Monday, October 1st, 2018

Nicki Minaj – Barbie Dreams

Wake up Ms. Maraj!


Rebecca A. Gowns: Each new Nicki single is more of a letdown. I remember when I first saw her, in “5 Star Bitch,” and her verse was electrifying — her energy was playful, new, exciting, out of this world. I must have watched that video a hundred times. From 2009-2014, I was a devoted fan. In the past four or five years, her enthusiasm has waned, and along with it, so has mine. This is not even to mention her squabbles, her issues with her family, her relationships — all of which give me pause — but just listening to the music, there’s a fire that has dwindled down to embers. Here, she’s going back to a track from an early mixtape, trying to stoke the flames, but she’s going to need a lot more than re-animating “Dear Old Nicki” to get some of that magic back.

Julian Axelrod: Of all the things Nicki’s lost this year — her credibility, her chart supremacy, her chill — I miss her sense of humor the most. She’s one of the most influential figures in the last decade of rap not just for her machine gun flow, but for having genuinely funny punchlines in an era when everyone takes themselves too goddamn seriously. Cut to “Barbie Dreams,” a cheeky novelty single designed to play into Nicki’s ball-busting bombshell persona. But are we really so starved for humor that we’re stanning this sub-Catskills atrocity? The only thing worse than being humorless is trying this hard to be funny, and you can practically hear Nicki cracking up after every lukewarm bar. Each toothless jab digs her grave deeper as she goes from corny (Uzi, Fetty Wap) to offensive (Young Thug, Desiigner) to downright clunky. (“I tried to fuck 50 for a powerful hour” sounds like a robot trying to comprehend human sexuality.) If these rappers really are her sons, that explains why every line is so labored. By crafting a diss track full of love taps, Nicki tries to have it both ways — a “Control” verse for a rapper who has none.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: It’s weird: despite spending the past few months in a near constant PR disaster — from collaborating with noted sex criminal 6ix9ine and beefing with hip-hop’s current It Girl Cardi B to getting into a protracted fight over her (pretty damn good) first week sales that brought together Travis Scott, the Kardashian/Jenner family generally (including the babies), Spotify, Billboard, and Harriet Tubman as the subjects of her rantings — Nicki Minaj has had a pretty good year musically. “Barbie Dreams” is an encapsulation of her year — the skill with which she raps on the two halves of the track is obvious in the way she effortlessly chains her punchlines together like she’s racking up combos on a fighting game, and in the poise she so clearly owns. Yet most of the talk around “Barbie Dreams” comes from its rolodex of name-drops, which… is a clever marketing gimmick, at least. As long as it gets people listening to some eminently skilled raps, that’s fine, but maybe the puppets were a step too far?

Alfred Soto: Minaj has gotten a lot of deserved shit for tiresome boasting and repetition, but “Barbie Dreams” boasts some of her tightest recent rhymes, despite the return of the Biggie sample. Pop music and context are indivisible, therefore a track in 2018 by a woman in which she fantasizes about fucking and besting male competition in a tone that will give Harold “Anxiety of Inluence” Bloom a skin rash sounds fresh. But Bloom would balk at the casualness with which she says “my Jew.” Slow down, Nicki.

Nicholas Donohoue: Two criticisms: 1) Far be it from me to dictate who Nicki Minaj should associate with, but she should really talk with someone about some quality control of who she associates with; and 2) my skin crawls whenever anybody says “my Jews” or talks about Jewishness. Other than that, this is excellent and is miles more comfortable than Biggie’s take.

Nortey Dowuona: Plush, wood drums with a light dusting of guitar drifts along while Nicki puts her feet up and wryly makes stale jokes about the dudes she’d like to fuck. Also there’s a slick, dazzling rap left at the end over a hollow, stumbling bass drum beat.

Katie Gill: Turns out that “these are all the people I’d like to fuck” is a boring concept no matter what gender is singing it. Add in the last minute and a half (which is a completely different song) and you’ve got something that’s somehow both half-assed and trying too hard.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Amusing how I’d be more forgiving of this song if its final minute and a half were a separate track (or at least given its own title). As it is, its presence only shows that Nicki can’t kill her darlings or her rap queen insecurities. Considering “Barbie Dreams” was bound to be the most viral track on Queen, there’s a sense that this final stretch is a preemptive defense against anyone who doubts her technical abilities. Its self-serious tone retroactively makes the first half feel depressing, revealing that this was nothing more than a ploy to get as many streams as possible. An homage to Biggie? Well, that sounds like a good way to get more people to press play.

Micha Cavaseno: A decade ago, it felt refreshing for Nicki Minaj to come out of Queens as adventurous and elastic as she once was. However, over the years the same rapper has become surprisingly cloying and conservative in her rap approaches. In a baffling turn of events (or perhaps the fear of her media appointed rival in Cardi B stealing the “Queen of New York” title by simply feeling less tyrannical) this has resulted in her last album, Queen, being a frantic flailing of NYC Real Rapper Posturing — complete with, what else? A Biggie Tribute. The “Barbie Dreams” revival of the “Dreams of fucking an R&B Bitch” concept isn’t inherently bad because it’s been done before. It’s bad because it finds Nicki surprisingly unfunny and charmless, as a result of her over-commitment to the True School antics. The original was essentially a tribute to Too Short’s “Freaky Tales” and understood that the sexcapades don’t make you look cooler unless you look ridiculous, and Onika Maraj refuses to allow herself to look ridiculous anymore. Ironically, that makes the hollow echoes of this clunker all the more absurd.

Stephen Eisermann: Nicki’s at her best when she doesn’t overthink things. It’s been a while since she has cut loose and just had fun, so this funny, jab-filled, well-rapped track is a nice change of pace. Although the material of Queen often gets lost in itself, songs like this remind us that, hey, Nicki’s still got a dope-ass flow and some fun wordplay, even if it hasn’t been all that prevalent as of late. Also, that ending, whew.

Reader average: [3.66] (3 votes)

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