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Nicki Minaj Gets Serious on ‘Pink Friday 2’

Sequels can be big business, but they can also be tricky. While they build off already-existing reputations, they can also set up grand expectations; comparisons between then and now are inevitable, and the patina of nostalgia can sometimes make the “then” seem superior to the “now” by default. Pink Friday 2, the fifth album from firebrand MC Nicki Minaj, attempts to balance the expectations attached to naming itself after its groundbreaking 2010 predecessor with Minaj’s spirit of constant reinvention and confrontational persona. 

Almost immediately after her debut came out 13 years ago, Minaj shot to hip-hop and pop’s highest echelons, and in the years since she’s been top of mind for listeners and tabloid readers. She’s also become a mother and lost a parent, and she’s opened up about her own struggles in interviews and on social media, saying in her 2022 Video Vanguard Award acceptance speech at the 2022 Video Music Awards, “I wish people took mental health seriously, even for the people who we think have perfect lives.”     

While Pink Friday opened with the sparkling boast “I’m the Best” and closed with the Natasha Bedingfield-assisted victory lap “Last Chance,” its successor is framed in grief and stock-taking. Opening track “Are You Gone Already” is introduced by a baby’s cry before sweeping into the angelic harmonizing of Billie Eilish’s 2018 cut “when the party’s over”; Minaj untangles the emotions she experienced after the 2021 death of her father, Robert Maraj, which happened just days before he was supposed to meet her infant son for the first time. “Telephone ring, he didn’t make it/ I just believed you’d awaken/ A memory in the makin’,” Minaj sings, the words tumbling from her mouth as if she’s reliving the moment she found out the news. 

On the final track, the woozy “Just the Memories,” Minaj flips the script, quoting Beenie Man’s defiant 1995 track “Memories” as she braids recollections of people—famous and not—who made an impact on her with shout-outs to her own legacy as a groundbreaking MC who pushed through despite her own vulnerabilities.

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In between, Minaj—accompanied by a laundry list of A-list friends, including her longtime pals Lil Wayne and Drake—shows off her starpower and her still-nimble rhyming skills (both as an MC and as a singer) over insistent riddims and top-tier samples. Danish duo Junior Senior’s slick indie-disco smash “Move Your Feet” gets chopped up enough that it’s made frantic on the Lil Uzi Vert-assisted gasconade “Everybody”; Lumidee’s genre-melding 2003 hit “Never Leave You (Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh)” is the backbone for the idea-stuffed “Red Ruby Da Sleeze.” Grief lingers here, too: “Pink Friday Girls” spins out of Minaj favorite Cyndi Lauper’s sequined rallying cry “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” and while its verses are a Pink Friday callback party, Lauper’s sweet reassurance that “Daddy dear, you know you’re still number one” gives an air of melancholy to the recollections. “Let Me Calm Down,” a collaboration with the versatile J. Cole, is one of the album’s standouts, digging into the sometimes-ugly details of relationships over Quiet Storm synths and an insistent beat.   

Pink Friday 2 is a long album, and it’s going to get longer; Minaj has teased releases of four more tracks this week, bringing its total to 26. It’s appropriate given the data-dump nature of albums in the streaming era—more songs equal more streams equal more sales, after all—but it’s also understandable given Minaj’s irrepressible personality and constant shape-shifting that also manages to remain true to her brightly hued essence.  

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