Update, Dec. 15, 2014: Nicki Minaj's The Pinkprint is now available to stream, via Spotify, below.
Early Thursday morning, Nicki Minaj’s highly anticipated third album, The Pinkprint, “leaked” online. (I use the term “leaked” loosely; the album is technically out in New Zealand and Australia.) To prepare you for its U.S. release on Dec. 15—and our critics subsequent discussion of it in Slate’s annual Music Club—here’s a complete track-by-track guide.
1. “All Things Go”
A kind of sequel to 2008’s “Autobiography”—off her Sucka Free mixtape—“All Things Go” is perhaps the most introspective song on The Pinkprint. Nicki, in the past, has caught some flak for hiding behind cartoonish wigs and her outrageous multiple personalities, but here she’s an open book. She touches on an abortion she had as a teenager, guilt over the 2011 death of her cousin, and feeling distanced from her immediate family. It’s a somewhat misleading way to open the album; the full project isn’t quite as emotionally heavy as its intro suggests. But “All Things Go” sets the tone for the album’s lovelorn first act.
2. “I Lied”
In “All Things Go,” Nicki hints at a relationship that went stale a decade ago (“Ten years ago, that’s when you proposed/ I looked down, yes, I suppose”). And on the Mike Will Made It-produced “I Lied,” we find out that a lack of love wasn’t the issue—fear was. She mentions, between devastating sung refrains, how the insecurities she’s harbored for years and her ego have gotten the best of her. It’s a beautiful meditation on how easy it is to sabatoge even good relationships.
3. “The Crying Game” feat. Jessie Ware
Here we hear Nicki acknowledge her faults (“I’m just abusive by nature, not cause I hate ya”) while also shifting some of the blame onto her ex (“I couldn’t breathe and you ain’t even know it”). On first listen, it’s a standout track—and the album’s best ballad—that adds a touch of Jessie Ware’s crystal vocals to the guitar-laden hook.
4. “Get on Your Knees” feat. Ariana Grande
We’ve already heard Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande collaborate once this year alongside Jessie J on the diva-off “Bang Bang.” Grande bragged on that song about “needing a bad girl to blow your mind”—implying she can be that girl—and on “Get on Your Knees,” both she and Nicki take that idea several steps further. It begins with Nicki’s raunchy rolled “R”—the same one we heard on “Anaconda”—and what follows is a dominatrix fantasy. Over a Dr. Luke trap-style beat, Nicki commands, “Assume the position.” “I want you on all fours,” Grande later echoes. Nicki jokes at one point that she’s “on her Katy Perry,” but Perry has never made anything quite this sexy.
5. “Feeling Myself” feat. Beyoncé
This is the album’s showstopper, and it lives up to the clout of the two names involved (and the high bar set by this summer’s “Flawless” remix). Nicki is in full attack mode (“I am a rap legend, just go ask the kings of rap”) and pulls off the dizzying lyrical exercise of switching up her flow four times, as she notes, in one song. And, just as she did on her “Flawless” remix verse, Beyoncé makes a mockery of her haters with what might just be the most memorable line on the whole album: “I stopped the world, world stop … carry on.”
6. “Only” feat. Drake, Lil Wayne, and Chris Brown
For a single meant to appeal to fans who prefer her “real hip-hop” songs to her pop hits, Nicki could’ve done better than “Only”—and she definitely could’ve done without its Nazi-themed lyric video. It’s full of subpar verses that attempt to squash rumors of an affair with both Drake and Lil Wayne but, given Nicki’s penchant for suggestive humor, only add fuel to the fire. And since we’ve already seen Drake drool over Nicki’s otherworldly physique once this year, his verses praising her body seem redundant.
7. “Want Some More”
This is Nicki in flex zone mode, unafraid to stroke her ego and to check anyone who dares to doubt her worth. On “Want Some More,” she’s here to remind people of her résumé: “Who had Eminem on the first album?/ Who had Kanye saying,”She a problem”?/ Who the fuck in the game made her own cologne?/ Who made Lil Wayne give ‘em five million?” In other words, she’s her only competition. Nicki also makes brief reference to the ongoing conflict at her label Cash Money and suggests that she isn’t going anywhere for at least another two albums.
8. “Four Door Aventador”
Though many don’t give her credit for it, Nicki is a New York rapper—specifically, a Queens rapper. And to drive that point home, on “Four Door Aventador” she adopts a flow made iconic by Brooklyn’s own Notorious B.I.G. By my rough estimate, this is approximately Nicki’s 10th different flow on the album so far—in case you somehow forgot that Nicki’s “got bars.”
9. “Favorite” feat. Jeremih
After four consecutive brag-rap songs, Nicki switches back to a more romantic narrative. And who better to do that with than R&B star-in-the-making Jeremih (whose No More EP with Schlohmo I listen to regularly). It’s not as sexually explicit as what we’re used to hearing from Jeremih, who spends most of the song whispering sweet nothings about wanting to be Nicki’s favorite.
10. “Buy a Heart” feat. Meek Mill
Only Nicki could take the newly released-from-prison Meek Mill, mostly known for his shout-style raps; have him sing the hook on a borderline sappy love song; and make him sound convincing in that role. It would’ve made more sense, on paper, to have someone like Future do the job. But Nicki generally knows how to make odd ideas work for her—remember when she cast Nas as her lover in a music video?—and Mill sounds surprisingly great. (And while I’d like to give Nicki all the credit here, “Buy a Heart” is actually a song Meek Mill originally recorded for singer K. Michelle.)
11. “Trini Dem Girls” feat. Lunchmoney Lewis
Though she was raised in Queens, Nicki was born in Trinidad and Tobago—a heritage she almost always finds a way to incorporate into each of her albums. On “Trini Dem Girls,” which features newcomer Lunchmoney Lewis, she once again reminds us that “them island girls is the baddest” in a catchy electro-dancehall fusion track. My only gripe is that she didn’t team up again with Rihanna for this one.
It’s the song—but more so the video—that inspired a dozen think pieces on the feminist politics of the derrière. Not to mention the single artwork that launched a thousand memes. “Anaconda,” which takes its shape from a chopped-up sample of “Baby Got Back,” sounds almost amateurish compared to the quality of production found on the rest of the album. But it’s right at home in the middle of The Pinkprint’s party act.
13. “The Night Is Still Young”
There’s no telling what Nicki’s next single will be (my guess is “Feelin’ Myself”), but if Nicki wants this album to continue to dominate radio airwaves, she’ll pick “The Night Is Still Young.” One of the many Dr. Luke-produced gems on this album, this is a companion track to 2012’s “Starships.” Which is to say it’s lyrically nothing more than some throwaway verses about a routine night out at the club—but it sounds like it’d be effective as a go-to on any DJ’s playlist.
14. “Pills N Potions”
The first single released from The Pinkprint, “Pills N Potions” is the perfect prologue to the melodramatic act that follows. It revisits the hopelessness Nicki reflected on in earlier tracks and brings the album full circle. We’ve already heard the tough boss-bitch Nicki, the party-girl Nicki, and even the sentimental Nicki. The Nicki in “Pills N Potions” is exhausted, sans makeup, and about ready to give up on life. This song, like others on the album, is an extended metaphor for a suicide attempt.
15. “Bed of Lies” feat. Skylar Grey
In “Bed of Lies,” Nicki says all the things she never told the ex she’s since portrayed as being in the wrong and makes peace with the fact that he was a “fraud” all along. All that said, she’s still “ashamed to say that I’m not over you”—which is what makes “Bed of Lies” such a refreshingly honest ballad.
16. “Grand Piano”
There are no raps here—Nicki relies solely on her LaGuardia High School-trained vocal chops, flanked by swelling violins, as she describes the realization that she’s been bamboozled in love. “The people are saying that you have been playing my heart like a grand piano,” she sings in what is easily her best vocal performance on the album (and maybe ever). It’s not the most uplifting note to end an album on, but it’s one that completes the emotional journey Nicki has taken to get to this place of clarity—even if there’s not much resolution to be had now that she’s there.
“Big Daddy” feat. Meek Mill
Like the other Meek Mill collaboration on The Pinkprint, this one was intended for one of his albums—and it shows. He’s arguably the star of the track, handling both the first verse and the song’s laughable hook (“When I pull up all the hoes like, ‘big daddy’”). But when you share a song with Nicki, you can only keep the spotlight for so long: Here she tears through her verses, alluding to the infamous 1999 NYC club shooting that involved rapper Shyne, Diddy, and Jennifer Lopez and, as per usual, emasculating her potential lovers (“Let him eat the pussy then I dip on him”).
Over a beat that feels like a recycled version of the one we heard on “Chi-Raq,” a one-off track she released earlier this year, Nicki boasts that her skills transcend the gender barriers in rap (“I’m not a regular bitch, so when niggas see me, they jump on my dick”), insisting for the umpteenth time that all her supposed competitors—male or female—are nowhere near her level. After everything we’ve heard on The Pinkprint, that claim is hard to argue with.
Just in case it wasn’t clear who the “light-weight bitch” Nicki attacks on the previous track is, she spells it out for us here: “This shit ain’t got no more integrity/ Don’t write they raps, and plus they flow shitty/ Don’t make me expose you bitch, I’m too busy.” Sure, she doesn’t call out Iggy Azalea by name but, given her previous extra-shady “no shade” comments that couldn’t be misinterpreted as being about anyone other than Azalea, it’s a safe bet that’s who she’s referring to on this track. And she’s firing off warning shots at Azalea and anyone else who thinks they can come for her “queen” title. “Can’t tell me nothing about it, your opinion is invalid/ Go against me, then you made a mistake,” she sings on the hook.
“Truffle Butter” feat. Drake and Lil Wayne
Bonus tracks sometimes get the same love on radio as the ones included on the album—remember, “Super Bass” was originally an extra on Pink Friday—and I imagine “Truffle Butter” will get some play on hip-hop stations. It’s certainly the better of the two Young Money posse cuts. Over a deep house-style beat that samples Maya Jane Coles’ “What They Say,” all three carry on the same “thinkin’ out loud” candor about their limitless accomplishments.
There’s a running drug theme on The Pinkprint, with references to “poppin’ pills,” “slangin’ coke,” and, with Beyoncé, “cookin’ up the base.” In that context, “Mona Lisa” feels like a woozy drug-induced dream about what she wishes life with her man could be like. “You make me feel super,” she sings, sounding entranced. The fantasy isn’t all positive, though, and she inevitably snaps back to the reality of her toxic relationship (“I don’t wanna fight, but you gave me no more trust/ I will fuck around and end your life”).
“Put You in a Room”
Nicki spends much of The Pinkprint detailing the shortcomings of her love life, and she continues to do the same on “Put You in a Room.” But, make no mistake, she has no real use for a man in her life beyond sexual satisfaction and her desire to have children in the near future. “I don’t control you,” she tries to reassure her man, only to then lock him away in a room because, as she explains, “you can’t sleep with me” until it’s time for him to fulfill his purpose. And that’s her final word.