The motion painting for this should be a treat when it shows up…
Anthony Easton: Kanye has always been self aware, and good at apologizing for his excesses, so he is a monster, but he is one of those very sad, emotionally raw ones in Where the Wild Things Are; even the braggadocio is a way of fronting, a way of avoiding the overwhelming loneliness and sadness that grounds all of this work. The Minaj verse has a surgical parody of the hyper capitalism of hip-hop, and the percussion is magisterial, and the whole thing… I don’t know if it’s genius or shit, late period Elvis excess or Liberace kitsch — both have their place, but both have a decadence that is away from West’s centralities.
Zach Lyon: 1: Bon Iver? Okay, whatever, I guess. Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking his inclusion is anything more than political posturing. 2: Whoa, beat, there. 3: I guess Rick Ross is just here as a hype man or something. I just wrote more words than he has in this song. 4: Kanye should win a VMA for “Best at Being Outshone by Own Beats.” 5: Wow, now that’s the kind of verse that makes you forget that Jay-Z used to be Jay-Z. 6: WHAT. SINCE WHEN IS NICKI MINAJ CAPABLE OF SUCH THINGS. WHAT IS HAPPENING. HOW. I am a sold motherfucker.
Katie Lewis: Nicki Minaj raps circles around everyone on this track. Given that “everyone” includes Kanye West, (a little) Rick Ross, and Jay-Z, this is quite an impressive feat. And given that I completely identify with Nicki Minaj’s brand of bat-shit insanity, I adore her crazy energy here, but find the rest of the all-star hodgepodge to be rather disappointing and, in some parts, boring.
Jonathan Bogart: Docking points for unimaginative use of Bon Iver and a Rick Ross intro that at least has the virtue of brevity. But the rest of them kill it, Ye still sounding hungry after all these years, or maybe it’s the paranoia, Jay playing the capo di tutti role he was born for, and Nicki rolling out a sitcom cast’s worth of voices, postures, and lines easily worth the 50K she brags on. As always, she runs away with the song; at least here Kanye is smart enough to give her space.
Alex Macpherson: You could write an essay about Nicki Minaj’s still-incomplete crossover from hip-hop underground to ubiquitous mainstream presence, a journey that few are able to make these days. It’s seemed alternately carefully plotted and frantically ad-libbed: Minaj has unveiled different angles to her USP gradually and with strategically-positioned collaborators, but there’s been a fair amount of panicky throwing shit at the radio to see what sticks too. “Monster” is inarguably a milestone for her, though; it doesn’t reveal any new tricks, per se, but is a concise summation of what she’s shown so far – everything thrilling and novel about her in one incredible verse, delivered on her biggest stage yet. There’s almost something suspicious about how comprehensively she outshines the two most famous (if far from best, these days) rappers on the planet, as if that was the primary motivation behind the track existing at all – though any shock dissipates once you recall Minaj has been killing them both for the past two years. Here, West is adequate, in a pleasant surprise; but Jay-Z is abominable, sabotaging his verse from the off by reciting an unimaginative, unevocative list of monsters like he’s cramming for an exam, and somehow managing to get worse from there. (What’s his Achilles heel? INDIE ROCK.) It’s all set up perfectly for Nicki to seize the track by the scruff of its neck, bobbing and weaving through a dazzling selection of vocal costume changes and riding the beat harder into the ground than either of her collaborators were able to do (the physical energy she injects into the track on “hotter than a Middle Eastern climate” is something else). All the while, she discourses sharply on her own realness – is there a more perfect self-definition than “Forget Barbie, fuck Nicki, sh-she’s fake – she on a diet but my POCKETS EATING CHEESECAKE”? , once again, for Minaj – and it’s time for her to stop being dragged down by her collaborators now.
Asher Steinberg: I’ll let others comment on what a thrill Nicki’s “verse” — really, a collection of about twenty separately recorded snippets, which rather detracts from the virtuosic flow-switching mastery of the thing — is. My complaint is simply that none of these verses have anything to do with each other; certainly the minimal beat doesn’t impose any unity on the song. So it ends up being nothing more than a series of disconnected attempts at displays of technical superiority (one of which really succeeds, one of which is unusually solid for Kanye but nothing to write home about otherwise, and one of which is a not very curious curiosity and nothing more), followed by a lame indie singer coda about leaving an unspecified something up to God’s discretion that has absolutely nothing to do with anything. If this is an attempt at reviving that long-lost art, the posse track, Kanye needs to realize that a posse track isn’t the musical equivalent of a dunk contest; rather it’s largely about signifying community in what’s generally an individualist genre. The only saving grace of “Monster” as a song — Nicki’s verse is fine enough and belongs as a freestanding track on her own mixtapes — is Rick Ross’s humble and far too brief intro, which both recognizes the existence of the beat and of his fellow participants.
Al Shipley: Rick Ross’s 4 bars do the least work for a feature credit in the history of rap, while Nicki’s 32 bars are a little extra, but extra is what she does, so it works. Everybody in rap wants to “make a movie,” but somebody tell Kanye that doesn’t mean every song has to be 2 hours long. This might actually feel as bold as it wants to be if Kanye wasn’t recycling the same clunky funk he’s been peddling since 2003, and the same vocal distortion he’s been overusing since 2008.
Michaelangelo Matos: The muffled basement beat is a good idea musically (‘Ye sounds less self-conscious than usual, and so do his guests) and strategically: if you’re sick of the pomp that accompanies just about everything Kanye-related, well, so’s he! The most becoming Minaj verse I’ve caught in an age, too, not that I’ve been paying super-close attention.
Martin Skidmore: Kanye struggles to keep up with the beats, Jay-Z sounds as if nothing could be easier, Nicki is brilliantly wild as ever, Rick and Bon may as well not have shown up.
Alfred Soto: The swampy mix and a couple of swampy voices are the stars here, all of which inspire the ringleader to deliver one of his nastier performances: Tom Waits at the Apollo.
Edward Okulicz: Kanye is an abusive, alcoholic, power-mad husband, and rock critics are all his battered wives. Would be a 2 without Minaj’s star-turn.
Renato Pagnani: By all logic this shouldn’t work at all, but to Kanye’s credit somehow it does. Like most of the G.O.O.D. Friday tracks ‘Ye’s put out over the last two months, “Monster” is kind of a giant mess — too long and stuffed with too many ideas, many of which don’t quite fit together (see: Bon Iver’s many hooks here) — but like those songs, there’s also some gems strewn about debris. “Have you ever had sex with a pharaoh? Acgh I put that pussy in a sarcophagus” makes no sense, but it’s the kind of vintage Kanye hilariousness that the Louis Vuitton Don brings to tracks when he’s on top of his game. These days it’s a coin toss whether Jay-Z wrecks tracks or just wrecks tracks, and here he embarrasses himself by rattling off names of monsters (‘cause the song’s called “Monster,” get it?) before half-redeeming himself with a twist-turn verse that casts aside the Old Man Flow he’s been polishing lately. All the talk about “Monster” has -— and rightfully, might I add -— centered around Nicki’s star-cementing verse, in which she tries on about a dozen outfits, not only taking the song’s conceit somewhere interesting, but simply rapping her ass off. It’s that beat, though, that impresses almost as much as Minaj — it’s the filthiest thing Kanye’s put together in a long time, all sticky and humid, tumbling forward like a drunk Gigan. This isn’t a song — it’s about five different songs sewn together in Frankensteinian fashion. You can see the loose threads and where the seams are splitting, but that’s most of the charm.
Mallory O’Donnell: Cookie Monster: also a monster. The Vermonster: a monster too. If this monster had been shorter, my thoughts might not have drifted towards dessert. Everybody knows dessert is a motherfuckin’ monster.