with far too much generic radio pabulum. Reinforcing the notion that all female MCs must also sing, Minaj spends half of the album crooning, and while her singing isn’t bad, it’s dialed into that radio-friendly sweet spot so aggressively that it loses all distinction. (A guest list featuring Hot 100 staples like Will.I.Am, Rihanna, and Natasha Bedingfield reveals which audience Minaj is chasing.) The blandness of her singing—and much of the production—throws Minaj’s verses into sharp relief, frequently giving the impression that she’s guesting on her own tracks.
However, when Pink Friday isn’t aggressively courting mainstream radio, it displays flashes of brilliance, particularly the one-two punch of the fiery, dramatic “Roman’s Revenge” (which elevates guest MC Eminem to the sort of vitriolic heights he hasn’t reached in years) and the slinky boast track “Did It On ’Em.” Minaj did Kanye West a favor with her spectacular guest verse on “Monster,” and he returns it with an appearance on “Blazin’,” one of the few tracks on Pink Friday to stick the landing between radio-friendly pop and the sort of bold hip-hop Minaj is capable of. While it’s disappointing when Minaj pulls her punches to appease pop radio, the ones she does land still hit hard.