The thing to remember about Nicki Minaj is she was a high school theater geek who never lost her talent to become someone else. That’s what makes her long-awaited debut such a careening roller coaster thrill — full of twists, loops, and the inevitable comedown.
The rapper and rising pop star lays out her mantra in the middle of “Fly,’’ an otherwise pedestrian ballad featuring Rihanna: “I am not a girl that can ever be defined/ I am not fly/ I am levitation/ I represent an entire generation.’’
She’s right about that, but judging from the album’s fiercest moments, “Pink Friday’’ is not the fearless hip-hop masterpiece she could have, and should have, made. Once you accept that, you can appreciate “Pink Friday’’ for what it is: a brash pop album brimming with Minaj’s various personae and Technicolor rhymes.
She gets a vote of approval from established stars such as fellow labelmate Drake (“Moment 4 Life’’), will.i.am (“Check It Out’’), and Kanye West (“Blazin’ ’’). Mostly, though, they’re just jesters in Minaj’s court. “Roman’s Revenge,’’ a sneering throwdown with Eminem, is a testament to her flow, her swagger, her presence. Her performance is so staggering, you almost forget her sparring partner.
No matter how many boasts and taunts she drops, it’s clear Minaj is proud of how far she’s come. On the opening “I’m the Best,’’ she gives a short history of her long journey to stardom. “I remember when I couldn’t buy my mother a couch/ Now I’m sitting at the closing/ Bought my mother a house.’’ (Out now)
ESSENTIAL “Roman’s Revenge’’